School Safety Requires a Comprehensive Approach

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut brought renewed attention to the issue of school safety.

The Connecticut legislature entered the 2013 session just three weeks after 20 students and six adults were killed at the Newtown, Conn., school.

“Here we are trying to respond to public demand without having the best of information,” said Connecticut Deputy Speaker Bob Godfrey at Friday’s session, “Policies to Achieve Safer Schools.”

The legislature broke the action down into three subcommittees looking at gun safety, mental health issues and school safety. The shooting created a singular focus in the legislature, Godfrey said.

Legislators also created the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety and eventually passed Senate Bill 1160, which became Legislative Act 13-3. The act expanded assertive community treatment programs for people diagnosed with persistent mental illness and required school districts to implement new safety plans, said Connecticut Rep. Elizabeth Ritter. Last week, she said, the governor announced the first awards for school safety infrastructure.

Like the shooting at Sandy Hook, the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado brought about change as well. But the subsequent shootings across the nation show more needs to be done, said Susan Payne, executive director of Safe2Tell and director of Safe Schools, Colorado Attorney General’s office.

One thing that needs to be changed, she said, is the fear of reporting potential incidents.

“Part of what we have to address is there is a culture and climate that exists of minding one’s own business, a failure to get involved,” she said.

The Secret Service found in a study of school violence from 1974 to 2000 that 81 percent of the time, they could identify a person who knew the violence was going to happen yet failed to report it. In 7 percent of those cases, the person with that knowledge was an adult.

Beyond that, Payne said, policies and procedures, situational awareness, environmental design of the structure and information sharing are critical.

“We have to have a deliberate effort in making schools safe,” said Payne.

But Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, said policymakers should be wary of adopting the “feel good” measures and allowing the attention to be skewed to the issue of the day.

“We have rollercoaster awareness, rollercoaster policy and rollercoaster funding based on event of the day,” he said.