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Editorial: Education departments need to help districts with safety policies

Editorial: Education departments need to help districts with safety policies

In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, many school districts are trying to figure out the solution on their own
Editorial: Education departments need to help districts with safety policies

Forgive local school districts for struggling with whether to put armed guards in schools.

It’s really not an easy call.

In the wake of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February, in which 17 individuals were killed by a former student, some school districts rushed to add armed guards to protect students and faculty from mass shooters.

Other districts — seeing how ineffective the armed guard at the Parkland school was in deterring the shooting and looking at other instances in which having armed personnel on campus actually made schools less safe — took the opposite approach.

School districts are trying to figure out the solution on their own because they’re not getting much help from either the federal or state governments on the best course of action to take.

Maybe instead of forcing school districts to use their limited resources to access a patchwork of studies and anecdotal sources, our respective state and federal education departments could make themselves useful by bringing together experts on all sides of the issue, compiling studies as to the effectiveness of the various approaches, exploring potential funding sources, and then making recommendations.

While there are some elements of this in each education department, there’s not been a single, comprehensive, nationwide effort to collect and share the information.

Districts, of course, would be free to follow the recommendations or not. But at least they’d all have a single well from which to draw well-researched, well-considered, comprehensive information to help them make their decision.

A number of local school districts are currently struggling with the issue.

On Thursday(Sept. 27), the Saratoga Springs school district will be discussing and possibly deciding whether to restore armed monitors to its campuses.

After having them on campus for many years, the district earlier this year decided to disarm the 14 school monitors — mostly retired police officers — after realizing the district had been in violation of state law. A local group opposes the restoration of armed monitors, while some school officials feel they’re necessary for the security of student and staff.

Last week, Niskayuna Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. recommended his district not hire a school resource officer — the new buzz word for security officer — saying local police would be more effective in responding to an emergency at any of the district’s various properties, and that the money spent on a resource officer would better be spent elsewhere.

In August, the Shenendehowa school district, in response to concerns about school safety in the wake of the Parkland shooting, hired two full-time officers from the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department to monitor the district’s two high school buildings, three middle schools and eight elementary schools as part of a partnership with the department. 

Several other local districts also are participating in the program.

So are these officers needed? Can one or two officers covering multiple school buildings be effective in anticipating and responding to the next school shooting? Are security officers cost-effective, based in the low possibility of a shooting and on the availability of local police agencies to respond? What other means of ensuring safe schools can be put into place that might be equally or more effective? Should schools train and arm staff members so that each school building has at least one person who can fight back? Are schools statistically safer having an armed person on campus, or is it safer for there to be no weapons on school grounds? Would hiring more psychologists and professionals to work with students reduce incidences of school shootings and be a better use of taxpayer money? What do the studies say? What do the experts recommend? One? The other? A combination? 

Where would the money come from for these protections? In what circumstances would it be better to leave the protection of schools to local police, and what steps would need to be taken to make that option most effective and cost-efficient?

There’s no single resource for the answer to any of these questions. School districts and local police agencies are forced to pick through the plethora of information available on the internet and through individuals and organizations they come in contact with on their own.

This is an issue that affects all of our educational institutions and therefore all of our children.

It should be the priority of our state and federal Education Departments to provide the best, most up-to-date, subjective information to school districts to help them with this vitally important decision.

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