Improving school safety will require attention to both the physical security and mental well-being of students, a panel of experts told a state commission Tuesday.
The Oklahoma Commission on School Security met for the first time and spent the entire meeting listening to experts in the fields of school security, education, mental health and law enforcement.
The group met as details were still emerging about a shooting that happened Tuesday on the Lone Star College campus in Houston, Texas.
“No one thing, no one person, no one policy will prevent all evil from occurring,” said Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, who leads the commission. “But our mission, our goal, is to mitigate, to lessen tragedy like what we have recently witnessed.”
The next meeting is set for Feb. 5. The group will not discuss funding or gun control because both issues are being addressed by other bodies both federally and locally, Lamb said.
Is put on back burner
Safety procedures and building security prevented additional loss of life in the Connecticut mass shooting last month, said Ken Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services.
“While we mourn every life that is lost, one of the points I raise, is if they had not had that training ... even greater number of lives would have been lost,” Trump told the commission via Skype.
Nationwide, federal grant money for security equipment and school resource officers has dried up, Trump said.
Local school district budgets are tighter than ever. Staff training is less common.
Emergency preparedness money is scarce.
“Combined, we've had some challenges in keeping school security on the front burner,” Trump said.
Trump encouraged the commission to avoid fads, like bulletproof backpacks or teaching students to throw items at an intruder.
“After a high-profile incident, we tend to try to grasp for some type of straw — do something differently,” Trump said. “Clearly something didn't work. But I challenge you to stay focused.”
He did have specific recommendations, such as requiring each school to have a safety specialist who has completed specific training.
Educators must be alert and willing to learn, said Kim Carter, director of the Oklahoma office of Homeland Security.
Free classes offered through Carter's office are one option. School staff members need to know about prevention, equipment and intervention, he said.
Everyone from educators to law enforcement must learn from previous attacks to help prevent future incidents, he said.
“We really don't want to believe that this might happen in my school,” Carter said. “We really don't want to believe. That's really the most dangerous thing for all of us.”
Commissioner says training needed
Mental health first aid training needs to be common for educators, said Terri White, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
“One in every five of our kids is sitting in our classroom with a mental health or addiction issue,” White said. “Half of all mental illnesses emerge by the age of 14.”
Educators need to know the risk factors and warning signs, White said. Mental health first aid is like a traditional first aid class, she said.
“You have the general skills to know who to call and what to do until they get there to keep it from escalating to a full-blown crisis,” White said.
White said she recommends mental health training and awareness for the larger population.
The vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent, despite the common misconception that they are. The myths surrounding suicide also must be debunked, she said.
Also, the commission heard from Melissa White, executive director of counseling for the state Education Department.
She said the Oklahoma School Security Act of 2008 has strengthened bullying laws in the state.
School districts are required to have a bullying policy, she said.
Policies have to include such things as education, prevention and investigation procedures.
Districts have to offer services not only to victims, but to bullies, as well, she said.