Yesterday, the National School Shield released their comprehensive report on school safety. To add some background, the National School Shield (NSS) is a task force led by Asa Hutchinson and funded by the NRA. Though funded by the NRA, the NSS has complete autonomy and is independent from the NRA’s political motivations. Asa Hutchinson is a former U.S. Attorney, Congressman, head of the DEA, and Under Secretary for the Border and Transportation Security division of DHS. He gathered a team of experts in public policy and security, including the former director of the Secret Service, former Antiterrorism and Homeland Defense Director, directors of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, private military and law enforcement training staff, former TSA and DHS staff and law enforcement officers.
The team poured over many different studies, reports and statistics from a variety of sources to get an adequate background on the subject of violent attacks in our schools. The team studied six individual schools from across the country, each with varying demographics, sizes and current security measures. The team also conducted interviews with many other school representatives, teachers, parents, and law enforcement officials. To say the least, the NSS is extremely qualified to speak with authority on the subject and they did the necessary research to form an adequate report on the state of our schools’ security.
The main purpose of the 225-page report is to advocate an increase in the School Resource Officer (SRO) program, as well as establishing a roadmap for our schools to prevent future attacks or at least minimize the damage potential of these attacks if and when they occur. The report gives a detailed history of the funding challenges with the SRO program, but it also gives a series of solutions to improve the system. After discussing the SRO program, the NSS report gives a series of 10 major findings in their studies and research.
- There has been insufficient attention paid to school security needs with the greatest lack centered on medium- and smaller-sized schools due to their smaller budgets.
- Many schools do not have a formal, written security plan. Those fortunate enough to have such a plan are either inadequate or not properly exercised.
- Properly trained armed school officers, such as an SRO, has proven to be an important security asset for prevention and response in the case of an active threat.
- Local school authorities are in the best position to make final decisions on school safety procedures, as they can best relate to the citizen community and the needs of the school.
- Many public and non-public schools financially unable to include armed security personnel in the budget have opted to school staff carrying firearms to heighten security. However, there is no nationally recognized training program for the safe and effective storage, carry, maintenance, and use of firearms by school employees.
- While local school authorities should make all final school security decisions, individual states have not made school security an element of adequacy in school standards.
- School officials generally are not trained in security assessments or the development of comprehensive safety and security plans, and professional consultants can cost upwards of $10,000 per campus. There are currently no free or subsidized programs for school security consultations.
- Federal funding for SRO programs has served as a pathway for increased school security, but has proven to be unreliable as a long-term solution for covering the personnel costs of school resource officers.
- There are numerous federal agencies and programs that provide school safety resources, but there is no coordination between these agencies and programs. Reducing the bureaucratic inefficiency of having many departments and agencies could allow schools better assistance with their security measures.
- Most violent attacks in schools have had multiple early warning signs or pre-incident indicators. Being able to discern these indicators and react quickly and efficiently has shown to minimize the risk of violence.
The report goes on to eight suggestions for the NRA to support in its lobbying efforts:
- Training: Approve a program developed by the NSS for the professional training of armed personnel in the school environment.
- Adoption of Model Law for Armed School Personnel: The NSS drafted a model law for state legislatures that allow school authorities to designate personnel who can carry concealed weapons on school property.
- School Resource Office: Each school that employs an SRO should have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that defines the duties and responsibilities of the SRO as well as applicable laws, rules and regulations. This MOU will help define the SRO’s job as school security, not increasing juvenile arrests.
- Online Self-Assessment Tool: The NSS created an Internet-based self-assessment tool to allow any school to have secure access to comprehensively evaluate and assess its security gaps and vulnerabilities. The NSS wishes to pilot this system in three school districts to perfect the system and scoring. The final project should then be deployed to all schools wishing to use the program.
- State Education Adequacy Requirement: Push for legislation by State governments to raise security standards of all schools—public and private.
- Federal Coordination and Funding: Either through legislation or executive action, a lead agency should be designated to coordinate the federal programs and funding of local school safety efforts. This will cut down on the bureaucracy and red tape that hinders the current system.
- Umbrella National Organization to Advocate and Support School Safety: The NSS is in a position with adequate funding and support to advocate and work with schools to meet the individual needs of schools and their communities. This will help relieve the schools and the federal, state, and local governments of many of the problems faced in the adoption of a comprehensive security assessment and implementation.
- Specific Pilot Program on Threat Assessments and Mental Health: Advocate for schools to form threat assessment teams. The teams will evaluate all threats and conduct an investigation to determine whether the threat is serious. They should also focus on preventative measures, tracking “red flags” or other disturbances in individual or group behavior.
After the pages of lists, methodology and history, there is a list of appendices. These appendices elaborate on everything discussed earlier in the report. The first appendix is titled, “Best Practices Guidelines.” This lengthy section is intended to be read and utilized by school administrators to begin the process of creating better security for their schools. The guidelines are grouped into three sets: “Layer One – Prevention and Mitigation,” “Layer Two – Preparedness,” and “Layer Three – Response.” With 114 pages of valuable information, school administrators could find at least a few things that will dramatically increase their schools’ security and safety, even with tight budgets.
Following the Best Practices, the NSS gives a detailed report on the school assessments that were performed for the purpose of this study. The report has photographs taken at the schools included in the study, and shows the good and bad practices encountered. The third, fourth and fifth appendices is an overview of the proposed training program for school security personnel. The sixth appendix concerns the aforementioned Web-based assessment tool. The seventh appendix lists the performance guidelines for school security plans. The eighth appendix is a sample law for state legislatures to enact allowing for armed school security personnel on school properties, as many states have laws that prohibit this or are confusing. The final appendix is also very valuable, as it gives schools and communities guidelines on how to protect themselves and others by being vigilant and analyzing any pre-incident indicators that might be displayed by students or community members.
In conclusion, the report is very thorough and well written. I honestly did not expect this quality of work to come from the NSS so soon (just a little over three months since its creation), but I was pleasantly surprised. With so much cathartic and worthless legislation being passed or discussed in state and federal governments, it was refreshing to see a quantitative and qualitative study focused on improving school security. Many of the lawmakers are busy debating gun control, but the men and women of the National School Shield have been working tirelessly to find solutions that actually protect our nation’s children.
To learn more about the National School Shield, you can visit the official website.
If you would like to join or support the NRA, the organization that funds the NSS, you can do so here.