Federal data shows increase in school safety protocols, equipment | #schoolsaftey

More schools across the nation have installed security cameras, added locks inside of classrooms and stepped up a raft of other security measures, according to new federal data released amid heightened safety concerns less than a week after another unfathomable school shooting.

The data, from the National Center for Education Statistics, painted a portrait of schools increasingly turning to new protocols and equipment to keep violence at bay. Schools reporting that they had panic buttons or silent alarms with a direct connection to law enforcement jumped to 43 percent in November 2022, from 29 percent during the 2017-2018 school year.

Nearly 65 percent of schools now have anonymous or confidential threat-reporting systems — up 15 percentage points during the same period. And half of schools reported having police trained to work in schools, known as school resource officers, on campus at least once a week — a number that was up five percentage points.

Experts attributed at least part of the spike to the seemingly regular drumbeat of school shootings. More than 331,000 children at more than 350 schools have experienced gun violence during school hours since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Just six months before the federal data was collected, a mass killing at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex., left 19 children and two teachers dead, setting off a wave of grief and anger.

More than 331,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine

“It’s not just Uvalde,” said Ron Avi Astor, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles who studies school safety. “It’s decades of shootings that are horrific, and it’s not just in schools. It’s supermarkets and movie theaters, music events, and just the randomness.”

But Astor said that the increased security arrives in schools at the same time as more mental health initiatives and greater attention to student well-being. “It’s not an either-or,” he said. Like others, he cautioned against the “prisonization” of schools.

Sheldon Greenberg, a professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University, said there is a delicate balance between maintaining safety and frightening people.

“You don’t want to increase the safety measures to the point where you are increasing fear,” Greenberg said. He also pointed out that adding security cameras or other technology does not make a difference unless it is “applied well and monitored.”

“The technology’s good, so long as it’s well maintained and there are people who are available who know what they’re doing to use it,” he said.

Schools safety practices have been in the spotlight for years, particularly in the aftermath of devastating rampages like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman killed 20 children and six staff members in 2012.

Last week’s shooting of a 25-year-old teacher, allegedly by a first-grade student, at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., added to the disbelief of the potential for unexpected violence in a place where children are supposed to feel safe: school.

But it’s important to remember that schools remain one of the safest places around, said Dewey Cornell, a professor of education at the University of Virginia and a longtime school safety researcher. Cornell said he is skeptical of expensive security measures that have little evidence of effectiveness.

“Security measures can divert funding from student support services like counseling and mental health programs which have been shown to reduce student aggression,” he said in an email. “The prevention of violence has to start before a student comes to school with a gun.”

Devices like panic buttons feed into public fear, Cornell said. “Administrators have told me they feel pressured to support such measures not because they think they work but because parents demand them and school boards want something concrete that shows their concern for safety,” he said.

A student or teacher is far more likely to be shot in a restaurant or store or at home than in a school, Cornell said.

The data, released Thursday, came from a survey administered to more than 1,000 schools and largely answered by principals. Officials at NCES, the statistical center of the Department of Education, compared the results with those from the School Survey on Crime and Safety for 2017-2018.

Among the findings that stood out: By far, most schools had written plans for handling active shooters, natural disasters, hostage situations, bomb incidents, suicide threats, and post-crisis reunification of students with their families.

In a sign of how the world has changed, just 46 percent of schools made plans for handling pandemics five years ago. Amid the covid-19 crisis, 82 percent do.

In other findings, nearly 70 percent of schools reported they “strongly agree” that school resource officers have a positive effect.

“That’s pretty strong,” said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. “I’d love for that number to be even higher.”

Canady said the number of SROs wearing body cameras has been on the rise for several years. More than half of SROs or others in law enforcement routinely wear body cameras at schools, according to the data — a nearly 60 percent spike since 2017-2018.

There are a lot of benefits to the cameras, he said. “It can certainly tell the truth of what happened, whether it’s in the officer’s favor or not,” he said.

But Canady also said that privacy protections are important and that law enforcement agencies have to craft “sound policies and procedures.”

Seventy-two percent of schools reported a lack of adequate placements or programs for disruptive students that limited their efforts to reduce misbehavior.

A collection of other school practices, though, was on the rise. While nearly all schools — 97 percent — reported controlling access to school buildings during the day, there was a 15-point increase — to 66 percent — in the percentage of schools that control access to school grounds during the day.

There was also an uptick in schools that said they train teachers about self-harm and suicidal tendencies, recognizing bullying behaviors, discipline policies about alcohol and drug use, and recognizing early warning signs of violent behavior.

Training on signs of mental health disorders that may require intervention or referral increased most, to 82 percent from 60 percent.

More than 80 percent of schools reported they provide an electronic notification system to alert parents in case of an emergency — up nine points — and 92 percent use security cameras, up eight points.

Lesser-used security measures included daily metal detector checks (6 percent of schools), clear book bags (7 percent) and random sweeps for contraband (25 percent).

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