Safe-Schools Conference Tackles Many Issues

By Marianne D. Hurst — November 05, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

About 1,200 educators crowded the halls of the Omni Shoreham Hotel here last week for the third annual Safe and Drug-Free Schools Conference, amid concerns over a perceived recent increase in violent incidents in or near schools.

The conference—which was held a month after a 15-year-old boy in Cold Spring, Minn., fatally shot two classmates in a school building—briefed educators on issues such as raising the profile and effectiveness of school police officers, curbing teenage substance abuse, preventing bullying, addressing student mental- health issues, and increasing the relevance of character education.

“This is a much more diverse audience [this year],” said William Modzeleski, the associate deputy undersecretary for the U.S Department of Education’s office of safe and drug-free schools, which sponsored the conference. “They clearly understand that life has changed and that creating safe schools is very different from what it was 10 years ago.”

The role of schools in dealing with such issues has prompted a number of school officials to seek out policies to improve school performance, communication, and follow-up with law- enforcement agencies. However, Mr. Modzeleski said that the idea that school violence has increased is an unfounded perception raised by individuals outside education.

“Clearly, all of us need to do something to address [school safety],” he said, but he noted that violent incidents that involve students off campus are well beyond educators’ control. There needs to be a community response to violence, not just a school response, he said.

Presenters who have tackled school crisis plans advised educators to work together as a team by fostering relationships and communicating with staff members at all levels, as well as by having well-defined leadership roles, flexible crisis-management plans, and regular student-accountability procedures.

Michael E. Fisher, a 20- year veteran police investigator with the 137,000-student Prince George’s County, Md., school system just outside Washington, presented educators with facts about the evolving role and funding challenges faced by school-based police.

“No conversation can be had about school-based police without discussing the ambiguity of [their] roles,” he said.

Mr. Fisher said schools employ a variety of security personnel, including contract guards, off-duty police officers, full-time unarmed investigators, and armed police officers.

Spotlight on Mental Health

Conference presenters who spoke on student substance abuse and mental-health concerns said that teachers need to be more aware of student symptoms, and also more willing to address them.

Many educators, experts here noted, simply don’t know how to talk about problems such as drug abuse with students and parents, thus compounding what one expert called a “profound lack of understanding” of those issues throughout the nation.

Presenters at several workshops addressed questions from attendees on how to handle parent and community reactions to students in crisis.

“Teachers want to make sure that they’re supported,” said Mary Jo McInerny, a project specialist with the 60,000-student Greenville County school district in South Carolina, who gave a presentation to teachers about the design and implementation of school safety plans. “They want to know that they can do their job, and that they’re safe.”

Brendon M. Barber, a conference speaker who works in student-support services for the 10,200-student Georgetown County, S.C., school system, also outlined the components of a good crisis plan during a presentation.

He acknowledged that events such as the 1999 Columbine High School shootings and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have had an impact on the development of school safety plans. But, he said, many school safety issues are not really driven by the perception of increased school violence.

In fact, much of the push to ensure school safety is really a result of the need to increase test scores, Mr. Barber argued, since a safe school environment is conducive to learning.

He added that “the most important deterrent against making a campus a target is adult supervision.”

Related Tags:


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Stronger Together: Integrating Social and Emotional Supports in an Equity-Based MTSS
Decades of research have shown that when schools implement evidence-based social and emotional supports and programming, academic achievement increases. The impact of these supports – particularly for students of color, students from low-income communities, English
Content provided by Illuminate Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: January 12, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education School Bus Driver Retires After 48 Years Behind Wheel
Charles City school bus driver Betty Flick sat behind the wheel for the final time last week, wrapping up a 48-year career for the district.
3 min read
Charles City school bus driver Betty Flick poses with one of her farewell signs. Flick has been driving for Charles City School District for 48 years.
Betty Flick quickly fell in love with the job and with the kids, which is what has had her stay in the district for this long.
Courtesy of Abby Koch/Globe Gazette
Education Briefly Stated: December 1, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: November 17, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read