To the Editor:
The past few weeks have again shown us why school safety should remain a priority for the U.S. departments of Justice and Education both (“School Shootings in Policy Spotlight,” Oct. 11, 2006).
In the year following the tragedy at Columbine High School, our federal leaders scrambled to come up with responses to the media stories that then captured America’s attention. The Justice Department, through its office of community-oriented policing services, or COPS, began to fund the COPS in Schools grant program. Training was readily made available (although not at the level it should have been), and dollars flowed into the Education Department’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools, or SDFS, program. While school-related deaths continued to occur at record numbers during the following years, the strategies seemed to prevent multiple-victim shootings. And the Education Department continued to boast about school crime dropping (despite no national school-crime-reporting mandates). Over the past five years, budget cuts have seen the COPS in Schools program dismantled and substantial cuts made to the SDFS program and school crisis-preparation grants. Now we are again back at square one. Another presidential powwow has just been convened to review and lay out the latest school safety strategies.
But what about re-funding the programs we cut? What about a mandatory school-crime-reporting bill? What about mandating external school safety audits? Will the Education Department finally understand that fear among students is not a good thing for the learning environment? Will it learn that the “school crime is down” rhetoric simply adds to the problem as communities decide how to spend their dollars?
Curtis S. Lavarello
School Safety Advocacy Council
A version of this article appeared in the October 18, 2006 edition of Education Week as School Safety Should Top Federal Agencies’ Agenda