John Foster: We’re all in this together on school safety
People talk a lot about school safety, usually after there’s been an active shooter at a school.
I feel strongly that we should address school safety every day, not just after a national tragedy.
We are fortunate to live in California, with one of the most rigorous and comprehensive School Safety Plan laws in the nation.
The Safety Plan process begins with an annual assessment of school and neighborhood crime, disciplinary and mental health statistics. Using that data, the school site council or a team of administrators, association representatives and parents decides on one or two safety problems, such as bullying, drugs or stress, as well as strategies to address the issue in the upcoming school year. Law enforcement must also participate.
Mandated policies and procedures and training for all staff are also included. These include critical procedures for addressing suicide prevention, bullying, sexual harassment, drills and emergency management procedures. As we have learned, bullying and depression can cause a victim to become a perpetrator.
When the process is completed, the team signs off on the Safety Plan to certify that it is in compliance with the law.
Safety Plans include drill procedures. There are newer lockdown guidelines that are considered best practices. While nothing is failsafe, these procedures are the companion response to law enforcement’s active shooter protocols and have been developed with input from both law enforcement and teachers who have experienced an active shooter incident. At a minimum, we should review these procedures for our schools.
Law enforcement provides support for lockdown drills. Deputies function as coaches, helping students and teachers. These drills should empower children of all ages, not terrify them; they should be no more frightening than an earthquake or fire drill. These drills are not designed for law enforcement to practice their entry procedures.
I think it’s also prudent to form a Juvenile Justice Multi-Disciplinary Team that, if established correctly under state provisions, allows confidential information to be freely shared between law enforcement and school administrators to help prevent, identify and control juvenile crime. This information, which typically cannot be shared, can be critical in preventing potentially dangerous incidents.
It’s important that we also address prevention.
The county’s agencies and organizations, including law enforcement, must partner with schools to ensure a safe environment where our children can thrive and learn. I want deputies and staff to be on school campuses, supporting our youth in their learning, activities and athletics. Our deputies should be part of the school community as another trusted adult that children can rely on and talk to.
Another member in this broad collaborative should be school resource officers. While it would be ideal for each school to have one, our Sheriff’s Office can, at minimum, provide a trained Regional School Officer Resource Team for our campuses.
I will form a Youth Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention and Outreach Team, partnering with other county and community agencies to provide mentoring and prevention programs for youth. We know education works for the younger children. We could model a prevention program for them after a successful summer program I started for middle school students in Grass Valley.
Teens are a different story. Any parent knows you can’t tell a teenager what to do.
Both SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and CADCA (Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America) recommend environmental strategies with teenagers.
This strategy involves framing a project, often as a community service assignment, that allows the teens to “self-discover.” Teens hate to be manipulated, so having them visit neighborhood stores and count the number of alcohol ads on floors, ceilings and walls will often outrage them.
They also are fiercely protective of their younger siblings, as one group proved when they discovered that dispensaries were located next to elementary, middle and high schools and had human billboards appearing every day at the dismissal bell. The teens organized across the city and forced the City Council to rezone the dispensaries to comply with existing regulations for stores selling alcohol.
Law enforcement needs to partner with schools and Behavioral Health to seek funding so that resources are available to youth who need help or want to change their behaviors. At the same time, law enforcement must hold dealers and the few bad apples accountable for their actions.
School safety is not a simple or easy proposition. It takes planning and strategic thinking by all stakeholders. Because, when it comes to keeping our children and schools safe, we’re all in this together.
John Foster is a candidate for Nevada County Sheriff.