The Last Word March 2013

We recently have been challenged to consider, once again, the safety of our American schools. Following the catastrophic events at Newtown, Conn., we were reminded that our schools are vulnerable to domestic terrorism. In an instant, the families and community of Newtown were changed forever.

Almost immediately, the educational community was thrust into a national debate on guns and school safety. The White House has weighed in, as have various Congressional members and the National Rifle Association. Experts on school safety also have answered the call to action. After all, schools are supposed to be safe havens for our children. On the heels of the Newtown incident, the safety of schools was called into question.

My experience has been -- and I am convinced -- that schools are still safe. More than 50 million children are in school every day, and while schools are not immune from events like Columbine and those in Newtown, overall they are secure.

The villain in this most recent attack was a mentally troubled individual. Many believe a ban on assault weapons or armed guards in schools could have prevented the shootings. However, multiple factors contributed to this disaster, most likely beginning with a troubled family relationship.

Almost 20 years ago, a shooting tragedy occurred in my community of Boone County in Kentucky. Clay Shrout, a high school junior, murdered his parents and younger sisters before taking his math class hostage at Ryle High School. Thankfully, a skilled administrator persuaded the young man to give up his weapon. What could have been a disaster akin to those at Columbine or Newtown was averted.

Today, in many of our schools, we have armed school resource officers (SROs). They are experienced police officers who interact with students, watch over the schools, and prepare safety plans. Notwithstanding their presence, no perfect way exists to make our schools armed and completely secure institutions. Do we really want such environments anyway? Where would the interventions stop? Already, many schools have SROs, metal detectors, secure entrances, etc. Despite our best efforts, we will continue to have incidents that will call the safety of our schools into question.

Every year, more children are killed by abuse and drunk driving than we care to admit. Assigning a social worker to each family and banning cars is not the answer. Despite the awareness of child abuse and the constant reminder of the impact of drunk driving, America still experiences thousands of deaths annually.

So, what can we do? First, we can work together to see what suits our needs. What may be best for one community may not be for another.

Second, we can continue to enact safety plans while constantly learning from the events that continue to occur.

Finally, we can continue to advocate to our leaders on the importance of funding to continue to implement safety and security measures, including the use of SROs.

And we can work on restoring the values of American families. Every day, children in communities all over America experience their own crises. We must be astute to the signals of those in distress and be willing to intervene. Some families need love, and some need mental health treatment. We must be proactive to assist those in need, as opposed to reacting to deadly and violent events.

NSBA has compiled its school safety resources, including past ASBJ articles and designed specifically for school boards, on its school safety Webpage at www.nsba.org/Board-Leadership/School-Safety. NSBA’s annual conference in April also will have a series of sessions on what school leaders can do to find their way through tragedy or disaster; on addressing school climate; and on protecting students, including a preconference workshop, “School Safety & Security: Will Your School Crisis Plan Work When You Need It?”

Let us show our commitment to the memory of those slain in Newtown by committing ourselves to the value of community. Only by working together and by watching over one another can we truly protect those we love most.

C. Ed Massey (cemassey@nkylawyers.com) is the 2012-13 president of NSBA and a member of Kentucky’s Boone County Board of Education.