LFA Members Largely Dismiss School Safety Commission Report

By Joetta Sack-Min

Federal commission releases long-awaited report that most groups said does not go far enough to curb school violent and address mental health needs.

Member organizations of the Learning First Alliance found both praise and criticism for the long-awaited federal Commission on School Safety report released on December 18, 2018.

The 177-page report included many recommendations advocated by LFA members, including a federal clearinghouse of information, support for school counselors, improved access to school-based mental and behavioral health services, threat assessments protocols, and comprehensive school safety plans.

However, many groups were disappointed to see that the report recommended rescinding 2014 guidance on student discipline that sought to protect students of color and special needs students from being unfairly targeted. Most criticized the panel’s perceived lack of leadership on guns and the issue of allowing teachers to be trained to carry firearms in schools, which most LFA groups strongly oppose. And all were concerned that the recommendations did not include funding and other resources.

In a joint statement, LFA members said the federal panel missed a high-profile opportunity to bring leadership as well as resources to schools for social-emotional and mental health needs to prevent violent acts. (Read the full statement)

“The members of LFA share the Secretary and commission’s commitment to enhancing school safety and students’ well-being, but leadership is more than just telling schools what to do,” said Richard M. Long, LFA executive director. “This is a complex problem, and LFA organizations have examples of what works and need the Congress and the Administration to provide resources and assistance to help meet each school communities’ individual needs.”

Below are condensed versions of LFA members’ statements. This list may be updated:

Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association: “While a compendium of recommendations can be helpful to a well-resourced district, which can adopt and implement a multitude of best practices found in the report relatively easily, we are concerned the majority of districts in the U.S. cannot dedicate the resources to fulfilling some of the most basic recommendations of the report… Ultimately, the Federal School Safety Commission’s report has limited utility for school leaders and its purported audience, if school leaders lack the resources to fulfill the best practices and recommendations of the report.” Read more.

National PTA President Jim Accomando: "While the Commission’s report does not explicitly recommend arming educators, National PTA believes the most effective day-to-day school climate is a gun-free campus—which includes not arming teachers and administrators. Teachers and administrators should be able to focus on their primary responsibility, which is to educate our children. Our association opposes any attempt to use federal funds to arm or provide firearm training for educators. National PTA recognizes that school safety is a multi-faceted issue with no one clear solution for every community. We believe any effort to address school safety must involve all stakeholders who should consider a variety of factors, including the physical and psychological safety of students.” Read more.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García: “Betsy DeVos’ U.S. Department of Education is using the commission to pursue her agenda to dismantle students’ civil rights protections — an agenda that affects our most vulnerable students the hardest. We do not need the appearance of safety; we need real solutions that create safe schools and address the underlying root of school violence. We need strategies to create positive, supportive learning environments and prevention efforts that end the hardening and over-policing of our public schools.” Read more.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten: “The Federal Commission on School Safety took a horrendous year of school shooting tragedies and produced a report with a smorgasbord of recommendations—some of which we have championed for years—aimed at making our schools safer. Unfortunately, the report doesn’t address the root causes of the gun violence epidemic: too many guns in our communities and not enough investment in addressing the social-emotional health of our kids. And, sadly, the Trump administration has no coherent plan to address this crisis.” Read more.

Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director and CEO of the National School Boards Association: “The National School Boards Association is pleased that several of our recommendations are included in the Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety issued today. Our recommendations include 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 our youth. We agree with the Commission’s recommendations to foster collaboration among government organizations. Increasing and facilitating information-sharing can bolster productive intervention before a crisis occurs.” Read more.

JoAnn Bartoletti, Executive Director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals: "It is puzzling that the Federal Commission on School Safety would spend seven months and untold tax dollars on rediscovering well-known school safety strategies, in part a subset of the more comprehensive Framework for Safe and Successful Schools. In any case, we welcome the Commission’s voice to our common call for greater attention to the mental health both of our students and of those who might do them harm. Yet the Commission compromises its own credibility by staying mute on the issue of firearm access and other prevention efforts that reduce the need to turn schools into fortresses." Read more.

A response from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education stated: "AACTE is also concerned about the report’s particular discussion on the preparation of teachers. While AACTE and its members agree that veterans and law enforcement professionals can bring a wealth of knowledge to any new career, we disagree that classroom management and experience in training others are pedagogical skills. There is far more knowledge and practice necessary for the successful teaching of students or the management of a school, all of which is offered through an educator preparation program. In addition, AACTE is deeply concerned about the Commission’s recommendation that states should reduce barriers to certification for becoming teachers." 






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