How Do We Make Schools Safe?

              Our friend Shannon Watts is back in the news again because her parent organization, Everytown, has joined with the two major teachers’ unions – AFT and NEA – to raise concerns about the value of active shooter drills which are now performed in 95% of all public schools. This follows a report on school safety issued by Everytown last year, which outlined some basic strategies endorsed by the unions who represent most of the teachers working in the 132,000 public schools every day.

              School security has become a major issue because some of the worst mass shootings – Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland – have occurred in both elementary and high schools. And while a school building is still a very safe place, our friends in Fairfax and other loony-tunes gun nuts have been pushing the idea of arming teachers and conducting exercises to protect teachers and students from shooters, usually referred to as lockdown drills.

              When I was in the 5th grade, we had to squat down under our desks because the Russians were going to drop an atomic bomb on our city and lying down underneath our desks would protect us from harm.  I enjoyed these drills because it gave me an opportunity to fool around with my seat-mate Brenda, who had been left behind twice and was therefore already somewhat physically endowed.  I had absolutely no idea who the Russians were or what the term ‘atomic bomb’ really meant. I didn’t know and I didn’t care. All I really cared about was trying to cop a quick feel from Brenda without Mrs. Morse interfering in our fun.

              The lockdown drills now being conducted by a security industry are very unlike what I did to keep myself from being immolated by an atomic bomb. The drills require students to simulate a situation in which a shooter is roaming through their school, complete with warnings from teachers, maybe viewing a life-size replica of someone who has been shot, lining up and running out of the building in a minute or less. The companies which provide this service are now raking in more than $3 billion every year. Meanwhile, the kids often suffer from all kinds of psychologically-damaging reactions, and there’s no evidence that these drills make  schools safer or more secure.

              Shannon gave a solid interview on behalf of the new Everytown report. She was speaking on behalf of Everytown, but when it comes to school safety, she knows what she’s talking about because she also runs MOMS. And the MOMS organization must count at least several million mothers whose children attend school. So, when Shannon says that she hears again and again about kids who were terrified because they had to take part in lockdown drills, she isn’t just pushing out some alarmist messaging designed to raise more funds.

              Right after Sandy Hook, the boys from Fairfax rolled out a school safety program called School Shield, which went nowhere fast. The program involved doing safety audits of school sites, training teachers to watch for threats, hardening school premises with better locks, more alarms and stronger doors. Nobody who is seriously concerned about school safety paid attention to this PR stunt because, after all, the NRA has been promoting the elimination of gun-free zones such as schools for years.

              I have no issue with the security measures being promoted by Everytown which are endorsed by the AFT and the NEA. But perhaps as they move forward in this program, they might want to think of one more safety initiative as well.

              Most school systems now have curricular attention being paid to violence, but the violence is usually defined as bullying or other forms of personal, physical abuse. Why not widen the definition of violence to include teaching the kids about the risk of guns? After all, there isn’t a school system anywhere that doesn’t expose its students to the risks of smoking, drugs, obesity and unprotected sex. So why should gun violence remain, as they say, the odd man out?


And After We Get Guns Into The Schools, Let’s Train The Teachers Too.

I was going to wait until tomorrow to run this column, but it’s just too juicy to wait.  So here we have Herr Donald Trump going on and on about arming teachers and other school personnel. There isn’t a single educational organization which has expressed anything except doubts about such a crazy idea, but remember that Trump’s mission is to ‘make’ and ‘keep’ America great again, which if nothing else means jettisoning out all those stupid, wasteful and useless liberal ideas for how to run government and replace them with programs that really work!

teachers             And it just so happens that Trump has a buddy named Eric Prince who happens to be in the gun-training business – a perfect fit! Here’s Schmuck-o Trump’s tweet: “Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law.” Catch the highly-trained bit, I’ll get back to that one in a minute. And how is Schmuck-o going to pay for this training? The same way he’s going to pay for the Wall.

Not only is Trump-o’s good buddy the head of a training company, but the good buddy happens to have a sister named Betsy DeVos. And she just happens to be the Secretary of Education and therefore in a position to help turn this crazy training idea into a law. Am I saying that the idea of arming teachers is nothing more than a blatant attempt to create a government program that will put a pile of dough into the hands of a well-placed, Presidential friend?

The last time I checked, there were some 115,000 public elementary and high schools in the United States holding somewhere around 57 million kids.  If we stuck two guards in each school and each guard paid three hundred bucks for a training course, that’s around 75 million revenue to the outfit selected to deliver the training course. That’s not exactly chump change or even Trump change for the training company which used to be known as Blackwater when Prince founded it in 1997, but then changed its name to Xe Services after four employees were convicted of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. The company was acquired by an investment group in 2011, its new name is Academi, and it claims to operate the largest training facility for private, armed guards anywhere in the United States.

Trump and his DC minions are sold on the idea that if you privatize any government service, you get a better bang for your buck. The fact that the service in question is being delivered by someone who happens to be a friend isn’t considered to be a conflict by anyone in the White House at all. Unfortunately, a real conflict involving Prince may be due to the fact that a certain investigation by a guy named Mueller may have turned up evidence linking Prince to a back-channel connecting Putin to Trump.

But not to worry because even if it ends up that Prince can’t provide the ‘rigorous’ training which Trump claims the teachers will receive, there’s another private outfit ready and waiting to put together a training program that will help  America’s teachers protect the kids. And unlike Prince’s outfit which has been in the training business for only 40 years, this other company has been engaging in gun training since 1876.

Right now the boys in Fairfax are putting together a new NRA course called something like Safe Gun Use in Schools. Now the trick is to get some of their Congressional toadies to pass a law that will reimburse school districts the costs of training armed guards as long as the training curriculum is developed by the NRA.  And this will go a long way towards making up for the collapse of the vaunted Carry Guard training program which right now has exactly one single course listed in the entire USA.

Know where this whole idea to arm teachers is going to wind up?  Nowhere. And that’s because even with friends trying to help friends, the idea is simply dumb, dumber, dumbest and dumb.

Of Course We Need Guns In Schools. Of Course We Do.

Want to make it look like you’re doing something to solve a problem even if you are doing nothing?  Announce the formation of a task force.  Works every time. And now that Herr Donald is tying to pretend that he’s just another middle-of-the-road guy who wants to get input from all sides, he’s created a task force to deal with school safety, in particular making schools safe from people who might wander in to the building with a gun.

devos              Now despite claims by the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement that Trump has decided not to make any legal changes in how we regulate guns, what he has realty done is kick the veritable can down the veritable road and put Nancy DeVos in charge of the task force which will discuss ‘all options,’ including whether to raise the minimum age for buying a gun.

You may recall that DeVos is already on record as having recommended that guns be made available to school staff if and when lethal force needed to be used. During her confirmation hearing she cited as an example the fact that a grizzly bear had been wandering around outside a Wyoming school and that the decision to arm school personnel needed to reflect the concerns of the local community. By the end of this hearing, we knew that the person responsible for the Federal approach to educating our children was an idiot who didn’t know anything about either bears or schools, but since when did someone need to pass an I.Q. test to work for Donald Trump?

Getting back to the newly-minted (but not yet formed) task force whose work is supposed to be completed in a year, the problem is that if this group sits down and actually looks at the data on school violence, they will discover that there really is nothing for them to do. Why? Because public schools happen to be about the safest place for the 50.7 million students to spend their time – safer than any other public venue (shopping centers, theaters, etc.,) safer even than their homes.

Want the numbers?  You can find them in a report issued by DeVos’ own Department of Education, “’Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2016.” Here’s the bottom line: Public schools are extremely safe and, believe it or not, getting safer all the time. Here are some relevant highlights from the report:

  • During the 2014–15 school year, there were 1,500 reported firearm possession incidents at schools in the United States, and the rate of firearm possession incidents was 3 per 100,000 students.
  • The percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported that they had access to a loaded gun without adult permission, either at school or away from school, during the current school year decreased from 7 percent in 2007 to 4 percent in 2015.
  • During the 2014–15 school year, there were 1.3 million reported discipline incidents in the United States for reasons related to alcohol, illicit drugs, violence, or weapons possession that resulted in a student being removed from the education setting for at least an entire school day. About 78 percent of these discipline incidents were violent incidents with or without physical injury, 15 percent were illicit drug related, 5 percent were weapons possessions, and 2 percent were alcohol related.
  • In the school year 2013-2014, the number of school homicides of persons ages 5 to 18 was 12, the second-lowest yearly total since this data started to be collected in 1992-93. That same year, 1,200 homicide deaths throughout the United States were recorded for the ages 5 – 18 population.

These numbers validate the fact that there is really no connection between what happened at Parkland and whether a school-age child faces a greater risk from gun violence during the time the child is in school. Which doesn’t mean that what happened at Parkland should ever happen anywhere else. What it does mean is that the reaction of the Trump Administration to school violence is something akin to using the elephant to swat the fly.

But why should we be surprised just because Herr Donald tries to justify a ‘new’ approach by appealing to fear?