This week, the Federal Commission on School Safety issued its final report.
Established in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida in February 2018, the commission was charged with recommending strategies for reducing gun violence in schools.
The report was met with immediate controversy, especially over its recommendations for training and potentially arming teachers, eliminating Obama-era discipline policies aimed at reducing racial discrimination, and its finding that age restrictions on gun sales would not have a significant impact on school safety.
Despite such obviously controversial conclusions, the 180-page report does offer some practical strategies for school violence prevention that school districts across the country are already implementing, or perhaps should be.
Whether you agree with some of the report’s more politically divisive conclusions, its release represents an important opportunity to re-evaluate strategies for school violence prevention and risk mitigation in your classrooms, as we close out the worst year for school gun violence on record.
Here’s just a few strategies worth considering from the report.
Develop a positive school climate and culture of connectedness
From the report: “Fostering a culture of connectedness is another important aspect of school safety. In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, multiple reports indicated the alleged shooter experienced feelings of isolation and depression in the years leading up to the shooting. His inability to connect with classmates increased his feelings of detachment and withdrawal, and his isolation only exacerbated other factors that led to violence.”
The report’s authors outline a variety of ways to ensure that every student feels included and connected at their school, such as an increased focus on social-emotional learning, the use of valid and reliable data to inform decision-making, including from school climate surveys, as well as the promotion of initiatives to improve students’ social, emotional, and behavioral aptitude.
An important piece of the school climate puzzle, according to recent research from K12 Insight, is relevance–both between what students learn and their real-world experience and in the personal relationships they keep with classmates, teachers, and school staff. The report outlines four strategies to help ensure students feel connected to their schools:
- Learn more about the lives and interests of your students.
- Deliver great customer service by training teachers and staff to be approachable, caring, and empathetic.
- Make it easy for students to provide ongoing feedback–both in-person and online.
- Leverage existing tools to communicate.
Create systems for recognizing and stopping cyberbullying
From the report: “Based on lessons learned from the shooting in Parkland, the Broward County League of Cities indicated a need for proactive social media monitoring protocols to identify threats and at-risk behaviors. The role of schools in intervening in cyberbullying can be challenging, as students access technology using school and personal internet services, during and outside of school hours, and on and off school grounds. Most schools are limited in their ability to identify and address behavior that occurs off school grounds. In spite of this, there are many examples of school efforts to address cyberbullying.”
While monitoring student social media raises questions around personal privacy and the role of schools in students’ social lives, school districts must get better at giving students an outlet to report instances of bullying and violence in their buildings, online, and across their campuses.
Temecula Valley Unified School District in California launched its Report Bullying initiative to give students a dedicated place on the TVUSD website to report bullying or other potential threats to student safety.
Soon after the tool was launched, a student noticed a Facebook post suggesting that a classmate might be considering suicide. The student used the Report Bullying page on the district website (powered by Let’s Talk!, from K12 Insight) to share their concerns with administrators. That exchange touched off an immediate safety protocol, in which safety officers informed the students’ parents and enabled them to intervene. Days after the first suicide threat was reported on the system, a similar concern was received. This time, a fellow student reported that one of their classmates had talked seriously about suicide. Again, the alert came in and protocols for urgent parental intervention were immediately followed.
While preventing cyberbullying and student self-harm requires a comprehensive, multi-pronged strategy, developing an easy way for students to report suspicious social media activity is an important piece of the puzzle.
Using suspicious activity reporting and threat assessments to enhance school safety
From the report: “Informed, alert communities play a critical role in keeping our nation safe. By reporting suspicious activities, individuals may be providing the information authorities need to stop an attack before it occurs.”
Vigilance against school violence requires open, regular communication between school districts and the communities they serve. Not only do schools need to constantly inform parents and community members of threats, they need to provide easy ways for community members to report suspicious activity.
The Federal Commission’s No. 1 recommendation around threat assessment and reporting is for states and local communities to establish a centralized reporting system that is “continually monitored, allows anonymous reporting, and has procedures in place to ensure proper action is taken on each report.”
Klein Independent School District in Texas recently established its own central reporting system, called Keep Klein Safe, in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
With Keep Klein Safe, students, parents, staff, and others can click a red button on the district website to report safety concerns (anonymously if they prefer), ask critical questions, or read frequently asked questions about the district’s safety policies and procedures.
“Students are our eyes and ears,” says Klein ISD community relations manager Justin Elbert. “They know their friends and their community better than we ever could, and we needed to find a way to tap into that.”
More than an online reporting tool, Keep Klein Safe provides a place for community members to read important safety information and streamlines district communications related to potential crises. “We’re able to provide almost instantaneous feedback, or at least very timely feedback, to our students, parents, and staff,” says Klein ISD Police Chief David Kimberly. “That’s part of making sure people feel safe as well as ensuring that they are safe.”
2018 was a historically tragic year in terms of violence in America’s public schools. As we turn the page to 2019, school district leaders need to reassess their culture and look for ways to keep students safe, both physically and emotionally, in their schools.
Looking for a way to improve safety monitoring and reporting in 2019? K12 Insight’s Let’s Talk! solution might be worth a look. Sign up for a free consult here.