Schools Included as Part of Infrastructure Spending Discussions

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to President Trump ahead of a meeting on infrastructure. Among the priorities identified in the letter was school infrastructure. Pelosi and Schumer wrote:

“To truly be a gamechanger for the American people, we should go beyond transportation and into broadband, water, energy, schools, housing and other initiatives.”

Noting and promoting schools as essential infrastructure is vital for accelerating the initiatives and updates needed to protect the nation’s students, teachers, and other school employees. There has been some legislative movement in Washington. As Education Week recently reported:

House Democrats have introduced legislation that would authorize federal aid for school repair, construction, and modernization. Earlier this year, the House education committee backed legislation to provide $100 billion for K-12 infrastructure, including $70 billion in direct federal spending. 

The House bill may change, and if passed, the Senate’s potential response is unknown. Nevertheless, school infrastructure is a priority, and it is a step in the right direction to consider schools among the country’s most valuable assets.

Read the full letter.

Insights, Lessons from CSSC School Safety and Mental Health Briefing

On April 11, 2019, the Secure Schools Alliance co-hosted a briefing with the Congressional School Safety Caucus, “The Importance of Mental Health in Comprehensive School Safety and Security Efforts.” The panel briefing and discussion was moderated by Alliance Board Member Michele Gay.

“In the current climate, when we hear the term school safety, many people immediately think of school shootings, high-profile mass shootings like recently in Parkland and ours in Sandy Hook. These are horrific and even one is unacceptable. But school shootings are actually statistically rare, and we’ve learned through our work…that the unique safety needs of each community are unique.”

The wide-ranging discussion touched on topics including:

  • The most pressing school safety issues beyond school shootings
  • Effective district-level policies and programs
  • Teacher and staff resources and training
  • Real-world examples of best practices in school safety and security
  • The important interaction between SROs and mental health professionals

“Culture of care is what comes to mind,” said Gay during the discussion. “We’re cultivating this shared culture of taking care of one another and making sure that each and every child and staff member in our community is truly safe, psychologically and physically.”

Watch the full video of the CSSC briefing below.

The Importance of Mental Health in Comprehensive School Safety and Security Efforts

The Secure Schools Alliance, in cooperation with the Congressional School Safety Caucus, is co-hosting a briefing, “The Importance of Mental Health in Comprehensive School Safety and Security Efforts.” Partner organizations include Safe and Sound Schools, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Security Industry Association. The briefing will be held at 12 PM in Room 2212 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

To attend, please RSVP online by April 9.

“We must look at school health, safety and security holistically, as they are interconnected,” said Alliance Executive Director Robert Boyd. “Although the Alliance focuses on improving the physical security of K-12 schools, we are excited to join with our partners to brief the Congressional School Safety Caucus on the critical role mental health professionals play in our schools.”

The discussion will be led by Michele Gay, co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools and an Alliance Board Member. After losing her daughter, Josephine Grace, on December 14, 2012, she chose to take action as an advocate for improved school security and safety in our nation’s schools. Michele’s background as a teacher and involved parent, along with her personal loss and post-tragedy perspective, uniquely position her to help school communities prevent tragedy and better prepare and respond in an emergency in their own schools.

Other briefing participants

Edward A. Clarke: Chief Safety Officer for Montgomery County Public Schools, the
largest school district in Maryland and 14th largest in the country.
Prior to this position, Mr. Clarke served as the Executive Director of the
Maryland Center for School Safety and played a key role in the passage of the
comprehensive Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018. 

Dr. Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach: Nationally Certified School Psychologist and the Director of
Policy and Advocacy at the National Association of School Psychologists. Prior
to assuming this role, Dr. Strobach was a school psychologist in Loudoun County
Public Schools, where she also served as a member of the District PBIS
Coordination Team and the District Crisis Intervention Team. 

Christina Conolly, NCSP
: Director for
Psychological Services with the Montgomery County Public Schools in Rockville,
MD. In this role, she also oversees the Signs of Suicide Prevention Program,
Trauma-Informed Schools, and the Behavioral Threat Assessment

Paul Kelly: Principal of Elk Grove High School in Elk Grove Village,
Illinois. In 2018, Mr. Kelly was named the Illinois High School Principal
of the Year by the Illinois Principals Association and was selected by the
National Association of Secondary School Principals as one of three finalists
for 2019 National Principal of the Year. 

Benjamin S. Fernandez,MS Ed: School psychologist working as the Coordinator of Prevention Services for Loudoun County Public Schools, where he coordinates psychological services and division-wide mental health programs for general education and special education students. Mr. Fernandez also manages the coordination of crisis teams and is a PREPaRE master trainer. 

Download and share the briefing invitation (PDF) with your network. Join us!

About Safe and Sound Schools
Safe and Sound Schools works with school communities and mental health, law enforcement, and safety professionals to create and ensure the safest possible learning environment for all youth. The non-profit organization, started by parents who lost their children in the tragedy at Sandy Hook, delivers programs, tools, and resources, backed by national experts, to educate all members of the school community, from students and parents, to teachers and administrators, to law enforcement and local leaders.

About NASP
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) represents more than 25,000 school psychologists, graduate students, and related professionals throughout the United States and 25 other countries. NASP works to advance effective practices to improve students’ learning, behavior, and mental health.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization for principals and other school leaders across the United States, seeking to transform education through school leadership.

About AASA
The School Superintendents Association (AASA) is the premier association for school system leaders and serves as the national voice for public education and district leadership on Capitol Hill.

About SIA
The Security Industry Association (SIA) is the leading trade association for global security solution providers, nearly 1,000 innovative member companies representing thousands of security leaders and experts who shape the future of the security industry.

Consider the Student Perspective in School Security

By Jake Glacer

A little more than a year ago, on February 14, 2018, I experienced a mass shooting firsthand inside room 1213 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Since then, new security measures have been put in place at my high school, but from a student’s perspective, there is a long way to go. The lesson is not necessarily that Stoneman Douglas needs to do a better job of securing its campus (it does), but also, that all schools need to listen to student input and feedback when implementing school safety plans.

This is important because what is intended is not always the reality.

At Stoneman Douglas, nothing has really changed. When we started the school year, there were 18 security guards, including school police officers and campus monitors. One of their tasks is to check everyone’s student or teacher ID card at one of several entrances before they are allowed inside. It seems like a good idea, but the reality is that IDs are not always checked and this lackluster approach leaves us with many vulnerabilities and a false sense of security.

When I drive into school, myself and everyone in my car must show a guard our IDs. There have been many times when I drove past guards who seemed uninterested in whether we were actually students who belonged at the school. I have forgotten my ID from time to time, and the guard always lets me through the gate to get a new one from the front office. What is the purpose of having the guard checking IDs if I can get into the parking lot without an ID?

The entrance I use to get into school has lately been better guarded, as they placed a new campus monitor who looks at each and every individual’s ID. But this wasn’t always the case, and it’s not the case elsewhere on the campus. At an event after school, for example, we needed our IDs to get through the nearest gate. I was with three friends, and two of them did not have their IDs. My friend and I who did walked in, went to another entrance that was completely unguarded and unlocked it to let our two friends in.

Another major problem that still has not been addressed is checking backpacks. Stoneman Douglas implemented clear backpacks for a short period after the shooting, and it came with a lot of backlash from students and parents. Over the last year, friends and I have been able to walk past guards at entrances while carrying large bags that are supposed to be inspected. In one example, my friend was bringing in a large bag of supplies for a project. We both walked right into school and past two guards who didn’t say a word.

When the shooting happened in 2018, my school had no protocol in place for such an event. It made a chaotic event even more chaotic. Now there are designated safe corners in all of the classrooms, and students know where to go in an emergency. But at the same time, in the new portable classroom buildings, there is nowhere to hide. There is a window on each side, one of them being big enough to view the entire classroom from outside. Sitting in one of these classrooms, I question every single day (and so do the teachers) why nothing has been done to make these new classrooms safer.

This kind of activity has been going on ever since February 14. There are more people around the school but not much more security. It seems to me this is more of a human error than a security error. And this is the main concern I have with the future development of school security.

In a school that has experienced a mass shooting, you would think that security would be much more important, more thought through and more consistently applied. So how much more lax is security at schools that have not experienced mass violence? And more troubling, are schools even aware whether their school safety measures are actually being implemented?

Deciding how to secure a school campus is only the first step in making a school safer. The next step is ensuring those security measures are actually being used. That takes monitoring and feedback over time, and all schools need to proactively and regularly talk with the people most affected by school security: the students and teachers.

Jake Glacer is a senior at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Preparing for the 2019 National Healthy Schools Day

Healthy Schools Network

The Secure Schools Alliance supports a holistic approach to creating safer, more secure learning environments. On April 2, 2019, the Healthy Schools Network, in coordination with partner organizations, is leading the 17th Annual National Healthy Schools Day.

Since 2002, National Healthy Schools Day has led to important activities for exploring air and environmental qualities in schools. The national day provides an opportunity for schools and communities to host local activities that educate others about the importance of health schools and celebrates successes achieved so far.

The Healthy Schools Network is a national nonprofit founded in 1995 to advance children’s environmental health in schools and advance better school facilities. It has researched and championed root policy reforms to address the poor conditions of schools and led new calls for public health services for children with suspected exposures in schools. The Healthy Schools Network promotes the use of EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools guidance, as well as other EPA environmental health guidelines and programs for schools and children’s health.

Visit the Healthy Schools Network website for more information on planning activities for National Healthy Schools Day.

Alliance Board Members on Florida’s ‘Safe-School Officer’ Implementation

Two Secure Schools Alliance board members recently spoke with the Washington Post’s Kayla Epstein about the Florida law requiring schools in the state to employ a “safe-school officer” to guard against active shooters. A school in Manatee County, Florida, hired and armed two combat veterans, which has sparked debate over how best to secure schools.

Alliance Board Member Dr. Erroll Southers told the Post:

“I have to be honest, I have never conducted a [school] assessment where this level of deter and defend was necessary…I teach in Israel, I teach in France, places where terrorism is an issue. I’ve not seen this anywhere, not in an academic and an educational environment.”

Importantly, Florida’s mandated safe-school officers are not necessarily school resource officers. Alliance Board Member Mo Canady, who is also the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), told the Post:

“The guardian concept, the civilian in there, I get it, and I understand why they might go to that length, being in that part of the state, where they’ve had one of the most horrific shootings ever. It doesn’t surprise me…But it’s not necessarily what we would recommend. We would rather see sworn law enforcement officers, well trained, tactically sound, in those situations.”

Read the full article, “A Florida school’s answer to campus shootings? Combat veterans with semiautomatic rifles and Glocks.”

Police Foundation Releases New Reports on Averted School Violence

The Police Foundation recently released two studies delivering findings from the Averted School Violence (ASV) database. The Foundation’s Center for Mass Violence Response Studies, in collaboration with the U.S. Justice Department COPS Office, implemented the ASV database to provide a platform for sharing information about averted incidents of violence in institutions of elementary, secondary, and higher education. The ASV project defines an incident of averted school violence as a violent attack planned with or without the use of a firearm that was prevented before any injury or loss of life occurred.

A Preliminary Report on the Police Foundation’s Averted School Violence Database

The preliminary report analyzes 51 averted incidents of school violence selected from the ASV database to begin to improve our understanding of averted school attacks. The report begins with a case study of one averted attack and then details findings on the 51 averted incidents in the study. It concludes with recommendations for law enforcement and school administration to improve school safety. Read the full report.

A Comparison of Averted and Completed School Attacks from the Averted School Violence Database

As a companion to A Preliminary Report on the Police Foundation’s Averted School Violence Database, this report compares and analyzes 51 completed acts of school violence with 51 averted incidents from the ASV database. It includes findings on the demographics of individuals who plan attacks, victims’ demographics in completed attacks, and community characteristics. The report also provides important recommendations to minimize school violence and improve student and school safety. Read the full report.

A Note on Door Safety Solutions from Michele Gay

At a recent school meeting, a parent was excited to share a revelation: perhaps those door-jamming mechanisms in hotels – the ones that swing into place – could be an easy, affordable way to secure doors at schools. While I love hearing suggestions from parents (after all, we all have a role to play in school safety), I had to explain why this type of solution actually puts students in danger, rather than protecting them. It broke my heart to dampen her enthusiasm, but I had to educate her about the importance of building and fire safety codes, Americans With Disabilities compliance, and unintended usage of barricade devices.

Michele GayWe have so much more work to do to educate parents, teachers, and the entire school community about door safety. Thankfully, with the generous support of the Door Safety & Security Foundation, we have facts to tackle door lock myths and misconceptions. Help us educate others by sharing this post or my recent blog post and video. Let’s eliminate confusion and hone in on safety solutions that are legal and time-tested.

And please, let’s keep talking. I love hearing how you have been able to make a difference in your community. So whether we meet at an event, chat over social media, or exchange emails, we want to hear from you. Because of you, our movement is gaining momentum, and together, we are honoring Joey and Emilie by helping schools improve their crisis prevention, response and recovery capabilities.

Thank you for your time, and for helping us raise awareness for this important cause.

Michele Gay, Co-founder and executive director, Safe and Sound Schools

DHS Releases K-12 Active Shooter Exercise Starter Kits

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Academic Engagement (OAE) has released Exercise Starter Kits for the K-12 community focused on an active shooter incident as part of the Campus Resilience (CR) Program. The Exercise Starter kits were developed in support of the Department’s school safety efforts, including its work with the Federal Commission on School Safety.

The CR Program’s Exercise Starter Kits are self-conducted tabletop exercises (TTX) that provide school districts and schools with a set of scalable tools to develop a TTX that can be tailored to validate or update their existing emergency operations plans, policies, and procedures, while also identifying issues, gaps, and areas for improvement in response to an active shooter incident.

The K-12 Exercise Starter Kits are currently available at the elementary, middle/junior high, and high school levels. Each Exercise Starter Kit includes a set of planning documents that contain pre-populated exercise content that aligns with the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program’s (HSEEP) methodology and principles. The kits include:

  • An Exercise Conduct Briefing for presentation during the TTX
  • A Situation Manual to provide background information on the TTX, scenario content, as well as discussion questions for participants
  • A Facilitator Guide for assisting facilitators in delivering the TTX
  • A Participant Feedback Form Template for players to provide candid feedback on the TTX
  • An After-Action Report Template for summarizing key strength and areas for improvement following the TTX

The launch represents the first phase of the K-12 ESKs. The new K-12 kits are a part of the CR Program’s other suite of Exercise Starter Kits, which are designed for institutions of higher education and focus on a cyber breach, hurricane, and active shooter incidents.

Requests to obtain the new starter kits can be made on the DHS ESK website. Learn more in ESK overview below.

DHS ESK Starter Kit for K-12 community

Statement on Federal School Safety Commission’s 2018 Final Report

Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety_cover

On December 18, 2018, the Federal Commission on School Safety’s final report was released, proposing best practices and policy recommendations for improving school safety. The Alliance focuses on improving security infrastructure, security technology and life safety systems as part of a holistic approach to stopping school violence.

“The Commission’s final report contains a range of topics and findings, not all of which are in the Alliance’s purview,” said Secure Schools Alliance Executive Director Robert Boyd. “To be clear, the Alliance is not endorsing the full report. Indeed, many of our partners may voice opposition to aspects of this report as their expertise dictates, and we support our partners in their potential critiques. Nonetheless, there are parts of the report that we do endorse.”

The Alliance fully endorses the Commission’s language and recommendations in Chapter 16, Best Practices for School Building Security. Keeping intruders from our schools is an essential first step in preventing school violence, and the Alliance applauds the commission’s support for code and legal compliance of all school security solutions. The Alliance specifically thanks DHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Infrastructure Protection Scott Breor for his leadership in drafting this section of the report.

“The final report from the Federal Commission on School Safety is expansive,” said Alliance Board Member Dr. Erroll G. Southers, who is also the Director of the Safe Communities Institute at the University of Southern California. “While the report contains best practices and recommendations that could be effective in preventing school violence, there are other problematic suggestions that give one reason to pause. While the Alliance does not endorse this report in full, we recognize that stopping school violence is a complex, multifaceted challenge. Defining the most effective methods to stop school violence will require further research, continued collaboration between the public, non-profit, academic and private sectors, and an enduring allegiance to the safety of the nation’s students.”

Beyond the Alliance’s specific focus area, it also supports ideas in report chapters 5 and 19.

  • Chapter 5, Using Suspicious Activity Reporting and Threat Assessments to Enhance School Safety, emphasizes the importance of anonymous reporting systems and threat assessments, such as Colorado’s Safe2Tell, founded by Susan Payne. Providing a method for assessing threats, as well as a safe, anonymous way for students and community members to share concerns with authorities, are key components in stopping school violence.
  • Chapter 19, Active Shooter Preparedness and Mitigation, focuses on training and awareness. Safe and Sound Schools co-founder and Alliance Board Member Michele Gay has long-argued for the need to train K-12 students and teachers to understand the types of suspicious behaviors that should be reported via anonymous reporting systems.

The arguments in Chapter 19 should help jump-start that important training effort. The chapter also points to the new DHS Active Shooter Table Top Exercises, developed by DHS’ Office of Academic Engagement, as well as other training available for specific sectors. However, the chapter fails to mention NFPA 3000, the new standard for community-wide Active Shooter Hostile Event Response. If we are to effectively address mass violence in our schools and communities, we must engage the entire community and train together, rather than doing so in silos.

Finally, the Alliance commends the leadership of Deputy Education Secretary Mick Zais, who led this effort by carefully engaging and soliciting input from a variety of credible sources. In search of holistic solutions, his inclusive and engaging leadership is a model for public, private, non-profit and academic collaboration going forward.