The House Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), today held a hearing entitled "Protecting Students and Teachers: A Discussion on School Safety." Members examined ways school leaders and local officials can help students feel more secure in the classroom.
During his opening remarks, Chairman Kline said, "Two months have passed since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. Families across America continue to grieve with the Newtown community. The sorrow we felt on that day remains fresh in our minds and hearts."
Chairman Kline continued, "The purpose of today's hearing is not to assign blame. This isn't about us. It isn't about a press release or a bill introduction or a media opportunity. This is about students. Teachers. Families. Communities. This hearing is about learning what goes into protecting our schools and preventing violence. This is about ways we can work together to help students feel safe."
During the hearing, school leaders stressed the importance of building strong relationships between students, teachers, principals, community leaders, and local safety officials.
Bill Bond, who served as the principal at Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky at the time of the 1997 school shooting that left three students dead, said the experience led him to his current role as Specialist for School Safety for the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
"I'm often asked if school shootings can be prevented with more security -- cameras and metal detectors, and the like. While they may deter some intruders and prevent more weapons from entering our schools, that equipment can only go so far," Mr. Bond said. "The most effective way to prevent acts of violence targeted at schools is by building trusting relationships with students and others in the community so that threats come to light and can be investigated as appropriate."
Frederick Ellis, director of Fairfax County Public Schools' Office of Safety and Security, echoed Mr. Bond's comments about the importance of building strong relationships within the community: "Much of the efforts of my office involve the establishment and maintenance of relationships with agencies we work with during an incident, such as the police, the fire and rescue department, the health department, etc. In emergencies, relationships are currency."
Additionally, Mr. Ellis stressed the importance of school emergency plans that focus on the four phases of emergency management: mitigation/prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. He noted that each Fairfax County school has an individual, site-specific emergency plan that is updated annually.
Members also heard testimony from school security experts. Brett Bontrager, senior vice president and group executive of the security systems division of Stanley Black & Decker, emphasized the need for emergency planning. "As we all know, security measures and practices are designed to slow down an intruder, for every moment that you can delay or slow down an intruder to allow time for law enforcement to arrive can save countless lives, but understanding the right solutions and the overall task is overwhelming," he said.
Mr. Bontrager urged schools to develop distinct safety plans, adding, "No single lock or system is the answer. Instead, a comprehensive, integrated security package and long-term roadmap should be designed and implemented, which would take into account the unique physical nature of each school."
National Association of School Resource Officers executive director Mo Canady described how a school resource officer (SRO) can play an integral role in protecting students, stating, "By being part of a school safety team, the SRO becomes fully engaged in crisis planning to include prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. SROs can provide value to the written plans for a school district. They can also assist with campus site assessments as well as conducting safety drills." He stated SROs also help by "educating students about law-related topics and mentoring students as informal counselors and role models."
As Mr. Ellis concluded, "Statistically, schools remain incredibly safe places for children to be. Perspective, reasonableness, and cost are necessary criteria for communities to use in their deliberations [on the nature and extent of school security measures]. I know of no school system that guarantees safety and security, but I do know that the professionals in the education community will do all that they can reasonably do to maintain a safe and secure educational environment."