President Donald J. Trump takes office today as the 45th President of the United States. As he and his nominated Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, begin working to “Make America Great Again,” they also have the opportunity to “Make Federal School Safety Policy Great Again.”
Obama, Congress eliminated critical school safety programs prior to the Sandy Hook shooting
Federal funding for a comprehensive and balanced federal policy and programming approach to school safety, security, school policing, and emergency / crisis preparedness was chipped away and eventually eliminated from the federal budget by President Obama and Congress during the four years prior to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that resulted in the deaths of 20 children and six adults. These cuts were a part of a downward spiral in federal school policy and programming that took place shortly after President Obama took office and when his appointed staff, with the blessing and support of Congress, eliminated the following federal school safety, security and emergency preparedness programs:
- Safe and Drug Free Schools program, and the actual office itself in the Department of Education, that supported violence and drug prevention, training school security personnel and School Resource Officers, and other school staff;
- Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grants in the Department of Education that were exceptionally effective in helping schools prevent, mitigate, protect, respond, recover and otherwise manage emergencies including, but not limited to, school shootings;
- Secure Our Schools (SOS) program that provided grants for security equipment, security assessments, and training from the Justice Department’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing;
- Safe Schools, Healthy Students grant program that provided schools with resources for mental health, violence prevention associated needs as jointly funded through the collaboration of the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice; and
- COPS in Schools programs for school-based policing in the Justice Department’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing.
Project SERV (School Emergency Response to Violence) program, in the Department of Education, was also a part of a reasonably comprehensive approach to provide short-term resources such as additional security and mental health services to schools that experienced a school shooting or other major act of violence or trauma (9/11, Sandy Hook, etc.).
The political hijacking of school safety for gun control and gun rights, civil rights and other special interest advocacy
Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December of 2012, gun control activists, gun rights advocates, civil rights special interest groups, and politicians hijacked school safety to advance their own political agendas. Meanwhile, little meaningful action has been taken to help principals, teachers, and first responders improve school security and emergency preparedness on the front lines in education.
School safety professionals have seen comprehensive federal school safety policy and programs, like those described above, eliminated. Balanced approaches to school safety were marginalized as political agendas superseded best practices. Comprehensive and balanced best practices were replaced by:
- School safety being politically hijacked by special interest groups using school safety to advocate for gun control or gun rights political agendas;
- Civil rights special interest groups demanding the removal of School Resource Officers (SROs) from schools instead of focusing on returning school-based policing to proven best practice models for governing such programs, and using “bullying” to advance special interest group agendas;
- Education Department policies and practices with a skewed focus on civil rights instead of civil rights being one important component of a balanced approach to school safety focused upon prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery and a related comprehensive focus.
How President Trump, Secretary DeVos and Congress can “Make Federal School Safety Policy Great Again”
President Donald Trump, his presumed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Congress are positioned to make federal school safety policy great again by taking the following steps:
- Restore and expand eliminated federal school safety programs including the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS), Secure Our Schools, and Safe Schools, Healthy Students programs. Focus the REMS program on its original model of prevention, mitigation, response and recovery grants direct to local schools that develop lessons learned and models that can be replicated in our nation’s public, private, charter and other schools. Make the Secure Our Schools grant moderately funded and to require security equipment expenditures to be a part of a more comprehensive, people-oriented approach of school safety programs. Focus Safe Schools, Healthy Students program on providing student mental health support models to prevent violence, school shootings and other violence.
- Restore the COPS in Schools program and address legitimate concerns about the school-to-prison pipeline through training and modeling programs in accordance with proven best practice models in school-based policing.
- Establish new violence and drug prevention programs, training programs for school security, policing and administrative personnel, and related programs that address emerging trends, such as the nation’s heroin epidemic, terrorist lone-wolf security threats, etc.
- Keep the gun-control and gun-rights debate where it belongs: Separate and distinct from school safety policy, and debated without exploiting it under the guise of school safety.
- Address civil rights concerns with school discipline, policing and security, bullying and other safety issues, while making these programs and strategies an inclusive part of a broader, comprehensive federal school safety policy and programming strategy.
- Avoid limited, narrowly focused school safety programs and policies that are skewed heavily to security hardware and equipment, or modeled after homeland security and other practices that are geared for non-child-centered industries and facilities.
- Engage experts in federal school safety, security and emergency preparedness who are experienced and knowledgable of preK-12 schools, i.e., experts in preK-12 school security and policing, school psychology, school administration, etc. who understand preK-12 school climate, culture, special needs and school-community relations.
- Substantially reduce current funding skewed toward federal-funded “research” (such as the millions and millions in National Institute of Justice “research” grants) and redirect federal resources directly to protect local schools and create replicable models, such as was done by the former Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grant program. Stop wasting millions upon millions of federal school safety dollars on Beltway-bandit research and technical assistance firms, state government agencies or non-profits that burn away these funds for administrative costs, studies, “technical assistance,” etc. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) in 2014 allocated $75 million alone for a “Comprehensive School Safety Initiative” for “research” on school safety and additional waves of millions for more research in 2015 and 2016. Today, in 2017, there has yet to be any substantial benefit to local schools. In fact, a January, 2017, Education Week article noted about the NIJ that, “It may be a few more years before researchers begin publishing the first of their findings, as many of the funded studies and pilot-projects have a multi-year time frame.” Put limited federal school safety funds where they belong: On the front lines to keep students and educators safe TODAY.
President Trump and Congress have the unique opportunity to depoliticize, shake-up and restore federal school safety policy into a comprehensive, balanced and best practice model that will “make federal school safety policy great again.”
We encourage and support them in rising to the challenge to put these meaningful resources and practices back to the local level to support school-communities in protecting children and educators.
National School Safety and Security Services
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Updated: January 24, 2017