Obama whiffs on school security

President's gun violence plan fails to adequately address real issues


Following through on his word to act swiftly in the wake of last month’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Barack Obama released a plan this week he believes will help reduce gun violence across the country. The president’s plan, which can be found on the White House’s website, includes four primary tenants: bolster nationwide background checks for the purchase of firearms; a ban on military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; making schools safer; and, increasing access to mental health services.

You might have noticed that "making schools safer" was actually the third item on the list (this was the White House’s ranking not mine). With that being said, let’s take a look at the president’s proposals for improving school safety. The prominent recommendation from the White House is to place up to 1,000 more school resource officers and counselors. To do this, the administration would provide $150 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies as part of a new "Comprehensive School Safety" program. The White House says schools would also be able to use grants from this program to purchase school safety equipment, develop and update public safety plans, conduct threat assessments and train crisis intervention teams.

The plan doesn’t say exactly how much grant money will be given to schools to purchase this equipment or develop these plans; however, it does call for the General Services Administration "to use its purchasing power" to help schools buy this equipment affordably. Some of the president’s other school safety proposals include:

• Giving law enforcement agencies that apply for COPS Hiring Grants preferred grant status by the Department of Justice if they intend to use the funds to hire resource officers;

• Helping schools develop emergency management plans;

• Sharing best practices on school discipline; and,

• Creating safer climates at all schools.

The latter proposal would involve a $50 million initiative to help 8,000 schools train teachers and other staff members to implement "evidence-based strategies" that have worked at other schools, such as rewards for good behavior and “more intensive steps” for students exhibiting "at-risk behavior."

While all of these sound like great ideas and may well help some school districts, the fact remains there is no way the federal government can provide enough resources - financial or otherwise - to help safeguard every school in the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of the 2009-2010 school year, there were more than 138,000 schools in the United States (the total number of public schools, private schools and colleges).

Though most security experts would agree that having more school resource officers is a step in the right direction, there’s simply not enough of them to go around. If the commander-in-chief had the same zeal in his plan for school security as he did for gun control, he would have realized that it is going to take much more than the aforementioned grant programs and only 1,000 officers to make schools safer. As several security experts have told me, having more secure schools starts with implementing better access control measures and then working in other technologies and initiatives.

Will the president’s plan take some of the guns off our streets? I’m sure it will. Just exactly how far it will go in helping to prevent another mass shooting is anyone’s guess. No plan is foolproof, but the ideas put forth by the Obama administration miss the mark when it comes to school security.