The Federal School Safety Commission, created earlier this year following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, issued a 180 page report this week with recommendations in three areas to address school violence: prevention; protection and mitigation; and response and recovery.
The report begins with a timeline of violent school incidents, beginning with the 1979 shooting at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, through the May 18, 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. It then reviews the process taken to gather information, which included four formal meetings, four field visits, and four listening sessions held throughout the country to receive input from a variety of sources. The remainder of the report includes recommendations for addressing the issue, and a list of resources.
The report provides recommendations for each area established in the framework of the report. It is encouraging and noteworthy that the bulk are directed toward preventive initiatives, while acknowledging that appropriate, direct response to school violence is also necessary.
a. Character education and creation of a positive school climate: The report reviews several examples of schools that have implemented school-wide positive behavior initiatives. The Commission notes with approval the most effective programs have included and encouraged participation by families and community organizations. Development of positive relationships among students, families and community stakeholders is critical.
b. Mental health: The report recommends increasing school-based access to mental health supports, including trauma-sensitive intervention methods, and training programs such as the Mental Health First Aid initiative. Collaboration and communication between schools, mental health agencies, and the courts was also recommended, including prevention and diversion programs to address needs and reduce contact with the juvenile justice system. The report also contains a section addressing the use of psychotropic medication, and recommends integration of this method of treatment with other systems of care.
c. Threat assessment: The report highlights the increase in cyberbullying and its relationship to school-based violence. The report recommends heightened attention to these issues, and implementation of programs that encourage reporting of concerns, such as “If You See Something, Say Something®” The report recommended the establishment of multi-disciplinary threat assessment teams as well as tiered interventions and risk management options.
d. Press coverage: The report encourages media outlets to have a plan to address crisis incidents, and to consider coverage that concentrates on facts and victims rather than providing notoriety to perpetrators.
e. Violent entertainment and rating systems: The Commission highlighted the responsibility of parents to monitor and restrict the online activities of their children. The report also called for retailers to provide accurate guidance and descriptions of games, apps and other online products, and to take steps to ensure that access is restricted to age-appropriate consumers.
f. School discipline: As predicted by many media outlets, the report recommends that the 2014 joint guidance of the DOE and DOJ be rescinded. The report primarily takes issue with the focus of that guidance on tracking disciplinary actions by race. In addition, the Commission received concerns that some school entities felt compelled to ignore or underreport incidents to facilitate compliance with the guidance. The Commission’s report also highlights the importance of local autonomy and flexibility to address school safety issues.
g. Access to firearms: The report noted that most school shooters obtained access to firearms legally, and/or from family members or friends. Based on this, the Commission recommended there is no need for age restrictions firearms purchases. Instead, they recommended expanded use of court petitions to restrict access to firearms when there is a known, imminent risk of harm.
Protection and Mitigation
a. Training: The report emphasizes the need for staff training in crisis management, as well as training for specialized staff such as school resource officers. Collaboration among staff and law enforcement is needed as well. The report promotes the transition of military veterans and retired law enforcement officers to careers in the field of education. The report summarizes the provisions FERPA and HIPAA and the importance that staff know when and why they may be authorized to disclose otherwise private information to law enforcement officials.
b. Building and campus security: Schools should develop effective security plans, particularly in areas where law enforcement response times may be longer. In addition, safety plans should cover after school and extracurricular activities. Limiting access points and increasing awareness of building-specific needs are highlighted.
Response and Recovery
Here, the report reviewed various training and safety planning initiatives, including active shooter drills. In addition, it highlighted the need for internal and external communication plans.
Bottom Line for Schools
The report notes repeatedly that school violence is not a new problem, and that there is no single solution to the problem of school violence. Nonetheless, the report highlights the need to address school culture and not just pursue defensive tactics. The report advised that schools put effort and resources into training, address the educational and mental health needs of students, and engage schools and students with family and community resources.
After reviewing previous federal initiatives in these areas, the report recommends that families along with state and local agencies should take the lead in these efforts moving forward.
If your school has a question, please contact your legal counsel or one of the attorneys at KingSpry.
This School Law Bullet is a publication of the KingSpry Education Law Practice Group. John E. Freund is our editor. It is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.