How schools are tackling safety as students return to class

As students head back to the classroom in a few weeks, they bring renewed concerns about safety. That's often left up to individual school districts, but some federal money is available to help. Lori Alhadeff, founder of Make Our Schools Safe, and Amy Klinger from the Educator's School Safety Network join Lisa Desjardins to discuss.

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  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Students head back to the classroom in just weeks, along with books and backpacks, they bring renewed concerns about safety. That's often left to individual school districts, but there is some federal money to help. After the massacre this spring at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Congress passed the bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The gun provisions in that bill are one part of the issue. But let's take a look at the security piece. That law funds billions for new mental health and safety measures in schools and expansion of current federal funding.

    In December, the Department of Justice awarded nearly $126 million in security grants to schools that included money for violence prevention training in 29 states. But overall, that money went to just a few dozen of the nation's 13,000 school districts. So how are schools tackling this and what is working? To learn more, I'm joined by Lori Alhadeff, who founded Make Our Schools Safe after her daughter was killed in the 2018 Parkland School shooting. And Amy Klinger from the Educator's School Safety Network.

    Lori and Amy, thank you so much for joining us for this important conversation. Lori, I want to start with you. Your State Florida has a law now named after your daughter Alyssa's law that would provide panic buttons to teachers. But you're also focused on mental health as a key part of the safety needed. What do you think is needed there and what is working so far in that area?

  • Lori Alhadeff, President, Make Our Schools Safe:

    So we passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act, and Alyssa law and Alyssa's law, panic buttons in school. So if there is a life threatening emergency situation, we want to empower our teachers to push a button on the phone, or something they wear around their neck, and it's directly linked to law enforcement, geo-fence the area so they can get on the scene as quickly as possible. So we believe that in that life threatening emergency time equals live and to get health care as quickly as possible will save lives.

    And, of course, mental health is a huge part of the conversation. You know, especially after COVID, we really need to provide services for our students to be able to get the help that they need.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Is that a case of looking at the trauma on students who may be worried about violence or what about mental health in terms of dealing with students who may become violent?

  • Lori Alhadeff:

    So we definitely want to be very proactive about being making sure that students know how to access their mental health services. Here in Broward County, we have a talk app on every student computer so they can be able to access that information if they need help. And that we will then provide that help for every student.

    Also see something, say something, it's so important that students be able to reach out for help as themselves or anonymously. We had someone that wanted to commit suicide and told me and I was able to report it through the app, and they were able to find that person and get them to help before they committed suicide.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amy, there's a good example. But this is still an area with a lot of stigma, our schools nationwide doing enough to look at mental health as a component in potential violence?

    Amy Klinger, Director of Programs, Education's School Safety Network: I think we always need to do more. I think we need to look at a continuum of options and services and tools. And that's been part of the problem is we have only looked at school safety through a very narrow viewpoint. And we have not expanded and broadened. We need to look at a comprehensive approach that is all hazards that takes into account mental health and all kinds of both prevention and response activities. And that's how we really solve these problems is to go at them from a variety of means, rather than just taking one thing and saying that's enough, because it's not enough.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And then also in that mix. I know a lot of your educators in schools are looking at the physical plan, you know, we've seen metal detectors receive changes in school structure, what have you learned about what's working? And are there things that are just sort of adding to the sense of fear? What's good, what's bad in that area?

  • Amy Klinger:

    It's a very delicate balance. Because we're not running prisons, we're running schools, but yet, we need to have appropriate access control, we need to have some of those hardware mechanisms in place. But that can't be the only thing we have. We know that relationship based cultures that a positive culture, students who are able to make disclosures, we know that all of those relationship activities that are not law enforcement based, but they are education based, those are the things that really make a difference. So it is easier and may seem easier to just buy something, or to put a piece of hardware into a school. But that can't be the only tool in the toolbox. And I think that's the big takeaway from all of these events, is we have to do an array of things because frankly, I don't know what else we're doing in schools that is more important than saving kids' lives. It is literally the most important thing we should be doing as educators and law enforcement and mental health.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Lori, I see you nodding, what do you think is most important right now, what's needed most?

  • Amy Klinger:

    So I think it's — you know, it's going to be layers and layers of school safety protection. I think it's very important that we give professional development to our teachers, for Mental Health First Aid so they are able to see if a child is having issues in their class, be able to identify it and then connect them to the resources that that student will need. And it's especially important that we provide mental health services for students starting in the elementary school level, so that they don't, you know, grow up and become teenagers and commit violent acts.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is something on so many parents' minds, including my mind, as well. Thank you both so much, Lori Alhadeff and Amy Klinger.

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