I’ve received a few emails inquiring about SFUSD security procedures in the wake of the awful events at a Newtown, CT elementary school late last week. Hours after the tragedy, Superintendent Carranza held a joint news conference with Mayor Lee to reassure the public that the city and the school district place strong importance on students’ safety. Today, Superintendent Carranza followed up with this letter to all district personnel:
I know you join me in expressing our collective heartbreak over the tragic loss of precious life at Sandy Hook Elementary this past Friday.
Over the last few difficult days we have been processing the events in Newton, Connecticut with our colleagues, families and students. I have seen so many examples of caring and support across the city.
In addition to grieving, many of us are asking what more we can do to secure our schools. I want to assure you that I am taking this opportunity centrally to review our procedures and plans and I am asking every school site to do the same. From everything we’ve heard, Sandy Hook Elementary appears to be a model school in terms of security — yet still an intruder intent to do harm found a way in. I make this point because research I’ve read, coupled with my own experiences as a site teacher and administrator, have led me to believe that ultimately it’s the decisions we make when faced with a crisis that makes the biggest difference – our decisions can literally save lives.
I believe we are all committed to doing better. We want to keep our children and loved ones safe and we want to make sure nothing like what happened in Connecticut ever happens again. Year round we must familiarize ourselves with and practice the important protocols and procedures to follow during an emergency. All schools have a safety plan that is updated annually and staff should be trained to implement these plans. On a day-to-day basis, we must enforce sign-in procedures and single points of entry at our schools to mitigate harm.
And the most important thing we can do is to stay alert. Though some things cannot be prevented, many of us know first-hand the crises we’ve averted because alert people intervened in time. We must also be willing to use and refer appropriately to health and wellness services those individuals who we feel may be dealing with issues that require additional support.
Thank you for all that you do every day to keep our schools safe and to keep our children engaged in joyful learning. I wish you all peaceful and restful holidays in the company of your loved ones, and a well-deserved break.
With gratitude and respect,
Richard A. Carranza
This is a very important column on school safety by Lisa Schiff in BeyondChron.org, addressing some ongoing holes in our school safety policy. Everyone who cares about keeping kids safe in school should read it! Lisa writes:
The BOE has turned to the “Restorative Justice” model to address this complex of problems, which they formally adopted as a policy on October 13, 2009. The hope is that this model — having students who committ offenses become aware of the impact of their actions and take on responsibility for addressing the resultant consequences thereby enabling them to stay in school — will address the educational cost of students missing school due to suspensions and expulsions and will have a healing and positive result for all affected.
But restorative justice is not the answer to our school safety and student violence problem. While it is a worthwhile approach, by definition it can only be but one component in a larger effort to keep our students safe and to deal with violence when it occurs. Restorative justice is only appropriate for certain offenses (not, for instance, for violent assaults on children) and only comes in to play after the fact. What we absolutely need right from the start is a strong program that has as its objective preventing student crime before it happens. We must have as our priority the reduction in numbers of student victims and student perpetrators, and be prepared with solutions like, but not restricted to, restorative justice when our efforts fail.
A child I know has lately been obsessed with perfecting her skills on the monkey bars (she wasn’t tall enough to reach the bar until this year). Every recess for the past few months, she’s been out on the structure at her school, jumping and swinging and working on that upper body strength. One day her blistered palms gave out and started to bleed; she went crying into the office for a band aid, where the principal (kindly, but firmly) told her to lay off until her hands healed. She did – it took a week.
Over the weekend she proudly showed me how good she’s become. “I can jump to the third bar!” she proclaimed.
Today she missed, fell, and broke her left wrist. It hurt, and she was very scared, but she kept her head. After the ordeal of the emergency room was over, she reflected on the experience. “I learned a lesson,” she said. “DON’T jump to the third bar. Even though it’s so much fun!”
She has just turned nine, and I am so proud of her – first, for trying hard to meet her goals. And second, for being willing to learn from adversity. She says she’ll be back on the monkey bars after the cast comes off. We’ll have to have a talk about the third bar, but if she decides she’s ready to reach for that height again once she heals, well – I’m not sure I’ll have the heart to stop her.