SBR: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships The new three ‘Rs’ to keep students safe

By Scott Rothschild,

There’s a new three `Rs’ in school – relationships, relationships, relationships.

That’s what Kansas education leaders say is needed to make their students safer as fears increase with each school shooting.

In meetings across the state in September and October, hundreds of school board members and school administrators discussed what they are doing and what more they need to do to ensure that students can function and learn in a safe environment.

In addition to “hardening” facilities, educators are trying to reach all children and make them feel welcome and important.

“Districts all over the state are grappling with this issue, how do we best serve our students’ social and emotional needs right now,” said KASB President Patrick Woods, who is a member of the Topeka USD 501 school board.

At one of the meetings, conducted by KASB and United School Administrators of Kansas, a school official wrote the key is “Relationships Relationships Relationships.” Many said students, community partners and parents must be involved in the process.

The issue of school safety will be addressed in the upcoming legislative session that starts in January. During the last session, legislators approved $5 million in matching grants funds for school security improvements.

The grants were quickly utilized as districts requested more than $13 million. It is expected that legislators will consider allocating more dollars for these security grants in 2019.

The Legislature also approved a measure that changed the number and mix of emergency preparedness drills, including nine crisis drills that focused on intruder response and lockdowns. That requirement, however, was a one-year proviso, so legislators will probably re-visit this issue.

And the Legislature has required the Kansas State Board of Education to develop and adopt statewide standards for school safety and security plans that must be adopted by each district.

During the KASB, USA|Kansas meetings, officials reported they meet regularly with local law enforcement to develop emergency responses, go over those plans and consider changes when needed.

And many are implementing a wide range of programs, from efforts as simple as installing “Buddy Benches” on the playground, so no child feels alone during recess, to forming school families across grade levels, anti-bullying efforts, monitoring social media, hiring more social workers, guidance counselors, school resource officers and much more.

Gail Billman, of the Labette County USD 506 school board and KASB Region 3 vice president, said she enjoyed hearing from different districts on what they are doing in safety.

“We all have different issues based on the logistics of our districts, so I really appreciate that input. We gained some really good insight,” she said.
Another area school officials are working on is assessing what threats exist and how serious to take them.

Art Gutierrez, a member of the Emporia USD 253 school board and KASB Region 2 vice president, noted a recent study by the U.S. Secret Service found in 93 percent of school attacks, the attacker had planned the incident for months, while in 81 percent of those cases the attacker had told someone else of the plan. Schools must provide a culture that discourages a “code of silence” among students, he said.

“We keep preaching to our kids, `See something, say something’,” said Fred Patton, a state legislator and Seaman USD 345 school board member. He said that applies to whether students hear about a threat to the school or simply inappropriate behavior or something inappropriate on social media.

KASB plans to review all the comments and discussions from the 10 meetings and put together a report of recommendations to drive public policy in school safety.

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