Awareness Is Key
First, parents and families have to understand the magnitude of the problem all of us face in trying to make our schools safer. Second, parents and families must be aware of the fact that the people in whom we put our trust, school administrators and politicians, may not have the safety of our loved ones as a primary goal. All too often a toxic mix of concerns for budgets, fundraising, and careers trump safety with tragic consequences. Third, parents and families must recognize that they play a vital role in ensuring school safety by demanding that people be held accountable for their actions or inactions. Fourth, and finally, parents and families must put political differences aside and recognize that improving campus safety is a bipartisan goal for all to pursue.
The problem of school safety is multi-faceted, but in the final analysis, it all boils down to the decisions made by people in positions of responsibility. Some steps toward improving school safety are relatively easy; others are not.
Let’s look at an easy but critical first step that parents can take. It should be part of every family’s regimen in preparing to send their daughters or sons to college: school selection. In choosing a school, parents should familiarize themselves with the prospective school’s security procedures, policies, and emergency plans. The stark and sad truth is that when you send your son or daughter to a college or university, in many instances, you may be doing so at a terrible risk unless you have thoroughly investigated the school’s security plans and procedures.
Parents should be armed with questions about the school’s safety rules and procedures and should make it clear to school officials that they will not send their children to any school where safety is not the number one priority. Here are questions parents should ask:
1. What type of security plans and procedures does the school have and does the school regularly review and update both its plans and procedures?
2. Does the school have a campus-wide warning system in place, such as sirens, text messaging, and cell phone warnings?
3. Has the school brought students into the dialog on what should be done in the case of an emergency?
4. Does the campus security or police have the authority to move immediately against anyone on campus who poses a threat to self or others?
5. How quickly can campus security lock down or secure all buildings on campus?
6. What is the relationship between campus security and the local and state police?
H How closely do they cooperate and do they have a coordinated emergency plan?
1. How does the school define weapons?
2. What is the school’s policy on bringing guns, or any weapon, on campus?
3. What would happen to a student if he or she were found to have a weapon on campus?
1. Does the school have a plan in place that identifies aberrant behavior, and what steps will the school take to remove potentially dangerous individuals from the campus? (Parents should get a copy of that plan.)
2. What is the school’s policy if a student is caught sending harassing or threatening emails to someone?
3. Can a student, staff, or faculty member be directed to seek a psychological evaluation and treatment?
4. How quickly are parents notified if a student is causing a problem or disturbance—or appears to be exhibiting behavior that others consider threatening?
I would advise you, the parents, to listen carefully to answers you get and do not accept vague generalizations—pin school officials down. Demand facts and proof—it may save your child’s life.
Accountability is a significant part of the problem. If school presidents and other officials have nothing to lose, if they will not be held accountable, what incentive is there to tighten campus security? Parents need to ask, “Do I want to send my child to a state with sovereign immunity; a state (such as Virginia), that will spend millions to cover up the incompetence of school officials, campus police chiefs, and mental health providers?” If people in positions of authority know they will not be held accountable if their decisions (or lack of decisions) result in death and injury, they will not act promptly to prevent Virginia Tech-style rampages.
While parents may not want to think about school selection this way, they need to look at schools that have the most to lose financially in the event of negligence leading to injury or death. Parents therefore need to know what legal recourse they have if their child is killed or hurt by someone on school grounds. Virginia, for example, is one of the most difficult states to prove premises liability. Premises liability is the legal concept that a landowner is liable or responsible for injuries suffered by persons who are present on his or her premises. There must be negligence or some sort of wrongful act in order for the owner to be liable. (To be continued)