On March 12, 2018, President Donald Trump established the Federal Commission on School Safety to review safety practices and make meaningful and actionable recommendations of best practices to keep students safe. On December 18th, that Commission issued its 177-page Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety that includes the 93 best practices and policy recommendations for improving school safety.
The report includes 19 chapters divided into three sections – prevention of school violence; protecting students and teachers and mitigating the effects of violence; and responding to and recovering from attacks. Highlights and recommendations include:
Providing character education and a positive school climate so that students feel connected to, rather than isolated from, teachers and fellow students, and also helps combat cyberbullying.
Improving access to school-based mental health and counseling services and integrating mental health, substance misuse, and other supportive services into schools.
Conducting threat assessments and utilizing and supporting programs that encouraged the reporting of suspicious activities.
Developing a media plan as part of a broader crisis preparedness, response, and recovery plan.
Collaborating with parents to strengthen internet safety and develop measures to curb access to inappropriate content.
Rescinding guidance issued by prior administrations designed to eliminate the disparate impact of discipline on minority and special education students as such guidance limits or interferes with educators’ ability to discipline students.
Providing school safety training for all school personnel, including school resource officers.
Considering arming some “specially selected and trained school personnel” (including but not limited to SROs and SSOs) as a deterrent.
Hiring more military veterans and retired law enforcement officers as they would make “highly effective educators.”
Conducting risk assessments of the school site, location, resources, and personnel to identify vulnerabilities and enable the development of a strategy to address any security gaps.
Preparing for a potential active shooter incident through training, planning, and related strategies.
Time will tell if the report and its recommendations will prove useful to schools or if it is simply more political rhetoric and jockeying from Washington. However, as you might expect in today’s political climate, the report has played to mixed reviews. Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director and CEO of the National School Boards Association, stated that the NSBA is pleased that several of its recommendations are included in the report, such as allowing local school districts to customize approaches that best fit their communities, providing more support for school resource officers, and improving school-based mental health and counseling for students. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the National Education Association President, criticized the report, saying it strips students of their civil rights protections, was created without any real input from teachers and school personnel, seeks to put more guns in schools, and does “little to make student safer.”
For our part, we view the report and its recommendations with a certain amount of caution. We recognize that many of the issues the report touches on are both dependent upon the specific circumstances of each school and the application of state law. Additionally, we are confident that Nebraska schools will continue to maintain a safe environment that strikes a balance between protecting students and respecting their rights.
We also believe that any reaction to the report should be tempered by the fact that it is nothing more than a representation of what the Trump Administration deems best practices - the report does not carry the force of law, nor does it represent the standard by which districts will be judged. To that end, for the most part, the report did not include any plans, or even a hint or suggestion, of federal funding to implement the recommendations. Given the lack of federal funding and the state’s expectation that schools do more with less, it appears that schools looking to implement the report recommendations will be expected to do so within their existing budgets.
*A Special Note on Arming Teachers
One of the recommendations from the report that we have received many calls on in the last few years is to consider arming school personnel. Legislation was introduced in Nebraska in 2014 that would allow individuals with a special permit to carry a concealed handgun in schools. The bill was opposed by the Nebraska State Education Association and the Nebraska School Boards Association and didn’t make it out of committee. However, there are rumblings that a new bill will be introduced in the next legislative session that will again tackle the issue of arming individuals in schools. As we continue to analyze this issue, the report, and their effects on districts, we’ll be updating you with additional posts discussing how some of the recommendations interact with Nebraska state law and the day-to-day operations of Nebraska schools.
If you have questions about the report specifically or school safety generally, you should consult with your school or ESU’s attorney or contact Karen, Steve, Bobby, Coady, or Mandy.