Statement of Principles on School Safety and Security
The American Legislative Exchange Council recognizes the presence of violence every day in America’s schools. This school-based violence, much of it committed by our youth, speaks volumes about the current state of the world and our country today. School-based violence occurs in all communities, urban, suburban, rural and small towns, regardless of economic condition. It happens in all levels of schools, elementary, middle, secondary and beyond and experts cannot fully explain it all. Yes, evil, mental illness and alienation are clearly factors that help define the causes, but all agree that there is no clear single solution. Unfortunately, school-based violence is something all Americans have in common.
We also recognize that mass shootings are low probability – high consequence events. According to the Rural School and Community Trust, 75% of school shootings are committed by students, do not rise to the level of mass designation (4 or more injured or killed) and most are single events. Yet, it is the mass events that gain our focus. We also recognize that 94% of mass events in elementary schools were committed by adult intruders.
We also recognize that while guns may be the overwhelming choice for perpetrators of school-based violence, today, there are many other weapons being used both around the world including vehicles, knives and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). We know that in both the Columbine and Santa Fe incidents, bomb making materials were found.
As legislative leaders, policy makers and responsible corporate citizens our responsibility goes beyond simply our roles of doing good government. We are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We live in community with those who attend and work at our schools; in some of our communities, the education system is often one of the largest employers and its buildings contain more people, than any other, on any given day.
As members of ALEC, we have a moral obligation to protect our children and those responsible for their care and learning. They are our future. Therefore, consistent with our mission, we have developed the following principles regarding school safety and security:
I. Schools are a vital part of our national critical infrastructure. Nationally, there are about 100,000 K-12 public schools, serving about 50 million students and 6 million teachers and staff, for about 180 days of every year. They occupy over 2 million acres of public land and about 7.5 billion sq. ft of built space. According to the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, the average age of public school facility is 44 years old and per the 2016 State of Our Schools report, K-12 public schools represent the second largest infrastructure outlay by the public sector behind roads. They are recognized in the National Infrastructure Protection Plan as a sub-sector under government facilities. They are a focal point of refuge and recovery in times of emergency and a place of joy, pride and accomplishment for communities. We recognize the value and critical importance public schools play in all communities throughout the U.S.
II. All schools deserve to be safe and secure from violence, threats and anyone who seeks to do harm to students and those who care for them. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2015-16 school year, there were almost 865,000 violent incidents in public schools. For every 1000 students there was an average of almost 18 violent incidents. No communities were exempt from school violence: Towns reported the highest incident rates at 23%, followed by cities 22%, rural 15% and suburban 13%. Middle schools reported the highest rate at 27%, followed by high schools 16% and primary schools 15%. The Rural School and Community Trust reports that 75% of all violence in schools resulting in deaths are single incidents committed by students, 25% are mass incidents and all mass incidents in elementary schools are committed by intruders, 94% adults. We recognize the plague of violence affecting our schools and call for our nation and communities everywhere to come together to protect our children and those who care for them.
III. All decisions regarding school safety and security should be made by local authorities. As we recognize that school-based violence is a plague affecting all communities in our nation, we also recognize the authority of local communities to determine for themselves what level and balance of safety and security are desired or required for their schools. With that authority comes a responsibility to be prudent with resources and to review and apply best practices as appropriate. We call for the federal government, states and local communities to share knowledge and proven solutions and we call upon local communities to avail themselves of all resources available and to NOT reinvent the wheel. While the federal government may seek to financially assist local communities, any such assistance should not usurp the authority of local school leaders and should not take the form of unfunded mandates.
IV. Education professionals should work with experts from law enforcement, public safety, homeland security, critical infrastructure protection and the construction and security industries to determine the best and most appropriate solutions for local schools. Parents, teachers and, where appropriate, students should also be involved in those decisions. Educators are not trained in securing facilities or stopping violent perpetrators; they should rely on expert colleagues that are. Where appropriate, local school officials should consider deferring to fellow local, public sector, safety or sworn officials as to the best solutions for their communities and facilities. At all points in determining solutions, local law enforcement, first responders and public safety officials should be involved, including training and planning. Where appropriate and affordable, trained, sworn School Resource Officers should be deployed in schools.
V. The federal government should gather and share best practices with state and local authorities. Currently, there is no national repository of agreed best practices that balances school security and safety. Many states have school safety centers that retain valuable best practices and have crucial experience that they share with local schools in their states. There should be a national effort to gather current information and share it with all states and schools across state lines, as a resource for local decision makers. These best practices should in no way be considered as mandates to local schools, but should be available as resources to help them make prudent decisions.
VI. States should give guidance to local authorities regarding best practices and set standards for securing school facilities. Fewer than one third of states have given any direction to local schools regarding solutions for securing their facilities that are based on experience, proven technology or best practices. Nonetheless, many states have approved large funding bills to make improvements. While decisions should be local, it is incumbent on states to give some direction to local schools based on best practices.
VII. Not all best practices cost money, though they could save lives. In Parkland, Florida, the campus perimeter was protected by a fence and multiple entrances were opened at the start and finish of the day to facilitate 3000+ students and teachers, to enter and exit the facility. The shooter entered via an open gate. A single monitored point of entry is a good example of a no cost procedure. This might create the need to use staggered starts and stops of schedules for students and teachers and might seem inconvenient, but it would cost little beyond the planning and implementation phase. As the Director of the Maryland School Safety Center has said, “Maybe it is time for school security to become a little bit inconvenient.”
VIII. Training, best practices, guidance and standards for school security improvements, policies and procedures should be created with the utmost concern for the balance between safety and security. There has not been a death in a school from a fire since the 1950s. That is a direct result of industry and government coming together to create life safety codes based on proven practices and state of the art materials and technologies. Most states mandate that schools train on those procedures and test equipment monthly. Unfortunately, most states only mandate one annual drill for non-fire related events. States should consider a better balance between training for fire and non-fire related incidents.
IX. Security solutions should be safe and affordable. The Sandy Hook Commission recognized that no school shooter had ever breached a locked classroom door. Seeking the path of least resistance, mass shooters have frequently ignored classrooms with locked doors and chosen to move on to an easier target. They have injured people by shooting through doors, light panels and windows, but they have never breached a locked classroom door. Schools should not choose solutions that are unproven or create new hazards by placing security above safety. Schools should listen to public safety experts like fire marshals when considering solutions.
X. Technology is a key component to school safety and security. It is a standard policy in schools that there is no such thing as a false alarm. The procedure when an alarm sounds is to exit the facility. Fire officials emphasize the need to exit immediately as fire can be so unpredictable in and the first few moments matter. Unfortunately, fire alarms and adherence to policy and procedures, may have played a key role as vulnerabilities in recent mass shootings, in Florida and Texas. Fortunately, the technology already exists to determine, immediately, the presence of heat, smoke or fire before signaling an alarm. Industry should work with federal, state and local authorities to create affordable solutions for schools that balance safety and security.