Weekly Feature

2018-06-07 / Editorial

State official acts on school safety threats

Managing Editor

A n entire generation of American students is growing up with the distinct fear that someone may enter their school and start shooting. Solutions are not easy to come by, but at least one New York State official is taking a proactive approach.

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli recently announced he has begun audits of the state Education Department and the New York City Department of Education to determine if they are doing enough to ensure schools have adequate, up-to-date safety plans in the event of a school shooting or major emergency.

“The epidemic of deadly school shootings in the past few years and the terror wrought in our children’s classrooms is horrifying. Sadly, every school district in New York and across the country has to plan for the unthinkable,” Di- Napoli said. “My auditors are going to examine if the laws and programs New York has in place to keep our children safe in schools are being followed. We need to do everything we can to prevent senseless tragedies.”

Numerous school districts in Western New York have successfully funded capital projects in recent years that have included enhanced security measures. One such project, approved by voters in the Sweet Home District in 2013, focused on more secure building entry designs. Prior to that, a visitor to any Sweet Home school could, upon entry, have direct access to classrooms and students without encountering any other adult.

Driveways, parking lots and drop-off points were also reconfigured.

“When it comes to our students’ safety, we must be proactive, not reactive. That’s why we need to take a hard look at the state of school safety in every school, and changes need to be made to make sure that our students can learn and grow in the safest environment possible,” said New York City Council Member Paul Vallone, chairman of the Committee on Economic Development. “Revamping and improving our schools’ safety and emergency plans must remain our top priority from here on out.”

The audits just announced will examine the state Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act, which was signed into law in 2000 to promote a safer and more effective learning environment in New York’s schools. Part of the act requires schools to implement comprehensive safety plans, which include policies and procedures covering such topics as safe evacuation, communication in emergencies, emergency responder access to building plans and school violence prevention training. DiNapoli will also be auditing how several school districts across the state have implemented the SAVE Act.

If schools fail to comply with the SAVE Act and do not develop, establish and update school safety plans, they could experience miscommunication, see more injuries and violence and prolong emergencies. Failing to follow this regulation could also hinder local law enforcement by not centralizing key information about a school, which could help to achieve a resolution in a dangerous situation, he said.

The state’s fieldwork is expected to begin in June.

Since 2013, there have been hundreds of school shootings in the United States, resulting in numerous deaths and serious injuries. In May, 10 people were killed and another 10 injured by a student at a Santa Fe, Texas, high school. In February, a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 dead and another 17 wounded.

This has to stop. Maybe this is a valuable first step.

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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