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Security Details Balance Prevention With Preparedness

To the Editor:

As a 15-year career school security professional, I feel compelled to take issue with a statement by Vincent Schiraldi, the director of the Justice Policy Institute, in your recent story on crisis-preparedness training for school personnel ("Crisis Drills Make the Rounds, But Some Call It Overreaction," Sept. 9, 1998). Specifically, Mr. Schiraldi called safety drills a waste of school dollars.

Mr. Schiraldi's Washington-based research group recently released a report calling America's heightened focus on school safety, in the words of its title, "School House Hype." The report, which noted that fewer violent deaths occurred at schools last year than in earlier school years this decade, suggests that media coverage of school violence has generated excessive attention to the issue. Mr. Schiraldi's solution is more counselors, conflict-resolution classes, and restricting gun sales.

These recommendations are on target, but the path he takes to them is, at best, lacking logic. While the number of school deaths may have been lower last year, Mr. Schiraldi's dismissal of school-security and crisis-preparedness training illustrates a failure to recognize that prevention, intervention, and education programs cannot be successfully delivered in environments lacking proactive security measures.

One reason for the level of school violence we experienced this past school year may be our failure to examine the immediate security of school environments. A 9 a.m. violence-prevention curriculum and an 11 a.m. peer-mediation program will have minimal impact if an 8 a.m. shooting occurs that could have been prevented through balanced, rational security measures. Only with a balanced approach of prevention, intervention, proactive security, and crisis preparedness can we expect to have reasonably safe schools.

The first step toward this involves training school personnel to understand security-related issues and recognize early warning signs of potential problems. Another step involves developing crisis-preparedness guidelines for managing problems that cannot be prevented. In a crisis, people revert to their training and to established crisis-management plans. To leave educators unarmed in terms of these resources forces them to fly by the seat of their pants when such a security problem unfolds.

It is equally important to realize, as Mr. Schiraldi points out, that schools are often safer than many other places in the community. What he fails to ask, however, is "Safer than what?" His stand-alone comment falsely suggests that, if 20 kids are killed in the community and five are killed in schools, the school violence doesn't merit the kind of public attention it has gotten recently at sites from Kentucky to Oregon, since schools are still safer statistically for kids than many of their surrounding communities.

Once policy analysts like Mr. Schiraldi understand that security and crisis-preparedness efforts are an appropriate and necessary use of school resources, perhaps we can regain the confidence of our students, staff, parents, and broader community. We must also encourage--not discourage--public discourse on this issue before the situation gets out of hand. Had we done the same with the broader issue of youth violence, before it got out of control, maybe we would not be facing a problem of such magnitude in the larger community.

Schools do not create violence. School violence is a problem for the entire community to address collectively. But this need for communitywide action does not lessen the responsibility of school officials to take balanced, proactive steps to reduce security risks on their campuses and to prepare beforehand for managing any crisis that should arise.

Kenneth S. Trump
President and CEO
National School Safety and Security Services
Cleveland, Ohio

Here's 'Odd Math' For Teacher Shortage

To the Editor:

Harold W. Stevenson's Commentary ("Guarding Teachers' Time," Sept. 16, 1998) is priceless. His question, "How can any reform succeed when teachers, who are responsible for putting the reforms into practice in the classroom, aren't included in the equation?" is eminently sensible. Perhaps that's why it seems a square peg in the round hole that is education reform.

In a sense, teachers are included in the equation. After all, many self-appointed education experts and conservative legislators preach about the hordes of bad teachers that ought to be fired even as we brace for a monumental teacher shortage. This strikes me as an odd sort of math, similar to the liberal mantra, "Give us more money," which curiously omits the refrain, "so that administrators have more to squander and embezzle."

Mr. Stevenson's Commentary and the administrative-firing binge Superintendent Arlene Ackerman has unleashed on the District of Columbia schools are reassuring signs that there is indeed intelligent life in the world of school reform.

Unfortunately, the reverse equation is being pursued with a vengeance in the Seattle school district, where I work. But the plain wisdom that jumps out of the morass from time to time, as exemplified by Mr. Stevenson's Commentary, might someday persuade citizens to alter course 180 degrees. Unfortunately, the Seattle school board and fans will probably opt for a 360-degree change of course.

David Blomstrom
Seattle, Wash.

Clevelanders Remain Disenfranchised

To the Editor:

A bill proposed by two suburban state lawmakers and passed by the Ohio legislature has turned control of the Cleveland school district over to Mayor Michael R. White ("In Cleveland, Mayor White Takes Control," Sept. 16, 1998). The federal district judge has given his approval. Members of the elected school board have been ordered to clear out their offices and leave.

Though some may consider this changing of the guard from the federal court to the mayor a restoration of local control in the district, others recognize that it represents the continued denial of representative government to the citizens of Cleveland, who already have been disenfranchised for over two decades under a federal court order.

The mayor, now in control, has handpicked nine school board members from a list of applicants narrowed down to 21 finalists by another handpicked group, the "community nominating panel." The mayor even appointed the chairman and vice chairwoman of the new board.

The supposed goal was to avoid all politics and put wise and knowledgeable board members with impeccable qualifications in place, unlike, presumably, those that voters might elect. Already, Cleveland's large Hispanic population is protesting, with the city council's aid, because none of the board members is Hispanic.

The road will be long and treacherous to restore the district to anything near its quality before the devastation caused by the court's "desegregation remedial order." Continued disenfranchisement of the voters by denying them an elected school board makes that road even more treacherous.

Joyce Haws
Communications Office
National Association for Neighborhood Schools
Columbus, Ohio

On Romanticizing Foreign Schools

To the Editor:

Richard P. Phelps' analysis of the education gap between American and European students is vapid and incomplete ("How U.S. Students Have It Easy--and Hard," Sept. 9, 1998).

Failing to remark on the fact that Europeans can travel for four to five hours and arrive in a different country with a different language is an example of why this opinion is not complete. Americans do not have the same opportunities, making it harder for us to practice the languages that we are taught, regardless of the length of time we might study, say, German. I do not discount the value of knowing foreign languages, but I also understand that English is the tongue of the global market, which is nothing to be ashamed of.

Mr. Phelps also fails to recognize that there are cultures within our own country that are unexplored. By simply glorifying the education of Romance languages, we are doing ourselves a disservice, neglecting the cultures of Asia, Africa, and South America--cultures that are shaping the face of the modern American identity. It is unexamined commentary like this that dictates the kind of bureaucratic romanticization of foreign schools and students that guides policymaking.

Paulomi H. Bhatt
New York, N.Y.

Vol. 18, Issue 4, Page 35

Published in Print: September 30, 1998, as Letters

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