It looks unlikely that congress will pass meaningful gun control legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting. While politicians were hoping to use the tragedy as a boost to pick the most difficult fruit to reach, gun control legislation, they have missed out on the low hanging fruit.
It is time for state legislators to stop waiting on Washington and take action to improve school safety by adopting three simple measures. Tweet quote: Tweet
First, legislators should mandate that each school district has a police officer present in each school district at least once a week. While having a police officer in the district serves as a deterrent and is helpful should a problem arise, that is not the main reason that this should be done.
The main reason is to have a qualified, trained, and dedicated person in charge of the school's safety issues. The police officer should make sure the latest safety protocol are being followed by school personnel.
They should lead professional development sessions on school safety at least once a year. They should be in charge of making sure that all safety drills (fire, tornado, lock-down, etc.) are carried out as required by state law.
While some larger school districts may already have the benefit of a school liaison officer, many smaller school districts do not. Those that already have these officers need to empower them to take charge of all facets of school safety.
Second, every school should have a front entrance that meets the newest safety standards. Schools should have a waiting area where visitors can talk to school personnel without actually entering the heart of the building.
Only those people who have permission, and a valid reason, should be buzzed into the building during school hours. This would not only help protect our children from random acts of violence, but it would also protect children from being abducted by parents who have lost their custodial rights.
Right now, anyone can walk straight into most schools in this country, and that is a scary thought!
Finally, we need to do a better job of providing help for the mentally ill. The earlier we can provide this intervention the more likely we are able to help people struggling with mental illness. That means we need to beef up our school counseling programs.
We should begin by taking a look at the availability students have to meet with their school counselors. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250 students for each counselor. Tweet at the ASCA: Tweet
However, the national average is 457 to 1. California has a whopping 814 to 1 ratio, the worst in the U.S. This should not be a surprise since California has no mandated student to counselor ratio. Tweet stat: Tweet
States that do not have a mandated student to counselor ratio often cut counselors when school finances get tight. Legislators in each state should immediately pass appropriate student to counselor ratios.
Some might wonder how we would fund these changes. I have outlined specific suggestions for my home state of Michigan which includes spending healthy state and intermediate school district rainy day funds.
Each state would need to figure out where these initiatives best fit in their budget. One thing is for sure, we cannot afford not to make our schools safer.
While politicians are busy fighting, our school children remain vulnerable. Legislators across the country should take to heart the words of the great basketball coach John Wooden:
"Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."
Just because we might not see meaningful gun control legislation come to fruition doesn't mean we cannot act now to prevent acts of violence being perpetrated on our school children.