It takes much teamwork to keep schools safe

To the editor:

I am a licensed clinical social worker and have worked with teens and their families for over 40 years. Most of those years involved working in or in conjunction with schools.

These schools were rural, urban and inner city in southeastern Connecticut. After the Sandy Hook shooting, some major changes happened.

Part of the approach to student safety was NOT to allow a threat into the school. Various plans went into effect based on sense of urgency and affordability in the school district. Single and dual points of entry were established with staff and/or video and buzzer systems. Many schools had a sign-in for visitors including a visitor badge to be worn while in the school, and an ID was required to get the badge. Some schools had metal detectors, school resource officers, bulletproof glass and escorts.

A major problem to taking action was apathy and people who didn’t want to get involved or were afraid of being wrong. The most successful programs involved parents, school bus drivers and all staff on school grounds. One school had two vice principals, one of whom had school security in his job description. A good communication system was a key factor. Different positions in the school had responsibility for evaluating a student’s threat level.

Some staff positions don’t have the training specific enough to do a mental health evaluation. Guidance counselors deal with academic ability and performance and align them with career goals. School psychologists are trained in testing (which test and to evaluate what) and the interpretation of the results.

The school social worker training I was in was a full-time, two-year program. The first year was three days in the classroom and two days in a supervised field study program. The second-year classes were two days in class, and field study was three days. To be certified as a school social worker required extra courses outside of / in addition to the graduation requirements and testing to demonstrate the additional learning/skills required.

The above is an oversimplification, and territorial issues merged in the team’s goals.

It’s obvious that there is no quick and easy solution, no silver bullet. (no pun intended). Each school system and individual school within the system has issues unique to it to work out. It is a big commitment that takes a lot of hard work and cooperation.

We need to keep the intended harm doer (shooter, etc.) out of school. We need to define/identify who is in the system who needs emotional/psychological support and help them out. We need the team and/or village.

Respectfully submitted,

Henry D. “Buz” Graves Jr.

Saranac Lake

P.S. We need to get started, and now is a perfect time.