School Climate & Safety

Trump Admin. Unveils School Safety ‘Clearinghouse.’ Here’s What You Need to Know

By Stephen Sawchuk — February 10, 2020 4 min read
In this Dec. 18, 2018 file photo, JT Lewis, brother of Sandy Hook victim Jesse Lewis, speaks to President Donald Trump during a roundtable discussion on the Federal Commission on School Safety report, at the White House. From left, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Lewis, Andy Pollack, father of Parkland victim Meadow Pollack, and Trump. Lewis lost his 6-year-old brother, Jesse, in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He now is a University of Connecticut student and is running for the 2020 state Senate as a Republican, calling for better school security and mental health programs.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Trump administration has unveiled a “one-stop shop” for school safety resources, fulfilling one promise contained in the 180-page report of the federal commission it set up in the wake of the massacre in Parkland, Fla., America’s deadliest shooting in a high school.

A joint effort of the U.S. departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Justice, the website—https://www.schoolsafety.gov—went live Monday as several parents whose children were killed in the rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School met with President Trump at the White House just ahead of the two-year anniversary of the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting.

The idea of the federal school safety clearinghouse gained traction after some of those parents urged the federal lawmakers to establish best practices, citing the confusion among law enforcement agencies and school officials in Parkland as a former student came onto campus and opened fire, killing 17 and wounding 17 others.

School safety is largely a state and local concern, rather than a priority of the federal government. But as one Parkland parent who helped beta-test the new website pointed out, there is power in its ability to bring a powerful spotlight to an urgent issue.

“We’re cognizant of people not wanting Washington in their schools,” said Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina was killed. “But one thing the federal government does, in general, is they’re excellent in providing us with safety standards: safety standards for our cars, safety standards for aircraft, safety standards for the car seats that we put our children in. So why shouldn’t there be safety standards for safe schools?”

Nothing in federal law or on the new website requires states, district, or schools to adopt any specific safety practices. The website mainly refers them to guidance, grants, and training opportunities offered by the federal agencies, as well as some third party resources.

Montalto, who is the president of Stand With Parkland, the advocacy group set up by the families of the victims who were killed, said communities should tailor the recommendations to their own needs.

But to the extent that they carry the federal government’s imprimatur, the site’s recommendations could be influential in shaping the roiling public policy debate over how to prevent violence in schools.

Deborah Temkin, the vice president for youth development and education research at Child Trends, a research organization, praised the federal clearinghouse for including a focus on prevention strategies—like improving overall school climate and mental health—not merely on “hardening” schools with armed guards, metal detectors, and perimeter security.

But, she added, the bulk of the content repeats information already located on other federal sources, like the Education Department’s own Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools technical-assistance center, and some of its suggestions are explained in greater details in the federal commission’s own 2018 report.

“I think in part every administration wants to leave its own mark around these issues. They want to show they’re doing something,” Temkin said. “But we just don’t know what is working and what is not, and we also don’t know some of the potentially negative effects of these policies.”

She highlighted concerns that active-shooter trainings could traumatize young children and that even research-based policies, like threat assessment, might further stigmatize students of color or students with disabilities if poorly implemented.

Multiple Sources of ‘Best Practices’ for School Safety

Educators who visit the federal website can take an online assessment, which asks a series of questions on topics like emergency operation plans, school climate surveys, threat assessment, and dedicated security personnel. and then crafts an action plan listing “high priority” steps they can take to improve those policies.

See Also: What Schools Need to Know About Threat Assessment Techniques

At least one section of the website is closed to the public and requires further verification to access. The secure portion of the site is meant for school security personnel and law enforcement to network and share specific plans and compare policies. Those seeking access to that section must fill out a questionnaire that the Homeland Security department will review to grant access. It was not immediately clear what criteria the agency would use to make those determinations.

Legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress to formally establish the clearinghouse in the Homeland Security department, which would in effect allow the agency to dedicate ongoing funding and personnel to it. The House version has bipartisan support, although neither measure has progressed yet.

A number of other school safety groups have also recently pledged to expand resource collections for educators. The National Association of School Resource Officers, for example, recently announced that it too would craft a set of national best-practices guidelines for minimizing violence in schools.

A more heavy-handed federal role is unlikely: During the federal commission’s hearings, some parents had urged the panel to recommend conditioning federal aid for school safety on the adoption of specific practices, but that idea was not included in its report, nor in the Trump administration’s fiscal 2021 budget, which was also released Monday.

In fact, in 2018, a furor erupted after Texas officials asked the Education Department if they could use funds under the broad $1 billion federal Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants to purchase guns and other security equipment. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos ultimately chose not to issue guidance on the matter.

An alternative version of this article appeared in the February 26, 2020 edition of Education Week.
A version of this article appeared in the February 26, 2020 edition of Education Week as Federal School Safety Center Focuses on Prevention

Events

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.
Sponsor
Teaching Profession Webinar
Professional Wellness Strategies to Enhance Student Learning and Live Your Best Life
Reduce educator burnout with research-affirmed daily routines and strategies that enhance achievement of educators and students alike. 
Content provided by Solution Tree
English-Language Learners Webinar The Science of Reading and Multilingual Learners: What Educators Need to Know
Join experts in reading science and multilingual literacy to discuss what the latest research means for multilingual learners in classrooms adopting a science of reading-based approach.
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.

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

School Climate & Safety From Our Research Center How Many Teachers Have Been Assaulted by Students or Parents? We Asked Educators
Some teachers and principals suggest student misbehavior could be associated with challenges related to returning to in-person learning.
1 min read
Empty classroom in blurred background.
Classrooms were empty during long stretches of remote and hybrid instruction. Some educators suggest student behavior problems are linked to the bumpy transition back to in-person learning.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School Climate & Safety A Sheriff Is Putting AR-15s in Every School. What Safety Experts Have to Say
The Madison County, N.C., school district made headlines for placing assault rifles in SRO offices ahead of the new school year.
6 min read
AR-15-style rifles are on display at Burbank Ammo & Guns in Burbank, Calif., June 23, 2022. Gun manufacturers have made more than $1 billion from selling AR-15-style guns over the past decade, and for two companies those revenues have tripled over the last three years, a House investigation unveiled Wednesday, July 27, found.
AR-15-style rifles are on display at gun store in Burbank, Calif. School safety experts say it's not unheard of for school districts to place such weapons in schools, but it requires serious consideration of the potential risks.
Jae C. Hong/AP
School Climate & Safety 3 Reasons Many Schools Don't Have Classroom Doors That Lock From the Inside
School facilities experts explain why what seems like a simple school-security is not so simple.
2 min read
A section of a classroom door from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, is seen as Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw testifies at a Texas Senate hearing at the state capitol, Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Two teachers and 19 students were killed in the mass shooting in Uvalde.
A section of a classroom door from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, is seen during a Texas Senate hearing on the deadly shooting there.
Eric Gay/AP
School Climate & Safety Alex Jones Ordered to Pay $45.2M More Over Sandy Hook Lies
A Texas jury has ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million, adding to the $4.1 million he already has to pay.
6 min read
Alex Jones attempts to answer questions during a trial at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin on Aug. 3.
Alex Jones attempts to answer questions during a trial at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin on Aug. 3.
Briana Sanchez/Austin American-Statesman via AP