Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has created a task force to address school safety.
Patrick says the task force will develop model action and training plans and recommend site improvements, which individual school districts can adapt and implement to keep students and staff safe. It will include the state secretaries of education, public safety, and health and human services, along with educators, police and emergency management officials. Andrea Cabral is the state’s secretary of public safety. She says the biggest challenge is creating an open environment where kids feel safe without putting them on edge.
“We do not want to try to increase their anxiety level,” Cabral said. “Everything that they see, hear and read about all of these other school shootings or tragic events at schools increases their anxiety level and that interferes with their learning. That’s part of the reason why this is a cross-secretariat effort.”
Cabral says she thinks the task force can be creative and use technology to minimize the amount of obvious security measures put in place.
“You don’t want children going into schools and feeling as though they’re constantly being watched or that there’s a heavy law enforcement presence,” she said. “It can be very difficult to balance those two things. But all of the parents there [at Governor Patrick’s announcement of the task force] said ‘I don’t like the idea of metal detectors, but I think they’re necessary.”
When signing the executive order creating the task force, Governor Patrick said no child will be able to succeed academically if he or she doesn’t feel safe in school and no teacher will be able to educate properly if he or she isn’t confident there are emergency plans in place. Cabral says currently safety plans are approached on a localized level, and whatever standards are recommended need to be flexible for all districts and their varied resources.
“Certainly security cameras and looking at physical plans of schools and trying to decrease blind spots, places where you can’t see what’s going on,” Cabral explained. “Looking at access and egress points, what kind of identification has to be produced, even what kind of security personnel on site? And is there a difference between the security personnel you might have inside of a school versus those that might be outside of a school?”
While Cabral says the task force will focus on the potential of violence in schools, its scope won’t simply be on an active shooter scenario. Also with a voice on the task force is Kathy Betts, Assistant Secretary for Children, Youth and Families in the state’s office of Health and Human Services. She says a school’s social atmosphere is a major focus as well.
“Anti-bullying programs are very important [and it’s important] that everyone appreciates and adopts those,” Betts said. “We heard a lot about parents who were worried about social media. Bullying and social media is a growing problem across the country. Those are the kinds of things that need to be addressed so that when a child goes to school they can feel secure.”
Governor Patrick has asked the task force to make its recommendations before the start of the next school year. Meanwhile, in Connecticut, the state commission charged with reviewing public safety policies and making recommendations about school safety, mental health, and gun violence prevention held its 17th meeting Friday. The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission was formed in response to the school shooting in Newtown in December 2012 that killed 26 administrators, children and teachers.