Teacher Preparation

What the Trump School Safety Report Says About Teachers

By Madeline Will — December 18, 2018 4 min read
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There should be more military veterans and law enforcement officers in schools, and all teachers should be versed in what to do if there were an active shooter, the Trump administration has said.

Those are just two of the recommendations from the Federal Commission on School Safety, which was created by President Donald Trump and led by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The 180-page report, released today, also called for getting rid of guidance from the Obama administration that aimed at making sure students of color and students with disabilities aren’t disciplined more harshly than their peers, and endorsed better access to mental services. The report also encouraged schools to consider arming certain school staff members, though it didn’t recommend making arming staff a federal mandate.

See also: Scrap Discipline Guidance, Consider Arming School Staff, Trump Commission Says

The report has been criticized by the leaders of both of the nation’s major teachers’ unions.

“The commission’s recommendations were decided in a vacuum without any real input from the real education experts—America’s teachers and school personnel working in public schools,” said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García in a statement.

And American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten slammed the report for its roll-back of the school discipline guidance and for advocating for putting more guns in schools—although she said hiring more veterans and increasing active shooter training were “worthy strategies already recommended by students, teachers, and school staff.”

Still, Weingarten added, the report “does not contain a single proposal for new funding for these initiatives.”

Prepare Teachers for Active Shooter Situations

Schools need to prepare staff members, including teachers, on how to respond in case of an active shooter, the report said. These trainings, which should occur on a recurring basis, should vary based on grade levels, school design, and student backgrounds and needs, the report said.

Teacher training should include tabletop exercises—group exercises meant to generate discussion of issues surrounding a hypothetical emergency—and role-play, scenario-based training that simulates a real-life active shooter incident. (My colleague Evie Blad observed one of these simulated scenarios of an active shooter in a school building.) The training for teachers should also be trauma-informed, the report recommended.

But some of that training could also happen before the teacher steps into the classroom: The report recommends that states and school districts consider requiring basic school security and/or active shooter training as part of teacher-certification requirements.

And the report recommends the U.S. Department of Homeland Security develop active shooter training guidelines for educators and administrations, including minimum standards for teacher-certification requirements.

Hiring More Military Veterans

The report suggests that military veterans and retired law enforcement officers would make for “highly effective educators” that can also help ensure school safety. But in 2016, just 2.1 percent of U.S. teachers were veterans, the report noted.

That’s despite efforts like the Troops to Teachers program from the U.S. Department of Defense, which has placed more than 21,000 veterans into teaching positions since 1993. Those veterans are “underutilized human assets for securing and protecting our schools,” the report notes, citing their skills with managing conflict and emergency preparation.

Indeed, experts say that veterans who go through this program often have a level of maturity and other skills that allow them to build meaningful relationships with students and other educators that help build a safe school climate.

“These folks make the school a better place just by virtue of who they are and how they deal with things,” said William Owings, a professor of educational leadership at Old Dominion University who has studied Troops to Teachers. “If there are lapses in lockdown procedures, they could provide an interesting perspective as part of a school safety team.”

However, Owings and his co-author Leslie Kaplan warned against allowing these veterans to carry weapons unless they have gone through additional training.

The school safety report recommended that Congress “change the intent and scope” of the Troops to Teachers program, so that it would include principals, administrators, nurses, counselors, and school resource officers, instead of just teachers.

While Kaplan said many veterans have successfully gone onto administrative roles, she cautioned against “popping them from the military” to a school leadership position without any sort of experience in a school system.

The school safety report also recommended amending Troops to Teachers to provide financial assistance to veterans and law enforcement officers when teaching at any U.S. school, not just high-poverty ones.

But Kaplan and Owings said that incentivizing veterans to work in high-poverty schools is important, especially since the veterans often have skills that help them teach students in high-needs areas.

Finally, the report recommended that states reduce barriers to teacher certification for veterans and law enforcement officers—including allowing schools to hire retired law enforcement officers without any impact on their pensions. Some pension plans prohibit re-hiring a state employee for a period of time after retirement, and there are tax penalties for violating those prohibitions, the report noted.

Image: Brian Hall, a community safety officer dedicated to the elementary schools in the Prince William County school system, watches as a group of students walk to their classroom at Ashland Elementary School in Manassas, Va. —T.J. Kirkpatrick/Redux for Education Week

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.