The Department of Education and the Department of Justice have joined forces to create a 68-page "how-to" guidebook to help schools and communities prevent school violence. The manual, Safeguarding Our Children: An Action Guide, is a follow-up to Early Warning Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools, published by the government in 1998 (and still available).
Safeguarding Our Children offers practical tips for designing and implementing school safety plans to reduce violence and help children get the services they need.
One basic recommendation the new manual makes is to get children the help they need before it is too late and make sure each child in the school is known well by at least one adult. "A big part of school safety is personalizing our schools and developing strong and close relationships between adults and students," said Scott Poland, newly elected president of the National Association of School Psychologists, who contributed to the manual. "I truly believe school safety is an inside job.
"I'm not opposed to cops and metal detectors in schools, but we need to focus on relationships between teachers and kids," Poland explained to Education World. Poland said little has changed to improve adult-child relationships since the Columbine High School tragedy in April 1999.
Safeguarding Our Children emphasizes much of what Poland recommends. According to the guidebook, 80 percent of problem behavior can be prevented if a school-wide foundation creates groups within schools to foster a safe and caring school environment that makes all members feel connected and supported. Laying the groundwork is essential to fostering positive discipline, academic success, and mental and emotional wellness.
The strategies in the manual stress a three-stage model that includes prevention, early intervention, and intensive services to address school safety needs. None of the strategies can be accomplished without a combined team effort involving teachers, mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, parents, and students.
Early intervention is an important part of the model. School staff and community members need to know the early warning signs, especially with the 10 to 15 percent of children identified as being at risk for severe academic or behavioral problems. The guidebook recommends that warning signs be used to identify at-risk kids for referral purposes to help ensure quick and appropriate response.
Getting troubled students immediate help is the last part of the model. The manual explains how schools can develop comprehensive, school-based mental health programs, special education and related services, alternative programs and schools, and other wraparound services.
In the guide's introduction, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and Attorney General Janet Reno warn school staff and communities to be cautious when using the early warning signs so children are not stigmatized, which they say would be counterproductive and harmful.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice (CECP) produced Safeguarding Our Children. It will be mailed to every school and school system in the country and can be downloaded free from the World Wide Web at Department of Education, National Mental Health and Education Center for Children and Families, and CECP.
Article by Gary Hopkins
Copyright © 2008 Education World
Originally published 05/18/2000
Last updated 06/24/2008