Homeland Security

To Protect Our Kids and Make Schools Safer, Let’s Turn to the States For Help

This Article Originally Appeared in The Hill

After a tragic shooting in a south Florida school earlier this year, 17 parents no longer wait for the sound of the school bus coming home in the afternoon. Among families across the states, awareness is at a fever pitch, and calls for action are plentiful. But, action does not necessarily mean solutions.

Budget appropriations do not necessarily mean safety. With more than 150 school safety related bills considered by state legislatures this year, the American people and the legislators they have elected have a unique opportunity to create real solutions for school safety. Today’s epidemic of school violence calls for a full review and in-depth study of school security practices and what proposals have been proven to work.

Will change come from perimeter security or door wedges? These are real questions. The answer to each is yes, no and maybe. While swift action — in the form of appropriation — shows legislators are committed to ensuring school safety, there are myriad solutions that deserve attention and analysis.

Nationally, there are about 100,000 K-12 public schools, serving nearly 50 million students with six million teachers and staff, for about 180 days of every year. With thousands of school systems implementing a variety of approaches to school safety, there is no shortage of effort, but legislators need to identify and help implement solutions that work.

And, all options should be on the table. However, the real question is not who can act the fastest, but what actions can be taken that give kids and schools the safe learning environment they deserve. There are no binary solutions to tackle these issues, but an uncompromising commitment to school safety must be the focus of all decision-makers at every level of government.

Many programs, solutions and resources are already in place in states around the nation. School security and safety reforms in states like Connecticut, Indiana, and others should serve as successful blueprints for other states.

The implementation of reforms must be done quickly and efficiently, but with the needed time for empirical analysis of program results. Some school safety measures can be costly, though others may be simple and cost-effective. Utah’s SafeUT Line a 24/7 anonymous tip line available to students to report bullying or threats empowers students with a “see something, say something” mentality.

Some states already offer promising practices that are being implemented to great effect. Lawmakers in Connecticut have passed laws requiring electronic surveillance at access points to campuses, as well as tamper-proof locks.

In Texas, the Texas School Safety Center was created in 2001 to serve as a central location for school safety information and school security statewide. As part of its role, it implements active shooter trainings, security risk assessments, and secures additional funding for ensuring schools are secure against threats.

Mitigating threats alone will not make our schools safer for students and teachers. All too often we read that warning signs of troubled children were evident well before a tragedy occurs. Providing additional mental health resources for schools to intercede with students who may struggle with issues can help ensure they receive the care and support they need before they resort to violence. Providing these types of holistic approaches can stop the problem at its root.

Some states also have complex legal codes and structures in place that govern different aspects of schools in different manners. Creating a plan of action and working quickly to untangle bureaucratic logjams is key to helping effectively create legislation that will create safer campuses and give lawmakers the understanding they need to create standards in areas they may never have imagined.

As the largest voluntary membership association of American state legislators, the American Legislative Exchange Council is uniquely positioned to convene such a discussion. This week, more than one thousand state legislators from across the 50 states will join together in New Orleans for an in-depth discussion about what’s working.

They will identify principles for school security. These are not prescriptions, rather they will be a broad framework for guidance, assessment and implementation that take all factors and stakeholders into account.

It’s time for states around the nation to come together and share the tools needed to ensure kids are safe and focused on learning. Now is not the time for partisanship or personal attacks. It is not the time for motive questioning or marginalizing possible solutions. Our kids are too important. They are the most important. Everyone agrees on that point, so let’s start there.

Robert Boyd is the executive director of Secure Schools Alliance, a national leadership organization focused on improving the security infrastructure, security technology and life safety systems of America’s K-12 public schools. Lisa B. Nelson is chief executive officer of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the nation’s largest voluntary membership association of state legislators.

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