Monday Reading List: School Safety and Fallout in NYC

Evie Blad of Education Week wants to know how schools are reacting to heightened concerns about security:

While policymakers tend to introduce safety measures in the immediate aftermath of a mass school shooting—responding to fears about a statistically unlikely worst-case scenario—many school leaders say their work to improve safety, and to address a whole range of concerns, never ends. While it can be tempting to focus on costly visible measures, like adding more school police and installing metal detectors, some schools may achieve greater safety benefits in hiring an additional school counselor or launching new programs to support students with behavioral needs, school leaders say. Researchers point to threat-assessment programs—which schools use to evaluate and address student behavioral concerns—and school climate efforts as some of the most important ways to keep students safe.

How schools handle violent episodes is an important topic, and I'm glad we are having a national conversation about the safety of our children. That said, I worry that the debate is playing-out in such a way that a disproportionate share of the burden for gun prevention is being placed on schools.

giphy (2).gif

The most straightforward way to lessen the threat of gun violence in schools is to ban military style weapons for civilian use, and to make it much harder for all people to procure all types of firearms.

But we live in a country that prioritizes the rights of people who own deadly weapons over the lives of children.

giphy (3).gif

In related news, Stephanie Saul, Timothy Williams, and Anemona Hartocollis of The New York Times investigated the role of the euphemistically named "school resource officer":

For millions of students, the first adult they see every day at school is not a teacher, or principal. It is a “school resource officer” ... an often-overlooked role in law enforcement that is under the national glare like never before. Their duties range from perking up sullen students to directing bus traffic to settling disputes to keeping an eye out for threats. It is that responsibility as the first line of defense that is getting the most attention, as questions swirl over whether the school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., failed to do his job ... The position, with its genial-sounding name, is an unusual hybrid of counselor, educator and cop, and perhaps no other job better personifies America’s shifting ideas about schools, policing and safety.

The reporters do a nice job of handling a tricky topic, and I want to amplify two important points here. First, in almost every jurisdiction that uses the "school resource officer" model, the officers report to police departments, and are not directly accountable to school personnel. This arrangement has both budgetary and human resource implications, but perhaps most importantly, the culture of policing is vastly different than that of schooling. Second, and related to the first point, is the notion that many of these officers carry a firearm. As the country wrestles with whether or not teachers ought to carry guns - spoiler alert: they shouldn't - it's important to remember that many schools already employ at least one armed guard, and in just about every case of mass violence, that person has failed to save the lives of children.

giphy (4).gif

Finally today, Christina Veiga of Chalkbeat explains why Alberto Carvalho's dramatic reversal last week did not surprise her:

In his almost three decades working in South Florida’s political ecosystem, and the country’s fourth-largest school district, Carvalho has masterfully cultivated political popularity and power. Carvalho reports to Miami’s elected school board, but he has deftly handled his relationship with its members for most of his tenure so that they almost always approve his agenda unanimously. When he was rumored to be a contender to lead Los Angeles schools — the second-largest district in the country — I watched the board prematurely open his contract and give him a raise. That unity has eroded a bit after the last election, which ushered in some more independent members, and perhaps pushed Carvalho to flirt with decamping for New York City. Still, as the theatrics came to a climax on Thursday, his board hastily called for a symbolic vote of confidence in Carvalho. Every official present voted in favor. On television, the vote looked strange. In Miami, it probably seemed normal.

Whether or not Carvalho's flip-flopping was germane to his personality and employment history, it's important to remember that there were problems with the way that NYC was packaging the job as chancellor. The fact that Mayor Bill DeBlasio wants to appoint the chancellor's chief of staff and human resources director is a HUGE red flag for any talented candidate. That's basically like saying, "Please come run the city's school system, but I get to decide who you hire under you, and I want a person loyal to me following you around all day, reporting all of your mundane mistakes back to my office. Have fun!"

DiBlasio's tendency to micromanage limits the effectiveness of all of his agency heads, particularly since the mayor had scant executive experience before becoming mayor. The NYC school system is a multi-billion dollar organizations with tens of thousands of employees. If the mayor wants a talented chancellor who can actually improve the system's performance, he needs to ease up.

Have a great week!