6 Minute Read
Former Buffalo Public Schools Principal
Publish dateMay 11, 2023
As a follow up to the post, “When Everybody’s an Expert on School Safety, Who Do You Trust?” it would be irresponsible for us to point out the risks of implicitly trusting a self-proclaimed school safety expert without providing sound advice on ways to make schools safer from gun violence.
Of course, there are many posts on this blog about making schools safer from gun violence, including a layered approach to school safety by Jill Lemond, former assistant superintendent of safety and school operations in Oxford, Michigan Community Schools. Before offering my advice, however, I think it’s important you know my credentials. While I’m typically reluctant to blatantly call attention to myself, in the age of “everybody’s an expert in gun violence,” I felt it important to provide my background to instill confidence in my recommendations.
I am a former police officer. I have been trained in emergency response and tactical maneuvers. I have completed training with the Secret Service and FBI in Sniper School/Dignitary Protection and was a former member of the Special Weapons and Tactical Team (SWAT) team. I protected a former President of the United States. I was also a school teacher and principal for over 25 years and earned a doctorate in educational leadership and administration. I am highly skilled in lesson planning, educational technology, trauma-informed care and emergency response to critical situations in school environments. I currently advise schools on safety and weapons detection systems as part of a holistic approach to reducing the threat of gun violence. Based on more than 40 years working with students, parents, schools and communities on safety strategies and tactics, I offer the following three tangible recommendations for helping make schools safer from gun violence.
1. Apply a multi-layered approach to school safety. I can’t stress this point enough; when it comes to school safety and security, every school needs to take a layered approach that spans people, processes and technology.
From the people perspective, it begins with narratives from within the schools – voices from students, teachers, administrators, support staff, and parents to determine the steps needed to improve school safety. Taking this further, consider the benefits of initiating open dialog about the multiple measures of prevention that are available. We can reduce fear, anxiety and depression – leading factors in gun violence – through the introduction of trauma-informed care, restorative practices, professional learning communities, and transformational leadership workshops.
For processes, I believe schools can take a collaborative approach in creating a mindset that introduces school safety in both a preventative and responsive manner. This isn’t about writing to-do lists or tips on how to react in critical situations that have already occurred. Rather, it’s about bringing educators, students, parents, and stakeholders together on the ways we can prevent an incident and what to do in the event of an incident.
When it comes to technology, instead of debating the use of a weapons screening system, communities should see the discussion as an opportunity. It allows communities to come together and to create safer environments where technology is one of several approaches.
I will share that after speaking with many students and teachers that have installed AI-based weapons detection systems in their schools, they say the use of these systems demonstrates that their districts are focusing on overall safety by starting with preventative measures first.
They see the systems as part of the multi-layered approach that’s also helping to open dialog about safety from all aspects. In many schools, the systems create an additional opportunity for teachers and administrators to greet students as they enter schools each day. This helps set a positive tone where every student feels included and recognized and is yet another way we can make our schools and communities safer.
2. Acknowledge that safety is an on-going priority and yes, it takes a village: Unfortunately, there is no magic wand or one single expert that can address all safety issues once and for all. It’s an ongoing process where school communities should focus on relationship building and de-escalation practices. This is where amazing experts and school safety experts can provide tremendous value in collaborating with educators on the multi-layered approach to school safety. This way, safety experts can do what they do best while educators and students focus on teaching and learning in safer environments. This doesn’t discount the narratives and insights from key stakeholders, but it does lessen the heavy burden of school safety that’s currently on the people at school to learn and teach.
As you can see, there isn’t just one answer or one expert to reduce the threat of gun violence. It requires many, many people working together from a variety of perspectives in schools and the community. In fact, that is the only way we can make a difference – by working together in the interests of the greater good.
3. Establish protocols before an incident occurs. Did you ever stop to think why schools are no longer one-room wooden houses and are now made of brick? Or why every school is required to have sprinklers, smoke detectors, fire alarms, call boxes, fire safety videos, and fire drills? According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), from 1937-1954, there were eight U.S. school fires in grades K-12 that resulted in 755 deaths.
Today, while fires still occur in schools, there are far fewer, they are quickly contained and fatalities are rare. NFPA’s most recent data reports that in the years 2014-2018, fires caused annual averages of one civilian death, 39 civilian injuries, and $37 million in direct property damage. While every school tragedy is horrific, the actions that were put into place decades ago to reduce the risk of fires have also resulted in fewer fire-related deaths. We need to apply the same logic to reducing gun violence in schools.
As gun violence continues to claim more lives, and the number of students and teachers killed in school continues to get higher, having systems in place to prevent weapons from entering should be part of safety protocols. Much like schools have alarms for fires, they should also have alarms for weapons to prevent them from entering the building.
The good news is that more and more schools are adopting a multi-layered approach to safety that includes weapons detection screening. I believe the key to making this happen is by having a transformational leader that understands the layered approach to safety and leads a shared vision for safer schools.
That vision is one where students perform at their best because they are less anxious and distracted by the thought of gun violence. Where teachers aren’t ready to leave the profession because of warranted fears and stress that their lives at risk. And where parents confidently send their children to school each morning knowing they will be able to tuck them in each night.