To the Editor:
I read with interest your Federal File column about a federal law-enforcement bulletin advising of foreign nationals with suspected extremist group ties who have purchased school buses and/or acquired licenses to drive them (“Warning: Don’t Panic,” March 28, 2007).
While the column was correct in advising school districts not to panic, its quoting of a school safety expert who calls a potential link of schools and terrorism a “far-fetched” scenario is concerning.
Schools and school buses have been terror targets in the Middle East for decades. Have we forgotten the Beslan, Russia, school terror siege and the subsequent U.S. Department of Education memo on heightened security in 2004? How about the reclassification of schools to a higher-risk category in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s national infrastructure-protection plan in the summer of 2006?
Nobody inside the Capital Beltway wants to tackle the issue of schools and terrorism head-on, because everyone is afraid of creating fear and panic among parents. While we should not be alarmist, the federal position of “downplay, deny, and deflect” about schools and school buses as terrorist targets only feeds into the ostrich syndrome that makes schools more vulnerable.
Federal officials also fear raising the issue of schools as terror targets at the same time they continue to cut funding for school safety. The Education Department’s emergency-response and crisis-management grant program, for example, has suffered more than 39 percent in cuts in the past four years. Education Department statistics show grants falling from over $38 million in awards to 134 school sites in fiscal 2003 to only $23 million awarded to 77 sites in fiscal 2006.
Fear is best managed by education, communication, and preparation. Schools and school buses need to be a strong part of our nation’s homeland-security planning, preparedness, policy, and funding efforts.
Kenneth S. Trump
National School Safety and Security Services
A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 2007 edition of Education Week as Terrorism in Schools: Not So ‘Far-Fetched’