October 25, 2006

KEYS TO SCHOOL SAFETY

By Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

"It was a little group but they were part of the school. They dressed differently and they acted differently. They always dressed in black, usually in trench coats. I never saw them threaten anybody or bully anybody, but we avoided them because they were different. ... I'm angry someone would do this to us. There are lives ruined, families ruined, and our whole school year is ruined.'' -- Columbine High School StudentThese words reportedly were spoken seven years ago in the aftermath of the worst school shooting in U.S. history. Since that time, there have been more tragedies like Columbine, perpetrated by students and strangers alike. Widespread concern over school safety prompted a recent National Conference on School Safety sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice. States and communities nationwide are recharging efforts to highlight the issue. While Idaho schools remain some of the safest in the nation, itâ??s important to practice vigilance and preparedness for our childrenâ??s safety.According to the Idaho State Department of Education Safe and Drug Free Schools program, during the 2003-2004 school year in grades K â?? 12, there were:â?¢ 4,312 incidents of student harassments;â?¢ 3,560 incidents of student bullying;â?¢ 6,537 incidents of student fights;â?¢ 18,170 incidents of student insubordination;â?¢ 10 guns found on school grounds;â?¢ 278 knives brought to school.While Idahoâ??s incidents of school violence are below the national average, school violence is an issue facing communities today. Prevention, planning and awareness are critical to keeping our children safe at school.Most Idaho schools, urban or rural, are strongly supported by the communities which they serve. Many have coordinated emergency plans with local law enforcement, fire and rescue and local government officials. For the past three years, the Idaho Peace Officers Standards and Training Academy under the Idaho State Police has used federal grant money to train Student Resource Officers (SRO). SROs are trained specifically in school policing for grades K â?? 12. The officers are trained in traditional law enforcement capacities as well as counseling, mentoring and leadership. In addition to providing a law enforcement presence at a school, SROs get to know the students and develop trust relationships. This helps to combat crime before it happens and the officers serve as positive role models. Over 100 SROs serve Idaho schools today. The Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention provides grants to the Idaho Department of Education for prevention and intervention programs to promote school safety and reduce violence among children. The Idaho Department of Education also has multiple resources for parent involvement in education and violence prevention. Idaho experts on school safety in law enforcement and education offer the following advice to parents:â?¢ Get involved at school. Work with administrators and local government to protect your schools. Help schools use professional crisis managers from your area to draft, update and implement school safety plans. In a crisis situation, the most effective response is one that is coordinated community-wide. â?¢ Be involved with your kids in and out of school. Students need to speak up and have their voices heard in a positive way. Students must be able to talk to an adult confidentially, knowing that this person will maintain the studentâ??s anonymity if they have information about threats to the school or other criminal behavior. Keeping our children safe at school is a priority for all of us. Safe schools mean safe and secure communities and, as we know already, a better quality of life for families. WORD COUNT: 592