Relationships Key to School Safety
Fostering trusting relationships between adults and students is the most effective way to improve school safety, a panel of experts told members of Congress during a recent House Education Committee hearing convened in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
To facilitate those relationships, the panel suggested increasing the numbers of school counselors and mental health professionals who serve students; freeing those professionals from other administrative responsibilities so that they can focus on the core functions of their jobs; placing more school resource officers in schools; and training educators to create healthy school climates, use positive behavioral intervention and supports, and promote students' social and emotional skills.
Vincent Pompei, a school counselor for California's Val Verde Unified School District, said "caseloads have grown so much that counselors only have time to put out fires—when we should be preventing fires from igniting in the first place." He shared that although the recommended student-to-counselor ratio is 250-to-1, the ratio is more than 1,000-to-1 in California and nearly 500-to-1 for the nation.
The panelists also stressed the importance of coordinating between school and community stakeholders and developing emergency plans that schools continually update and improve. When asked if they thought educators should bear arms in schools as a way to protect their students, all but one of the panelists emphatically indicated this was a bad idea.
Many of the Obama administration's proposals to prevent gun violence align with the experts' suggestions, but the committee danced around what could be the biggest barrier to implementing the recommendations: a lack of resources. Funding for Readiness and Emergency Management grants for schools was cut in 2011, and overall funding for federal education programs was just slashed by more than $2 billion because of Congress's inability to prevent sequestration (see "Schools Brace for Deep Cuts").
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