School Safety Debate Lacks Focus On What's Best For Kids, Expert SaysPlay
The House votes this week on a new school safety bill that would authorize federal funding for programs aimed at preventing gun violence, although it doesn't include any gun control measures.
But a number of schools are acting on their own, with additions like bulletproof safe rooms and bulletproof whiteboards.
Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland, about what practices work to make schools safer.
Trump (@safeschools), who is not related to the president, says strategies like arming teachers are not effective, and that instead the focus should be on procedures, training people and improving trust so that students can tell adults at the school if they are aware of a threat.
On school safety approaches like bulletproofing backpacks
"I always ask, if we need a bulletproof backpack, wouldn't we need a bulletproof frontpack, a bulletproof helmet and a Captain America shield? Now while that is not intended to make light of the overall concerns, it is said to illustrate that the devil's in the details of implementation, and if a child has a bulletproof backpack, how would that function? First of all, most kids don't bring their backpacks to every classroom, they're not going to have a backpack in the middle of the gym while they're learning how to shoot baskets. So we want to focus on practical, proven best practices, things that we know that work, rather than doing some surface-level things that may make us feel like we have an emotional security blanket, but really may not make us feel safer."
"School safety and these critical-incident responses come down to people and procedures, and I think we see that discourse after every high-profile shooting."Kenneth Trump
On teachers getting their students behind bulletproof whiteboards
"Again, let's think about how that would work. You have a classroom of 26 children and a whiteboard that's maybe 3-by-5, 4-by-6, whatever the size may be, are you going to say, 'OK, all 26 of you line up in a very, very straight line now, your life depends on this,' and are you going be able to do that in the chaos of an unfolding situation? So again, I question the practical aspect of how this would work. And what we'd really rather focus on is really looking at the human aspect of this. Really, school safety and these critical-incident responses come down to people and procedures, and I think we see that discourse after every high-profile shooting — were there warning signs that were missed when people had some knowledge ahead of time? So these are where we really can make schools safer, but unfortunately, some of these incidents still will slip through the crack because we're dealing with human behavior."
On improved training for all school personnel, but not in using firearms
"Absolutely, we don't mean in gun usage. Look, this is certainly ... there's an aspect of firearms where there are Second Amendment considerations, concealed carry considerations, that people may support from a personal family level. But when you're talking about arming teachers and support personnel, you're talking about tasking educators — laypersons — to perform a public safety, law enforcement function, and we'd prefer to see a trained professional law enforcement person do that, not only because of their skill in a firearm, but more so the mindset and training.
"So what do we know that works, and what do we focus on in schools that educators can do? First of all, we know that the No. 1 way we find out about a weapon or a plot in school is by a kid who comes forward and tells an adult that they trust. And many schools focused on that very consciously and in direct communications, and worked with kids on that after Columbine, and it did improve our reporting and thwarting of incidents."
On the heavier that security at a school becomes, the less likely it is that students will come forward about a threat
"Think about what schools are, and are we going to extend that type of hard, physical security, hardened target-type efforts, a corporate or government facility security of a model, to a school? Are there ways that we can tighten security and improve some physical security aspects? Access control, visitor management, cameras and other matters, certainly we can do that. But how are we going to strike a balance?"
"We know that the No. 1 way we find out about a weapon or a plot in school is by a kid who comes forward and tells an adult that they trust."Kenneth Trump
On the need for more school counselors and violence prevention programs
"We need to have a balance of mental detectors and metal detectors. We know that many of the warning signs are there, we know that many of our second- and third-grade teachers can identify those children who are at higher risk to commit violence. The question is, what do we do with those, when that teacher refers that second- or third-grader to the office, and the principal has no counselor, a school psychologist who's only accessible to maybe a dozen schools at any point in time, and has to schedule an appointment a couple of weeks out, while they're also focused on testing and administrative tasks. What do you do for that kid, and what do you do with that kid if the family dynamics play into that child's needs? So I think you send them back to class when you don't have those resources, and you repeat that same process and then wonder why they erupted in middle school or high school.
"So I think as far as the federal programs that were cut, it actually goes back farther than that. After Columbine in 1999 — which you'll note is almost 20 years ago — the Clinton administration at that time and the Republican Congress took a bipartisan approach and put programs in place with Safe Schools, Healthy Students to get some mental health training and resources and programs into schools, and those programs were effective. They were evaluated. Information was shared with other schools across the country. Well, those were chipped away during the Bush era and completely eliminated, in one of the only bipartisan moves I've ever seen by the Obama administration and Republican Congress, who decided for some strange reason to completely eliminate them.
"So these are things that — among many other best practices — that worked. And we know from lessons learned after Columbine, and we have to get that information out to our well-intended educators who are getting conflicting information. School safety has been politically hijacked on gun control and gun rights, it's been seized by the Security Industry Association for selling products and hardware, and it becomes a competing-interests agenda and a battle over who has skin in the game and who can profit in one way or another to advance their cause or their interests, without really focusing from a professional level on what's best for kids and schools."
This segment aired on March 12, 2018.