Anything remotely close to comprehensive and balanced federal school safety public policy and funding died in 2011. Minus a handful of exceptions, if that many, the same can be said for state level school safety efforts. And far too many local school districts are not far behind.
The U.S. Department of Education, academic experts and school safety professionals spent over a decade preaching that the best chance of effectively addressing school safety is to have policy and programs comprehensive and balanced in their approach. This means prevention-only or enforcement-only approaches are destined to fail. Prevention, intervention, mental health, security, school-based policing, emergency preparedness, school climate, school discipline and other strategies collectively reflect such balance and comprehensiveness.
Although the “comprehensive and balanced” philosophy continues to be generally accepted in professional school safety circles, it did not stop the Obama Administration, Congress, special interest groups, state governments and others from destroying anything resembling comprehensive and balanced school safety public policy and funding in 2011.
Some factors contributing to a “perfect storm” climate that a number of school safety professionals believe has set back over a decade of progress made in professional school safety policy and funding include:
- Obama Administration destroys the federal Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools: Kevin Jennings, Obama’s Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug Free Schools, finished off his two-year stint in the U.S. Department of Education by almost single-handedly destroying anything resembling a comprehensive and balanced approach the federal school safety public policy and funding. Jennings, an Obama campaign-bundler and founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), publicly advocated almost exclusively for “anti-bullying” policy and funding. School emergency planning, school security, school-based policing, drug prevention and other violence prevention efforts were either eliminated or marginalized to the point of total ineffectiveness with Jennings at the helm. Jennings resigned mid-year and moved seamlessly into a CEO job at a national non-profit organization having political origins. Bill Modzeleski, the long-time number two guy in the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, retired from federal service after a decade in that office as what some privately described as the consummate bureaucratic “survivor” who followed the political winds of the day. The Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools was eliminated weeks after Jennings left with the remaining programs tucked away under the Department’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education where they continued the last few months of the year by putting out lame newsletters referencing other federal studies and programs, research reports, non-profit organization links and a periodic reference to federal school nutrition and health programs. The Education Department attempted to spin the demise of this office by blaming Congress for cutting safe schools funds.
- Special interest groups intensified the politicizing of school safety by labeling gay rights special interest goals of creating federal and state laws enumerating the phrases “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into a new protected civil rights class under the guise of “bullying.” Simultaneous lobbying for federal “anti-bullying” laws and state-level laws have similar themes of protected class language, although federal efforts appear stalled due to the balance of power in Congress while state-level efforts have had mixed results. This “anti-bullying movement” or “safe schools movement” continues as we head into 2012. Look for federal efforts to focus on slipping in language in the federal Elementary and Secondary Education (ESEA) Act reauthorization pending in Congress since the actual “anti-bullying” bills before Congress will likely go nowhere with the current Republican House majority.
- Civil rights special interest groups continued their assault against school-based police, school security and school discipline (suspensions and expulsions) by issuing multiple “studies” and “reports” from civil rights and liberal activist organizations. Efforts continue behind-the-scenes to use these “studies” and “reports” to influence language in the federal ESEA Act mentioned earlier.
- State education departments eliminated or dramatically downsized state-level school safety programs and funding. The South Carolina Department of Education eliminated its state school safety office. Other state school safety centers or offices downsized their staff, programs, funding and/or influence. A few state programs continue to surviveand thrive, such as the Indiana School Safety Specialist Academy in the Indiana Department of Education, but they are the exception and not the rule.
- School safety and prevention were first on the chopping block in local school district budget cuts. 2011 saw continued and intensified cuts of drug and violence prevention programs, mental health services, counselors, school security staff, school resource officer (SRO) programs, professional development training and similar school safety programs in local school districts. Very early signs of the adverse impact of these cuts have already popped up in scattered areas.
Penny-wise but pound-foolish school safety budget cuts will likely continue into 2012 barring a major national catastrophic school safety incident with shortwaves reaching into local schools nationwide. The politicizing of school safety will unquestionably continue, especially given the Obama Administration’s political courting of civil rights, gay rights and related special interest groups.
Veteran school safety professional agree that it will take a long-time to undo the damages done to school safety public policy and funding leading up to and through 2011.
Fortunately, at ground level we still have many school safety professionals advocating for truly balanced, comprehensive and professional school safety programs and strategies. Unfortunately, their backs are against the wall and they are fighting an uphill battle. They need our support, even if it is just moral support, now more than ever.
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