When we first heard the horrible news about 20 first-grade children and six teachers being killed at Sandy Hook school in Connecticut, parents across Oklahoma and the nation began questioning the safety of schools. In talking with new parents at Oklahoma Christian School, where I serve as headmaster, this is the first question most ask before they inquire about academics or facilities.
Shocking, senseless tragedies such as Columbine, Virginia Tech or the cinema in Colorado provoke a search for quick-fix solutions to address the many complexities around school security. There are no quick fixes for this.
In a strategic attempt to help make Oklahoma's schools safer places to grow, teach and learn, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, with the support of the governor and Legislature, created the Oklahoma Commission on School Safety and Security. Commission members included professionals from law enforcement, education, mental health, emergency response, counseling and architecture.
Some members drove long miles to attend and contribute. We drew upon the expertise of national authorities as well as Oklahoma's own mental health director, Terri White, and Homeland Security Director Kim Carter. The commission worked for five weeks, with every meeting open and the media and public invited. Every meeting was streamed live on the Internet. Dozens of issues were researched and discussed.
The commission appreciated Lamb for his leadership, insight, fairness and the capacity to keep us on task. The commission had 20 key findings and five recommendations that are wide ranging and cover multiple issues. These recommendations may be accessed at www.ok.gov/ltgovernor.
Recommendations were made to address students who have mental health issues. We also know that bullying is often a root cause of school violence and suicide. An important recommendation was the creation of a School Security Institute, which will be a source of continual support and guidance for all Oklahoma schools. From wicked weather to acts of violence, risks can be reduced through coordinated planning and proper training for teachers and students.
The commission acknowledges that this document isn't a finished product. Members call upon every school, public and private, to continuously evaluate its own unique needs and make appropriate upgrades to emergency plans, buildings and grounds. Sandy Hook was another wake-up call and we know that the bar of public expectations has been raised.
All of us must keep asking this question: How safe are our schools? Our children deserve an answer.
Webb, a former state commissioner of public safety and former president of the University of Central Oklahoma, is a member of the school safety commission.