As America begins a new school year, security and safety are once again paramount. Now, security issues, including violence prevention, are compounded by safety issues due to COVID-19.
During the last 12 years, my “Reawakening the Nation” articles for The Chief of Police have addressed issues such as leadership and public safety. These efforts have been to protect educational communities by integrating best practices with the preventive pedagogy.
As schools open, we must remain vigilant to ensure they are not only secure but safe havens. This is the foundation to character development and academic excellence in America.
Safeguarding Educational Communities From COVID-19
To highlight the explosive gravity of protecting students, a report from WDSU New Orleans deserves attention. The station reported on Aug. 6, 2021 that more than 3,000 Louisiana children tested positive for COVID-19 in just four days.
Governor John Bel of Louisiana stated that more than 6,000 children in the state now have COVID-19. He also stressed this is why children should wear masks when they return to school.
An Abundance of Caution
Although there are differing viewpoints with the hot-button issue of safeguarding our schools from COVID-19, my opinion is built on the philosophy of an abundance of caution.
These recommendations of one medical professional, Ashish K. Jha, M.D., MPH, Dean of the Brown School of Public Heath, Professor of Health Services, Policy, and Practice clearly support the abundance of caution principle.
Dr. Jha, a globally recognized expert on pandemic preparedness and response, detailed these in a Twitter thread on Aug. 8, 2021:
– “My kids’ schools open in a month. Have been talking to school leaders (unions, superintendents) across the US about how to keep schools safe. We have 5 tools. And if we use some combination of them, we can get all kids back to school safely, full-time. So what are they?
1. Vaccines: Serious about safe in-person education? Mandate vaccines for all at risk adults in schools (with standard exceptions). There is increasing consensus on this. And consider mandates for kids over 12. This would protect kids who can’t get the shot.
2. Ventilate: SARS-CoV2 spreads through the air. Congress gave billions of $ to upgrade schools. Schools have had a year to do it. Upgrades largely cheap (in-room portable air filters, opening windows). Any school that hasn’t improved ventilation needs a change in leadership.
3. Masks: Masking helps. Cloth masks help a little. Higher quality masks (KF94, etc.) should be considered in high transmission areas. They are cheap and widely available.
4. Testing: We now have so much testing capability and capacity. Once a week pooled testing is cheap and easy. Lots of alternatives including cheap rapid antigen tests. We have plenty and schools have plenty of money. No excuse not to do testing.
5. Distancing: As delta surges, avoid super crowded assembly halls, indoor concerts, etc. Lunchrooms can be managed with a little distancing, open windows or being outside. This will be critical over next month or so as delta peaks and begins to climb down.
– So that’s the list
5. And avoid indoor crowding.
– Each adds protection. None alone enough in high transmission areas. You don’t have to do them all. But more you do, the more you keep folks safe. And ensure safe in-person learning.
(Note: Twitter communication is microblogging, restricted to short tweets and making a quick point, so although Dr. Jha has more than 200 published research papers, the style of making tweets is grammatically imperfect.)
It should be noted that by taking these measures we are mitigating the possibility of outbreaks. Nevertheless, the virus is dangerous and there are no guarantees — additional measures will be required if the virus accelerates.
School Security, Violence Prevention, Character, Academics
Here is a brief summary of my works addressing the other issues critical to American schools.
America School Violence Demands Moral Courage
The comments of Paige Curry, a Santa Fe student, during a television interview memorialize a heart-wrenching commentary on our school violence pandemic.
Shortly after being escorted safely out of Santa Fe High School, she told reporters that she struggled to overcome her fear by staying calm.
Responding to the 22nd school shooting in 2018, Paige stated “It’s been happening everywhere, I’ve always kind of felt that eventually it would happen here, too.”
Wake up, America. It’s time for moral courage, ethical leadership and the reawakening of the nation.
Mass Attacks in Public Spaces Demand America’s Vigilance
The report from the United States Secret Service titled “The Final Report And Findings Of The Safe School Initiative: Implications For Prevention Of School Attacks In The United States” is a timeless classic.
The document deserves to be studied in its entirety, but it highlights 10 key findings, which are as follows:
– Incidents of targeted violence at school rarely were sudden, impulsive acts.
– Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack.
– Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack.
– There is no accurate or useful “profile” of students who engaged in targeted school violence.
– Most attackers engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.
– Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Moreover, many had considered or attempted suicide.
– Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack.
– Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack.
– In many cases, other students were involved in some capacity.
– Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention.
Five Preliminary Tips for Improving American School Security
Schools must provide the leadership to instill a culture of character.
Developing students with hearts of character built on the pillars of honesty, respect, civility and patriotism must be paramount throughout America’s educational communities.
Character is critical for transforming America and ending its culture of violence. Character education must be consistent, exemplified and rewarded in our schools.
American School Violence Requires a Response of Courage, Commitment, and Community
The school resource officer (SRO) is a priceless component of violence prevention and character education for our schools. This community policing initiative affords the opportunity not only for violence prevention and education but also promotes a positive rapport between law enforcement and students.
Schools should do everything possible to have an SRO program, and law enforcement should be fully committed with the most qualified, trained, certified, and dedicated professionals available.
Carnage of Innocents in America Demands Moral Courage
As the Columbine tragedy fades from the list of America’s most deadly mass shootings, tragedies not only continue, but have become more deadly.
Some of the deadliest mass shootings in the nation have occurred in the last five years, and we continue to witness America’s flag lowered to half-staff.
America, “the land of the free and home of the brave” must not allow these mass shootings to define us. We must also refuse to allow apathy, mediocrity or indifference to rule our times.
America must never accept an attempt to banish these tragedies to back page news.
School Bullying: A Matter of Life and Death
Educators must familiarize themselves with the preventive system — not the repressive system — of education, which includes the following:
– Educators are admired in their dedication to the youth entrusted to their care
– Educators are respected as individuals with character
– Character is the edifice of the preventive system
– Vigilance is exercised to prevent inappropriate behavior
– Improvements in behavior are motivated because students know the educator cares about them and is approachable and available when needed
– Speedy, measured intervention in response to warning signs takes place due to vigilance and awareness
– Educators earn the admiration of youth
Discipline can be as effective as an expression of disappointment or a reproachful look because there is loyalty from the young people to the educator who cares for them
America’s Schools: Security, Character, Academics
The guide “Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools” by the U.S. Department of Education is an essential document that law enforcement and the educational community should be familiar with.
This classic document includes intervention for student warning signs including the following:
Excessive feelings of isolation and being alone
– Being a victim of violence
– Feelings of being picked on and persecuted
– Low school interest/poor academic performance
– Uncontrolled anger
– Patterns of impulsive and chronic hitting, intimidating, and bullying
– Expression of violence in writings
– History of discipline problems
– Past history of violent aggressive behavior
– Drug and alcohol use
– Affiliation with gangs
– Intolerance for differences and prejudicial attitudes
– Inappropriate access to, possession of, and use of firearms
– Serious threats of violence
As schools open throughout America for another school year, we must be fully dedicated to safety especially related to COVID-19, as well as security principles, character education, and academic excellence.
We must reflect visionary leadership. We must also inspire character through personal example, and reward academic excellence. Then, we will be on the path to reawakening the nation. •