But questions about how to keep schools safe linger.
After the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown this past December, the nation was rattled, and began searching for ways to prevent future schools shootings. Arming teachers and increasing the number of school security guards were among the suggestions.
But the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, has begun its own campaign around school safety focused on prevention.
We sat down with Patricia Frost-Brooks, president of the Ohio Education Association, to discuss school safety initiatives in Ohio.
Q: What is the Ohio Education Association’s stand on school safety?
A: We want our schools to be safe. Not only for our educators but the students that are there and for parents and visitors that are coming into our schools. And it’s more encompassing than the schools but it’s also for our education support staff to make sure that our busses are safe for our students, and for the bus drivers that are transporting the students every day, for our food cafeteria workers and for our secretaries and our custodians.
Q: What do you think is the right way to help ensure safety in schools?
A: We want stronger laws and we want to make sure that there is prevention of gun violence and that there are also going to be trainings for teachers and for students to recognize that students may have some type of difficulties and that there are workshops and trainings on bullying.
There is a four-pronged approach to this, to ensure for safety and making sure that there is also a secure learning environment and making sure that it’s safe. So it’s also an increased access to mental health services because many of our schools have had a program loss and staff loss of guidance counselors, school psychologists, nurses, so the teacher cannot always make sure that the student’s needs are going to be met if they’re having some type of problem for that day. But we need to have more of those support mechanisms for the faculty and for the staff in the schools. And then upgrading of school facilities and expanding programs for training for students and educators on bullying prevention.
Q: What kind of legislation would you like to see in terms of increasing safety in schools?
A: So the NEA did a poll of our members at the beginning of the year and there is overwhelming support for stronger gun prevention laws and also including background checks. So we are talking at a national level. Our president Dennis Van Roekel has been talking with Congress about how to make the schools safe, and the … President convened a task force that Vice President Biden was the chair person of about how to make our schools and not only our schools and our communities more safe because it’s not just a school problem, it’s a community problem. We have to make everyone safe.
Q: Ever since the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, there’s been a lot of talk about arming teachers. What are your thoughts on that?
A: That is definitely a local control situation and hopefully the communities when they start to talk about this, they get the input from the communities and those stakeholders that are in the communities of the ramifications and the unintended consequences and the consequences for that about having guns in schools, but it should be more about prevention and about safety than arming people.
Q: It sounds like a lot of what you’re pushing for is on the recognition side of things. Identifying students that are at-risk or in need of assistance. But once those students are identified what should be done with them?
A: When teachers can confidentially go to the guidance counselor, to the nurse or the school psychologist then those that are trained to and skilled to recognize students who are at-risk, they can take the measures that are necessary to help and assist or to communicate to community services where the family can get assistance and help or the student can do it. But it needs to be done in a confidential way where the student is at the front and making sure that they are helped and get the assistance that they need.
Q: It’s been 14 years since the school shooting at Columbine. Are schools safer now?
A: Schools are a safe place. We’ve learned from our lessons and they are making the administrators and teachers come together and try to make the schools safer, putting in evacuation programs, putting in bullying training, talking to their students about identifying if something is unusual or not in the right place for that day, making sure that the staff is aware of situations with students but not in an alarming way but putting it in a more humane way, in a more caring way just to be more conscious of what is going on in that environment.