School Safety Plans

By Shamus P. O'Meara

After the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., school boards all over the country have focused attention on how they might prevent such a tragedy at their own schools. As these important discussions take place, we reflect on national school safety and emergency management efforts and available resources.

Over the years, school shootings and incidents of violence have led to a comprehensive and committed approach among school districts, national and state school associations, law enforcement, and community partners to prevent incidents of violence in our schools and to properly handle them, should they occur.

In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed the Gun-Free Schools Act, requiring school officials to develop “get tough” policies relative to school violence. The federal Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act also funded anti-drug and anti-violence programs, and provided guidelines for emergency management. Following the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, school and law enforcement officials developed school crisis plans, and experts trained teachers and school staff to handle potentially violent situations.

Many states also passed laws directing school boards to develop, adopt, and annually review districtwide school discipline policies. State education departments and school boards associations introduced model policies for crisis management and violence prevention to assist school districts on these important issues.

School-based violence prevention programs also emerged, such as Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT), which teaches young people about the perils of gang affiliation. Behavioral programs and programs aimed at preventing bullying and fostering positive school climate now exist in many states. Safe-school resource centers now help in the development and dissemination of best practices and methods of violence prevention. 

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