School safety has moved to the forefront over the past two decades since the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999. This topic reached perhaps its highest point of discussion yet following the Parkland, Fla. school shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School banded together and made an unprecedented effort to reach lawmakers and push for changes to gun laws and the need for more effective methods to prevent these tragedies in the future.
Compiling Ideas Into a Single Source
Dr. Fern Aefsky, the director of Saint Leo University's Graduate Studies in Education program, recently produced a new book on this subject, Can We Ensure Safe Schools?: A Collaborative Guide on Focused Strategies for School Safety. Published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., the text serves as a guide for a wide range of practitioners on school safety strategies.
Aefsky, who has over three decades of experience in education, has served as a teacher, principal and superintendent. She has also worked as an adjunct faculty member at a few different universities, including Saint Leo. She admits it was "a process" trying to identify the best contributors for the text. But she is more than happy with how it turned out.
"I approached the directors of our graduate programs in criminal justice, social work and human services," she says. "There are aspects to school safety that are part of each of these disciplines, and I was able to find the most relevant faculty members to offer their input. Different people have different areas of expertise and perspectives on this topic, and it's important that we bring all of those ideas together."
The book contains an array of perspectives from authoritative voices who have a background in law enforcement, mental health and education. This includes several Saint Leo faculty members. Each chapter was authored by a different expert.
A main goal behind the book is to emphasize the importance of collaborative efforts from all stakeholders involved in school districts across the country to work together and find solutions that can be implemented nationwide.
Staggering Figures on School Violence
The book mentions how there have been 288 school shootings in the U.S. since 2009 in which at least one person aside from the shooter was shot. In addition, the U.S. has had 57 times as many school shootings than the combined number among all other industrialized nations in the world put together.
Proactive and Reactive Measures
The book incorporates perspectives on a few of the ideas stated by two Saint Leo criminal justice professors in this article following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year. It examines both proactive and reactive strategies to prevent incidents and address them in the most effective manner possible should they occur.
The "run, hide, fight" concept has been presented in recent years to mitigate the number of fatalities and injuries when an active shooter situation occurs. This method involves running away from an active shooter if it can be done safely, hiding to avoid being harmed and fighting if circumstances warrant it.
As for preventative measures, several ideas have been brought forth. In Florida, the age to purchase a firearm was raised to 21. Some have suggested putting up fences around schools so that there is only one way in and one way out. Metal detectors and arming teachers have also been proposed. Others think more funding must go toward mental health to identify individuals who could be potential threats in the future before they ever get their hands on a weapon and plot an attack.
"It would be very costly to convert any of our schools into buildings that are far more protected than what we currently have," she says. "We need to find the most efficient ways to spend taxpayer dollars on protecting everyone in schools and to provide mental health services to those who truly need help."
Aefsky recalls the time when she was the principal of a school in Florida back in December 2012 when the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre occurred in Newtown, Conn.
"I had several parents ask me, 'Can you guarantee that my child will be safe at school?' I told them that we really couldn't guarantee anything but that we were doing our best to protect their kids. It's very frightening for the parents and the students when these shootings occur."
This is why she believes this book can be a great resource for parents and families of children in school. It is also geared toward teachers, school administrators and those outside of education who in some way may be able to assist, such as mental health professionals.
Keeping the Momentum Going
She adds that it has become more common for the news media to only report on school shootings for a shorter amount of time before the public essentially has forgotten about them. This has impeded potential solutions from being enacted since discussions have ebbed and flowed so much.
"It's concerning because we're almost becoming numb to these stories," she says. "We have to keep the dialogue going on these issues."
One example of this referenced in the book was the tremendous amount of coverage the Parkland incident received and then how much less of an impact there was from the coverage of a massacre at Santa Fe High School near Houston just three months later in May 2018.
The Bottom Line
According to Aefsky, there are four main factors at play to making a significant impact on minimizing violence in schools.
"It's all about physical safety, awareness, preparation and conversation," she says.