Monday, September 24, 2007

Washington State Honored for School Safety

Washington has won a national award for an innovative school safety project. From the September 19th edition of Education Week:

When it comes to emergencies, be it a broken pipe or a school shooting, education and law-enforcement officials in Washington state believe most of their public schools are prepared—and the state has earned an award for making that happen.

Using federal money made available in the aftermath of the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs in 2001 launched an initiative to “map” all 2,250 schools in the state. The process involves bringing together floor plans, aerial photographs, response plans, relocation points, and evacuation routes.

In 2003, the legislature passed a law to expand the program to every public school in Washington. To date, 70 percent of the state’s schools have such safety maps in place, and the law-enforcement organization expects all will have them by December 2008.

In recognition, on Sep. 6, the state earned the 2007 Innovations Award in Homeland Security from the Falls Church, Va.-based Noblis, a nonprofit science and technology organization, and the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Good thinking, this. Having something accessible to emergency responders will save lives in the future.


SERAPH said...

Truancy: The root of all school safety problems!

“No child falls through the cracks. They are dropped through or shoved through by lazy, emotionally immature adults and unethical professionals”

After the Columbine shootings I made this statement during an interview on national television. The reporter asked if I really believed that statement and I replied, “absolutely!”

But you may ask what this statement has to do with the issue of truancy? Simple, truant children – who are routinely late or absent – come from dysfunctional homes. Those homes in my experience are lead by caregivers who are more concerned about there own pleasures and convenience than the welfare of their children. Some may say that this is an unkind assessment. My response to them is simple, visit these homes and you will see that this is not an aberration.

While some caregivers have a difficult time because of poverty, work schedules or transitioning to a single parent household; the majority simply refuse to exercise self control or basic order in their homes.

And this assessment is supported by various national studies. Research from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education have found that child neglect and family disorganization are major factors in truancy. The OJJDP also found that “Truancy has been clearly identified as one of the early warning signs of students headed for potential delinquent activity, social isolation, or educational failure via suspension, expulsion, or dropping out.”

More disturbing is a document that I have used for many years in criminal profiling, the Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol (J-SOAP-II). In this well respected assessment tool, caregiver issues and truancy become connected as impetuses for teen sex offender development:

Inconstant and instable caregivers before the age of 10. Multiple changes in caregivers and living situations.
Chronic truancy, fighting with peers or teachers.
Dr Gerald Patterson sums up the issue this way, “Parenting plays a critical role in the development process of children. Early discipline failures are a primary casual factor in the development of conduct problems. Harsh discipline, low supervision, lack of parental involvement all add to the development of aggressive children”

Bullying, sexual harassment, negative behavior cliques and aggression towards staff are all done by children who come from dysfunctional homes. But beyond the home environment, schools have a big stake in controlling truancy. Not only is it a major part of NCLB compliance but it affects all school safety issues. The US DOE has tracked the following school issues that directly contribute to truancy.

· Lack of effective and consistently applied attendance policies.

· Poor record-keeping, making truancy difficult to spot.

· Teacher characteristics, such as lack of respect for students and neglect of diverse student needs.

· Unsafe environment, for example a school with ineffective discipline policies where bullying is tolerated. [5 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 skipped school because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school.]

Truancy happens in rural, suburban and urban schools and all classes of families. School must take control of their truancy problems or they are bound to be overtaken by it.

A well managed school is a safe school!

SERAPH said...

Official School Safety firm for the New York State School Boards Association

SERAPH response to the recent school crime reporting issues in schools.

For many years, state and federal educational organizations and our own firm have been frustrated by the fact that some schools have under reported or inaccurately reported crimes and offenses.

Long before NCLB was made law, data collection from schools was always problematic. In our 16 years as an education safety firm, we have found that there are four critical problems that contribute to this problem.

1. SOFTWARE ISSUES: Current software for incident reporting is flawed. Most reporting software used by schools does not allow for the proper classification of an incident. For example: Two students have a fight. In the first few seconds of the physical confrontation, one student strikes the other in the face with their fist. Towards the end of the fight, the other student picks up a weapon and strikes back with it. With most programs, the school can only classify the event with one description, so school officials usually choose to categorize this type of incident by the lesser of two evils, a fistfight not a fight involving a weapon.

2. LACK OF KNOWLEDGE: When administrators and school staff are questioned about the laws in their respective states regarding child welfare and violence only a small number can accurately explain specific offenses for specific acts. For example, when our staff asks principals and educators about the age of consent law in New York State most of the time we receive three answers 16, 17 or 18. A lack of understanding of the law by school officials is adding to this problem.

In addition, many schools do not know about their specific problems. They report what they see not what is actually happening. This lack of knowing ALL of the issues comes from a lack of assessment, training and planning. All schools must have a thorough assessment of security issues within the context of management structure. How well is the building managed, how well are the students managed, how well are vendors managed, how well are visitors managed and how well are staff members managed? These are the questions that need to be answered to truly understand the extent of the problems within a school or district.

3. ETHICAL SLOP: Because of current state / federal laws and public pressure, there is no motive to be honest as an administrator or school board member about the negative / criminal issues in your district. For example if the district down the road is fudging the numbers and you accurately report yours, as a district you will look mismanaged and they will look well managed.

By being honest about the incidences in your schools, you bring the wrath of state and federal agencies upon yourself or more importantly the parents in your community. An uneven playing field creates opportunity to cheat.

Dr. Steven Levitt has researched this phenomenon in schools and wrote about it in Chapter 1 of his book “Freakonomics” 2005 [New York Times bestseller] In the current state of affairs, the personal ethics of the administrators and board members is the only thing that protects the district or school from lying about their numbers.

4. LACK OF SOLUTIONS: Currently few programs have effectively prevented school related violence or negative behavior by students. Primarily because they do not address the underlying issues of negative parental behavior, truancy, negative cliques, female aggression, negative behavior of staff, policies failures and inconsistent enforcement of the rules by staff. Hiding the “real story” in a district becomes part of the survival process of individuals and their careers.

SERAPH said...


The SERAPH Research Team consisting of education and law enforcement experts has assessed “The Virginia Tech Review Panel Report”, KEY FINDINGS [Chapter II, pages 17-19]

Note: Starting in 2000 the SERAPH Research Team has at the request of members of Congress supplied three reports on school safety.

SERAPH Virginia Tech Report Assessment

The review panel isolated seven critical problems with Virginia Tech’s emergency response, emergency management and administrators’ response.

The reports’ summary states that, “The Emergency Response Plan of Virginia Tech was deficient in several respects”. The following is a list of each issue and the SERAPH response.

“It did not include provisions for a shooting scenario.”

Since the Columbine massacre in 1999, police departments across the United States have been training in “active shooter” response. This has been a well established practice for use in public schools.

However our survey of colleges and universities security directors and police chiefs shows that few have had this training. Two reasons were given for this, the first was the cost, administrators did not want to pay for the training and second administrators barred campus security / police administrators from seeking out the training because they did not want a “militaristic campus atmosphere”.

“…did not place police high enough in the emergency decision-making hierarchy. The police had to await the deliberations of the Policy Group, of which they are not a member, even when minutes count.”

The report indicates that administrators who had no training in security or police operations micromanaged the security operations of the campus. This is problematic because of the obvious delay it causes in response time and the fact that under Virginia law it is illegal.

Virginia criminal code 18.2-460 A, Obstructing justice: If any person without just cause knowingly obstructs a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness or any law-enforcement officer in the performance of his duties as such or fails or refuses without just cause to cease such obstruction when requested to do so by such judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, or law-enforcement officer, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

The Policy Group as it relates to police operations on campus is in violation of this law. And from the report it is equally obvious that on the day of the shooting the administrators obstructed the police in their investigation of the original dorm murder and their response to managing the campus with a murder suspect on the loose.

“It also did not include a threat assessment team.”

Threat assessment as a science has existed in the United States since the early 1940s. Predication and prevention of violence is a critical aspect of campus security and one that in SERAPH’s experience is seriously lacking on higher education campuses. All Resident Assistants, security / police and department administrators should be trained to identify violent behavior in students, staff and visitors.

“The Emergency Response Plan… was out of date on April 16”

An emergency plan is only as good as the data in it and the ability of key personnel to use it effectively. This did not happen at Virginia Tech.

“The training of staff and students for emergencies situations at Virginia Tech did not include shooting incidents.”

Training is important for the effective management of an emergency by key personnel. You cannot ask untrained people to do what trained people do.

“No security cameras were in the dorms or anywhere else on campus on April 16.”

A lack of systematic monitoring of a campus contributes to crime.

“A risk analysis needs to be performed and decisions made as to what risks to protect against.”

A proper security audit is vitally important to campus security. However our survey of security directors / police chiefs indicates that most college administrators will not allow these assessments to be done. Two reasons for this refusal is the fear of liability exposure and the chance that the audit would require changes in management systems.

The Review Panel ironically found,

“That the VTPD statement of purpose in the Emergency Response Plan does not reflect that law enforcement is the primary purpose of the police department.” Again the report indicates that university administrators who had no training in security or police operations micromanaged the security operations of the campus through policies that control the actions of the campus police force.

Lastly, the report found that this attitude was consistent throughout the Virginia college and university community.

“It was the strong opinion of groups of Virginia college and university presidents with whom the panel met that the state should not impose required levels of security on all institutions, but rather let the institutions choose what they think is appropriate. Parents and students can and do consider security a factor in making a choice of where to go to school.”