In his final legislative session, Governor Brown signed AB 1747, one of several bills state legislators wrote in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting in Parkland, Florida. School shootings make headlines with alarming regularity, and lawmakers scramble to pass laws, such as AB 1747, to address perceived gaps in school security after each high-profile incident. In the Senate Floor Analysis, the bill’s author, Assembly member Freddie Rodriguez, wrote, “Although the Department of Homeland Security and federal and state agencies recommend having procedures for responding to active shooter incidents, state law does not require that California schools include these procedures in their safety plans.” AB 1747 addresses this discrepancy.
The legislation expands the involvement of first responders in safety plan development. It requires that schools develop active shooter procedures, and it places more responsibility on the California Department of Education for providing guidance and oversight. These measures strengthen school security, but they do little to proactively address the underlying causes of violence in schools.
School safety plans are a critical part of school security
A RAND Corporation report, The Role of Technology in Improving K–12 School Safety, identifies the adoption of an all-hazards safety plan as a best practice for securing schools. The report outlines essential components of a safety plan. Policies must be informed by a needs assessment specific to each district and building within a district. A comprehensive plan determines the most effective use of security technology and develops procedures for dealing with emergencies and their aftermath. To be effective, a plan must be updated annually and make provisions to train school personnel in its execution.
California education code requires all districts to develop a comprehensive safety plan in coordination with law enforcement. This provision was amended by the passage of AB 1747 to include fire departments and other first responders in the planning process. These same entities must be informed of any changes or updates to an established security plan.
State law requires that plans:
- evaluate crime levels on school campuses and at school functions;
- identify strategies, programs, and procedures to address multiple safety concerns and;
- provide role and responsibility guidelines for mental health professionals and counselors, community professionals, and law enforcement officers, including SROs.
The list of hazards districts must address is extensive and includes dress codes, child abuse reporting, and natural disasters. AB 1747 adds a requirement that schools outline procedures for responding to an active shooter situation. Drills have the potential to save lives. In emotionally charged situations, training will kick in so students and school personnel won’t put themselves in further danger by panicking. The odds of a school being targeted by a shooter are very small. However, school leaders can take active steps to reduce violent incidents and the likelihood that active shooter procedures will ever need to be employed.
Importance of positive school climate for school security
High profile incidents of school violence feed a multi-billion dollar school security systems industry. Schools, and members of the communities they serve, look for school hardening solutions such as enhanced access control systems, surveillance cameras, and armed security guards to protect students and personnel. The National Association of School Psychologists, concerned about the impact such measures have on students and school climate, conducted an analysis of research on the effectiveness of these physical security measures.
The NASP report warns that overt security systems can create a hostile environment that is not in line with a school’s core mission. Security cameras, metal detectors, and armed guards, rather than making students feel more secure, serve as a constant reminder that threats exist. Such measures, writes the NASP, contribute to the influence of youth “street culture” that promotes individual survival over the community.
A strong community is critical to school safety. Students need to know they can trust adults and share their difficulties, concerns, and fears, whether it is their own problems or perceived threats from others. In a caring, supportive community, disenfranchised students are easier to identify and help.
The role of social-emotional learning
Self-determination theory holds that humans have three basic psychological needs — a sense of efficacy, a sense of autonomy and a sense of community. When these needs are unmet, an individual’s motivation, social development, and well-being are impeded. Social-emotional learning (SEL) programs help students develop self-confidence, self-awareness and an understanding of their role in the community. Effective SEL programs combine lessons in behavioral norms and natural consequences with daily learning. Through modeling and role-playing, students come to understand perspectives different from their own. These efforts improve student attitudes, reduce stress, and increase prosocial behaviors, making schools safer.
Technology solutions for school safety
Modern, integrated school IT systems facilitate the data collection necessary to meet state mandates and inform decisions. Legacy SIS, administrative, attendance and behavior management systems create silos of data. With disparate systems, combining relevant information to produce useful reports is a tedious, time-consuming task and the results may not be accurate. New systems offer administrators quick access to information via an Administration Portal allowing them to produce relevant reports and monitor school activities in real-time.
Physically securing a building does not mean turning schools into prison-like fortresses. RFID technology makes it possible to control building access unobtrusively. In a modern system, students, faculty and staff gain access to buildings and rooms within a building by swiping their chip-embedded ID cards at an entrance kiosk or a door-mounted card reader.
Visitors are required to swipe a driver’s license or other ID to verify identity and screen out those who are prohibited from entering the school buildings. For example, someone on a sex-offender registry would be red-flagged by the system. Administrators may control a single door or all doors from a remote location making it possible to lock down an entire building with one command.
Automated behavior management systems aggregate all of a student’s behavior records over their entire academic career. These records may be integrated with academic and attendance information to give administrators, teachers, counselors, and parents a complete picture of the student’s behavior and the effects of interventions. Students at risk of dropping out or becoming violent may be identified and provided with the necessary support to bring them back into the school community.
School safety plans are vital to school security. AB 1747 expands the scope of the California mandate by requiring that schools develop procedures for handling active shooter situations. While this is important to ensure that school personnel and students have the skills to act quickly in the event of an attack, school leaders should also take proactive measures to prevent violence. Building student competence in the social-emotional realm and streamlining operations with integrated IT systems are effective ways to increase school safety, support learning, and foster a positive school climate.
ScholarChip offers a solution called Alternative Behavior Educator (ABE). This innovative program enables school leaders to identify, monitor, and improve student behavior throughout a student’s career, while giving administrators and teachers powerful data-driven reports that quickly flag at-risk students, help monitor and chronicle progress, and support decision-making tasks. The ScholarChip system incorporates the complete spectrum of behavior and integrates student rewards, interventions, and tracking with PowerSchool®, Infinite Campus, and other popular SIS platforms.
To learn how ScholarChip can help keep your schools safer and more secure, learn more about the many solutions ScholarChip provides, or to get free recommendations, feel free to reach out to one of our specialists today!