Today at 9:30 a.m. the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on state and federal recommendations for enhancing school safety against targeted violence. In the following letter to Committee Chairman Ron Johnson and top Democrat Gary Peters, Alliance for Excellent Education President Deb Delisle outlines our ideas to ensure that students and educators feel safe in schools and are safe in schools.
Dear Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Peters:
The Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) is pleased your committee will hold a hearing this week titled, “Examining State and Federal Recommendations for Enhancing School Safety Against Targeted Violence.” All4Ed is a Washington, DC-based national nonprofit committed to improving the educational outcomes—and lives—of high school students, especially those underperforming and those historically underserved. As such, we believe it is critical that students and educators feel safe in schools and are safe in schools.
In March 2018, All4Ed released a statement on gun violence in schools that supports a multi-tiered approach to addressing school-related gun violence that:
- includes student voices and perspectives;
- ensures schools have requisite personnel, including school counselors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, and other mental health professionals;
- reforms school discipline to reduce exclusionary practices and foster positive social and emotional learning for students; and
- enacts common-sense gun control measures.
We know that a year later, addressing these issues is still essential. In March 2019, Education Week reported that 1.7 million students attend schools with police officers and no counselors, 3 million students attend schools with police officers and no school nurses, 6 million are in schools with police officers and no school psychologists, and 10 million are in schools with police officers and no social workers. Without these key educational support personnel, police officers may be asked to help resolve problems for which they are not trained and that require professionals with entirely different knowledge and skills.
Moreover, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reports that students with disabilities are more likely to be restrained, referred, or arrested by law enforcement. OCR has also documented bias against students of color regarding referral to law enforcement agents in school. Therefore, reforming school discipline policies is essential for ensuring the safety of historically underserved students.
Lastly, All4Ed is concerned that many student safety policies currently being proposed do not incorporate student privacy protections. For example, the Federal Commission on School Safety report focuses on sharing data and, thus, has privacy implications for students, teachers, and the public. The report, however, unfortunately offers little guidance to educators, districts, or states on how to implement security measures while including appropriate privacy protections. At the state level, Florida passed a law earlier this year that includes the creation of a school safety database that would collect information about children and young people’s social media activity and other sensitive topics and store it in a state database to be shared with state employees, schools, and law enforcement. Educators, districts, and states need guidance on how to implement these types of security measures while including appropriate student privacy protections. Safety and privacy are not competing goals and in fact, should and can work in tandem with each other.
During your committee’s hearing this week, I encourage you to keep in mind that school safety is about more than preventing shootings. It also encompasses issues such as student voice, educational support personnel, school discipline practices, positive social and emotional learning, and student privacy. All4Ed urges the committee to define school safety broadly, to ensure that students’ best interests inform school safety policies and initiatives. With more than forty years of experience in education, I know first-hand the value and importance of safety and support measures for kids.
Thank you for your leadership. All4Ed looks forward to continuing its work with you on this important issue.
President and CEO
Alliance for Excellent Education