Gun control activists, the National Rifle Association (NRA), civil rights special interest groups, and politicians have hijacked school safety to advance their own political agendas. Meanwhile, little is being done to help principals, teachers, and first responders improve school security on the front lines in education.
A closer look reveals individuals and organizations with little-to-no experience or expertise in preK-12 school safety are using the issue to advance their own special interests at the cost of meaningful responses for making schools safer after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
In what is unquestionably one of the nation’s biggest national embarrassments, there is a clear failure to act in a bi-partisan, meaningful way to help improve school safety and security after one of the nation’s worst and most ugly school shootings in history.
Civil rights special interest groups
The Advancement Project, a civil rights special interest group that has spent the past few years pushing the so-called ”school-to-prison-pipeline” movement, released a report today calling for more counselors, “restorative justice” programs, and opposing more police officers in schools. Their report was said to be timed to pre-empt an April 2nd press conference by the NRA.
Today’s report is entitled, “A Real Fix: The Gun-Free Way to School Safety.” The report reguritates a lot of reference materials that already exist in the school safety and emergency preparedness field, especially documents from the U.S. Department of Education and news articles. Not surprising is that the bulk of the report focuses on reinforcing the special interest group’s civil rights political agenda against police officers in schools.
The Advancement Project and its allies claim that police in schools are unnecessarily arresting students and sending them into the juvenile justice system. They have garnered support all the way to Congress, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, and the White House.
Just days before the Sandy Hook school shootings, Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin chaired a Senate subcommittee hearing questioning the role of police in schools. Civil rights special interest groups have also pressured school districts and police departments in an effort to handcuff school police on what laws they can and cannot enforce in schools.
The Advancement Project, which runs the “Ending the schoolhouse to jailhouse track” program, has encouraged its followers to lobby the White House and others to push back against proposals after Sandy Hook to increase School Resource Officers in schools. It would appear their efforts were somewhat successful as President Obama put forth a rather lame proposal for school safety that would provide resources for schools to hire police or counselors rather than strongly supporting more police in schools.
Of course, the Advancement Project’s emails and web sites always include a call for donations to help their cause, too.
While the group clearly is a civil rights special interest group, evidence of them having any firsthand experience in working in schools in general and school safety specificially is sorely lacking in their credentials and publications.
Fortunately, the National Association of School Resource Officers and school law expert Dr. Bernie James have countered the political rhetoric of the civil rights special interest groups with their report entitled, “To Protect & Educate: The School Resource Officer and the Prevention of Violence in Schools.” They hold that statistically, the effectiveness of School Resource Officers is firmly established and once schools are made safer, they generally tend to remain safe.
NASRO and Dr. James also point out that juvenile arrests decreased nearly 50% during the same time period of the expansion of School Resource Officer programs nationwide. I guess the Advancement Project and other civil rights group missed that little fact.
The National Rifle Association (NRA)
The NRA, in response to gun control activists calling for gun control laws within hours of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, came out a week later with its “National School Shield” program, calling for more armed “security” and police in schools. “Security” loosely includes school employees, volunteers, and others besides police, according to comments made by the NRA and its supporters.
The key to sifting through the NRA’s comments is to listen closely to what they say in the sound bites. NRA representatives have repeatedly used phrases like “armed security, police officers” which in a subtle manner reflect two separate and distinct things: Police officers — commissioned, trained peace officers; versus “Armed security,” which could mean about anyone meeting minimal state standards to carry a gun. There’s a big difference between the two and the NRA very smoothly uses the two descriptors with most reporters never clearly pointing out the major differences between the two.
The NRA’s project is headed up by Asa Hutchinson, a former Congressman, current candidate for Arkansas governor, and a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He is a man who once oversaw the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that removed private security guards from airports and replaced them with higher skilled and better trained government security workers to protect airplanes, airports, and luggage. It is interesting that he now is advocating for armed, lower-trained individuals with fewer qualifications than a police officer to protect our students.
Hutchinson recently said in a news interview that the NRA’s program, to be announced on April 2nd, would include a focus on rural schools. This is not surprising as these are the schools most likely to support the NRA’s agenda of arming school staff. Wonder if their “online assessment tool” and training programs will steer schools to armed personnel? Hmmmm…
The NRA’s stated mission is gun education and, of course, its activities focus on gun rights lobbying. Another example of an organization with no primary mission or expertise in preK-12 school safety that is hijacking school safety to defend its political agenda.
Republican legislators and local school districts
Republican state legislators and governors have exploited the Sandy Hook shootings to advance state laws which will allow local school districts to arm school teachers and other employees. Rather than restoring school safety and security grant programs and other funding cut for school safety and emergency planning in recent years, their answer is to pass laws that will facilitate the NRA’s agenda and the legislators’ political beliefs.
Republican state legislators in several states have also responded to Sandy Hook and school security issues not by restoring cut programs or providing funding or programmatic support to local districts, but instead to propose state laws that allow local school districts to put levy or similar funding requests on the ballot to raise local taxes specifically for funding school security. This is an interesting move considering Republicans are anti-tax, but it is a slick way for state legislators to look like they are doing something to support school safety while in reality, they are dodging the task of providing any real resources for school safety at the state level.
At the local level, school district leaders will likely love this opportunity to lobby voters for more tax dollars under the guise of school security. In reality, they should tuck their heads in shame. Divide the amount of money schools spend on security into their overall operating budget or on a per-student basis, and you will find the number to be a pithy amount of their overall operating budgets.
The commitment of school boards and superintendents to school safety is reflected in their budgets, not their rhetoric. Reasonable resources for safety, security, and preparedness should be a part of “doing business” and should be allocated in existing budgets rather than being dependent upon voters providing separate security-only levies. Federal and state grant programs shsould be restored, but in the long run school leaders cannot continue to view school safety as a grant-funded luxury.
Gun control special interest groups, Democrats, and President Obama
The gun control special interests did not wait until the victims’ bodies were out of the Sandy Hook Elementary School crime scene before they started calling for new gun control laws. Along with their legislative supporters, primarily Democrats, they have exploited every opportunity to use Sandy Hook as a backdrop to advance new gun control proposals.
Even today, as the warrants from the Sandy Hook case were released to the public, President Obama staged a press event with the families from Newtown calling for gun control.
The President’s proposal released back in January is lame, at best. Prior to Sandy Hook, his Administration and Congress eliminated millions of dollars for school safety, security, prevention, and emergency preparedness, dismantling years of federal school safety policy and funding. His proposal after Sandy Hook, which has received little-to-no public push from him since he released it, is weak and underfunded. (Of course, the proposal only contained a few pages on school safety while the bulk of the 15 page document was on gun control anyway.)
Again, politicians and special interest groups with no expertise or experience in preK-12 school safety and security hijacking school safety for their political gain.
For school safety, a national embarrassment
Following the Columbine High School attack in 1999, Congress and President Clinton moved forward to institute programs and resources for school-based policing, prevention, safe schools mental health programs, school emergency preparedness and crisis planning, and other initiatives. State legislatures followed suit in many cases.
Following Sandy Hook, our nation’s political “leaders” and special interest groups have politically hijacked school safety to advance their own agendas. From the White House to Congress and state legislatures, our elected officials on both sides of the aisles have exploited the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. The special interest groups and activists have also had no shame in hijacking school safety to advance their political agendas.
The end result: Nothing meaningful to advance school safety policy and funding.
The legacy of Sandy Hook in the school safety profession to date has been one of a national embarrassment. Will we continue to let the politicians and special interest groups get away with it?