Posts Tagged ‘Guns in School’

NYC Mayor Shows the Way Forward to Make Schools Safe AND Fair: More Social Workers and Fewer Arrests

June 23, 2019 Comments off

Earlier this week NYTimes writer Eliza Shapiro reported on a major shift in the approach to discipline in NYC public schools, a shift that will de-emphasize arrests in favor of restorative justice and intervention by social workers. Here’s a synopsis of the recently issued 15 page MOU between the NYPD and NYBOE:

School safety agents will be discouraged — but not explicitly banned — from arresting students or giving summonses for minor offenses like marijuana possession, graffiti or disorderly conduct.

That shift, which was first reported by the education news site Chalkbeat, is covered under an agreement between the Police Department and Department of Education that had not been updated since former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s administration. Mr. de Blasio is also proposing that the maximum length of an out-of-school suspension drop to 20 days from 180 days.

Ms. Shapiro recounts the difficulties Mayor de Blasio faces in making changes to the existing discipline system, citing widely differing ideas about what is needed to maintain school safety. On the one hand there are students who want to remove metal detectors from school and on the other are teachers who oppose Mr. de Blasio’s eminently reasonable proposal to ban suspensions in Kindergarten. This incremental change, I believe, moves the district in he right direction, which appears to move in the direction of replacing police officers and arrests with social workers and restorative justice. Here’s Ms. Shapiro’s synopsis:

After years of sometimes rocky experimentation with ways to replace former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s so-called zero tolerance approach, the city will use restorative justice practices that emphasize defusing conflict over suspensions in all middle and high schools starting in the next school year. The city will add 85 new social workers, funded as part of the final city budget, to schools in an attempt to ease the transition.

Ms. Shapiro notes that Mr. de Blasio’s shift in the school discipline is congruent with his overall aim for the city:

Mr. de Blasio has heralded his school safety agenda as a microcosm of his broader goal that the city can be both safe and fair to black and Hispanic communities who have had the most contact with the criminal justice system.

Mr. de Blasio’s critics on the left might not think he is moving fast enough… but in fairness to the mayor, he is fighting two potent forces in introducing the changes to the system: fear and racism.



This is What a Safe School Looks Like: Walls, Good Guys With Guns, Surveillance Cameras, and Technology that Identifies Source of Gunfire

June 2, 2019 Comments off

Our local newspaper featured an article by AP writer Stefanie Dazio outlining the steps taken at a Beverly Hill Junior High School. The article gave me chills. Here are a few paragraphs from her piece describing some of the “safety features” at the Horace Mann, which are in bold print:

Beverly Hills is among 200 U.S. school districts using the Share911 app. The board of education added it and other measures, including armed security officers, following the Parkland shooting.

In the fall, the district will add a central command center that will monitor feeds from all the district’s surveillance cameras and use software to monitor keywords in online search traffic for potential threats.

“Safety in schools is evolving. Technology and software, like in all aspects of the modern world, need to be utilized and used,” said Christopher Hertz, district director of school safety. “We want our kids to feel and be safe. … If we do all this, then our teachers can do what they need to do.”

Wealthier areas have not been immune to violence. Horace Mann parents and teachers stressed that they and students feel safe within the walled campus, and not just because it’s in an exclusive area.

We live in a nation that wants to build a wall, use facial recognition software, expand the use of surveillance cameras, and monitor our social media to “protect us” from incoming migrants, criminals who live among us, and potential criminals who are using our new high tech devices to find information on how best to commit crimes. This will require the expenditure of billions of dollars, money that is no longer available for the personal face-to-face interventions that guidance counselors, social workers, and teachers could provide if we had more robust staffing in schools. But despite the loss of these opportunities Dazio reports that most parents and teachers in Beverly Hills appreciate the school district’s efforts:

“I’m grateful I live in this community that has so much security, and I know they are protected,” Evelyn Lahiji, 42, said as she picked up her sons, Lorenzo Naghdechi, 8, and Leonardo Naghdechi, 9.

Christina Richner, 45, said her 6-year-old son, Julian, and 9-year-old daughter, Olivia, have gone through so many emergency drills that “their reflexes will kick in” during a shooting.

The students are trained to gather in a corner with the classroom’s lights out and blinds drawn in a lockdown, social studies teacher Laura Stark said. Staffers check in via the Share911 app to share information, including if any kids are missing or injured.

The real beneficiaries of this, though, are the companies who sell this equipment, companies who lobby as hard as the major corporations and who benefit whenever a school shooting takes place. Ms. Dazio describes these military-technological businesses that prey on the fears of parents as

a billion-dollar industry where companies manufacture products from “ballistic attack-resistant” doors to smoke cannons. The hardening market, as well as lobbying efforts to get taxpayer dollars to fund upgrades, had stalled in recent years but rekindled after the Parkland shooting.

No matter that these businesses are siphoning those billions from revenue starved schools who often cut teachers to provide these kinds of “hardening” products, no matter that other businesses are springing up to provide staff development to teachers so they can train students to “…gather in a corner with the classroom’s lights out and blinds drawn in a lockdown“, we should capitalize on fear to promote spending. That seems to have worked at the national level… and seems to be working locally as well.

‘Fight if You Must’: Students Take a Front-Line Role in School Shootings – The New York Times

May 10, 2019 Comments off

Some students appear to have concluded that they cannot wait for a teacher or security officer to protect them during a school shooting.
— Read on

It appears that the only way schools will ever get the help they need to address mental health issues is to call them “threat assessment teams”. Uniting people based on fear is always easier than uniting them out of compassion for those who are troubled.

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NYTimes Article on China’s Surveillance Bears Chilling Resemblance to Hardened Schools

April 7, 2019 Comments off

Earlier this week the NYTimes ran an article by three journalists full of photographs illustrating how the Chinese government turned a city in the Western part of the country into a virtual prison. The plan required the hiring of hundreds of police, the installation of thousands of surveillance cameras, the systematic collection of data from those cameras, and the use of the data to segregate non-compliant and non-conforming citizens— especially Muslims— from the rest of the presumably “law-aiding” and “normal” residents. Oh… and to make the cameras function more efficiently some older sections of the city that had a maze of alleyways were demolished and replaced with open spaces that could more readily be monitored. And finally, citizens and children are coached to bring misbehavior of their neighbors and classmates to the attention of authorities and any child who acknowledges that they are being taught the Koran by their parents is separated and assigned to a re-education facility.

As one who has read and written frequently about the implicit message the hardening of schools sends to children and the potential for abuse when masses of data are collected, I found an unsettling parallel between the actions of the Chinese government and the actions our local governments and school districts are recommending when it comes to monitoring children in school. This is not the world I want to see anyone live in… and it is certainly not the world I want my grandchildren to live in… but it DOES look a lot like the world we want to create for our public schools.

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Skewed Priorities: 14,000,000 Students Attend a School With a Police Officer But No School Counselor, Nurse, Psychologist, Social Worker

April 3, 2019 Comments off

A Common Dreams article at the end of last month had the subheading that is repeated above. The headline of the article by Angela Mann read:

Why School Psychologists Are Worried About the Mental Health of America’s Students

The article was an outgrowth of a recent study conducted by the ACLU– “Cops and No Counselors,”, written by Ms. Mann and six other experts in the field. Drawing on data from the US Department of Education, the report described the appalling consequences of the nation’s collective decision to “harden” schools instead of supporting students who are experiencing social and emotional problems. She writes:

We found that the majority of K-12 schools are ill-equipped to address the mental health needs of children who are experiencing record levels of anxiety and depression during their formative years.

Children today are reporting just as much stress as adults, with 1 in 3 reporting that they are feeling depressed. Suicide, once on the decline as a risk for young people, is now one of the leading causes of death among youth, second only to accidents. Many of the kids I personally work with have one thing in common: significant trauma histories.

Knowing that suicide is on the increase and those children who are troubled have “significant trauma histories”, how does it help to spend scarce funds on surveillance cameras, entryway upgrades, and “good guys with guns”? How does it help to pass laws that enable teachers to carry weapons in schools? Here’s how Ms. Mann posed those questions, noting that there is no evidence whatsoever that police in schools do anything to improve school safety:

Rather than helping students suffering from stress and depression by investing in adequate support, precious resources have been diverted toward “hardening” schools, including hiring law enforcement personnel who may not be properly trained to work in schools. This approach has been pushed by the Trump administration and many state governments after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, but there is no reliable evidence that embedding police in schools makes children any safer.Yet 14 million students attend a school with a police officer but no school counselor, nurse, psychologist or social worker, as the ACLU report found. This is the epitome of misplaced priorities and the foundation of a crisis.

Ms. Mann notes that improving school safety remains a priority… but the way schools are addressing this priority is maddeningly misbegotten:

…Only three months into 2019, state legislatures nationwide have proposed nearly 250 bills to enhance school security, and the pattern is disconcerting: emergency preparedness and funding for on-campus police officers (without requirements for appropriate training to work in schools) top many lists. While schools need improved threat assessments and crisis response, they also need more funding for mental health services. What we don’t need are more hardening measures like metal detectors, minimally trained law enforcement, and armed teachers. We know that metal detectors can’t detect abuse.

School resource officers, with the right training, can be helpful in addressing depression or suicidal thoughts. But ultimately, identifying and treating these issues is the fundamental job of school psychologists and other mental health staff. It’s up to all of us to make sure that every child has their needs met and goes out into the world with a fighting chance.  

Political capital, like every resource, is limited. Spending it to harden schools is a terrible thing to waste.

School Safety Drills Mandated in Indiana Public Schools vs. Assault Weapon Bans in New Zealand

March 22, 2019 Comments off

I read a post on Facebook this morning that sent me to Google to do some research. The post described an active shooter drill in Indiana that strained credulity, but proved to be based on facts. Here’s the account of the “active shooter drill” as reported in Education Week:

In an active-shooter training, Indiana elementary teachers were asked to kneel down and face a classroom wall before being shot, execution-style, with plastic pellets by local law enforcement.

Terrified teachers were screaming during the exercise, which left them with welts and bruises, according to the Indiana State Teachers Association, which testified about the experience to lawmakers this week. State legislators are considering a school-safety bill that, among other things, would require schools to conduct at least one active-shooter drill each school year. The bill has already passed the state House, and is now being considered by the Senate.

While union leaders support the bill, they want safeguards put in place so that teachers and students are not inadvertently harmed during active-shooter trainings.

Indiana already mandates on “man-made occurrence” drill pre semester, but some districts can opt out and substitute fire drills based on a 2018 report from Fox News.

According to the Indiana Department of Education (DOE), districts are required to conduct one “man-made occurrence drill” each semester. Those drills could include bomb treats, knife threats, or active shooter training. It’s up to each district to decide which of the drills they choose per semester.

Some districts do more than one drill each semester. The state allows schools to substitute a monthly fire drill for an active shooter or lock down drill, if they choose.

And to help organize and review these drills, Indiana requires that each district have a school safety officer who is “...responsible for developing and implementing preparedness plans.”

But this preparedness is not limited to schools:

Indiana State Police (ISP) troopers often go into businesses and offices to teach active shooter training. Sgt. Trent Smith said mass shootings bring an increase in local organizations wanting to learn tools to keep people safe.

ISP teaches the “run, hide, fight,” approach to an active shooter. Sgt. Smith said even with plans and procedures, sometimes tragedies can happen…

Sgt. Smith said that such preparation is necessary because people who are intent on committing mass murders plan carefully, which means fastidious prevention plans are necessary, as are the need to report suspicious behavior:

“These people are very well versed in what they’re doing, their plan. They know what the response time is going to be. They know where the large groups of people are going to be. They know they have a limited amount of time to do as much damage as possible,” Sgt. Smith said.

To prevent a tragedy, Sgt. Smith said sometimes the best procedure is prevention. He says it’s important to speak up and be vocal if you see something suspicious.

“We don’t want to be the agency that’s responding to it, we want to be the agency that’s out there trying to prevent this tragedy before anything like this ever happens,” Sgt. Smith said.

There was a horrific mass murder committed in New Zealand over the weekend. Their Prime Minister and legislators acted quickly and decisively in response to the shooting, imposing an immediate ban on assault weapons.

Our country to this point would prefer to allow “these people” who commit mass murders who “are very well versed in what they’re doing” to plan ahead by acquiring whatever weapons they need to do as much damage as possible in the limited amount of time they have. What if we took away the opportunity for them to get those weapons instead of mandating drills in schools and offering preparation plans to businesses and offices? What if we decided that we’d rather ban assault weapons than subject students and teachers to “man-made occurrence” drills, drills that require elementary children to cower in corners while their teachers are subjected to “realistic” drills? And in Indiana’s case, what if they mandated a counselor in each elementary school instead of mandating drills that allow local law enforcement officials to shoot teachers with pellet guns?

But the overarching questions are these:

What if we spent scarce dollars for schools on helping disengaged students instead of “safety officers”, surveillance cameras, and facial recognition software to identify potential intruders?

What if we forbid the acquisition of weapons designed to kill people instead of encouraging children and citizens to report suspicious behavior to the police?

What if we operated our democracy based on loving our neighbors instead of fearing “these people” who are very well versed in planning mass shootings?

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Techno-Autocrats Already Control 1/3 of Globe… and US is Ripe for Picking

March 20, 2019 Comments off

Axios writer Steve LeVine’s recent article, “A Paradise of the Age of Techno-Autocrats”, offers a chilling account of how China is using a combination of omnipresent surveillance cameras and AI to monitor citizens they deem to be “deviant” from the norm. But, as his article notes, this combination of AI and surveillance data is not limited to China: it is spreading to other authoritarian regimes across the globe… and to the United States.

So far, the use of this technology in the United States is dispersed… but it is trending in the wrong direction. LeVine’s overview describes how “benevolent” uses of facial recognition technology can quickly be translated into malevolent ends, as has occurred in China:

The big picture: Lisa-Marie Neudert, a researcher with Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project, said researchers are working on powerful AI technologies with enormous potential “for good.” But they also can have malicious uses — facial recognition employed for police purposes at a football stadium can also be used to repress the Uighur people of western China.

“When these technologies become weaponized, they can be used for surveillance, manipulation and self-generating propaganda,” Neudert tells Axios.

  • Critics say that facial recognition systems deployed by China and passed on by Beijing to other autocratic states increasingly resemble Orwellian tactics.

  • But “persuasion architectures via surveillance-based micro-targeting are already deployed in the United States,” Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells Axios.

  • Mostly that has been for use in advertising, such as at Facebook. “But we’ve already seen it used for politics and more,” Tufekci said.

As noted often in this blog, the hardening of schools is raising a generation of children who are increasingly comfortable with surveillance technology and data collection. District Administration, a journal for school administrators, reported that “according to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 80 percent of public schools—and more than 94 percent of high schools—in the U.S. used security cameras to monitor students during the 2015-2016 school year, nearly doubling the number of schools using cameras a decade earlier.” And surveillance cameras are not the only way authoritarian monitoring is being witnessed by students. According to data from a survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, armed officers were present at least once a week in 43 percent of all public schools during the 2015-16 school year, compared with 31 percent of schools a decade before.

The trend over the past several decades toward “data-driven decision making” is based on the premise that teachers can target academic deficiencies of students by examining data generated by standardized tests– not only the annual summative tests administered by the States to determine “school success” but also periodic on-line formative tests used to determine if a child is making progress. This “benevolent” use of instructional databases to help teachers make decisions regarding an individual students academic progress is relatively innocuous in terms of its potential misuse outside of schools. But the newer forms of data collection, touted as a means of addressing the unique needs of students who have “behavioral challenges”, could have some chilling effects. Saint John’s University, for example, touts 7 apps that can be used to catalog and collect data on student misconduct as part of its Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy. The goal of ABA therapy, “to collect objective data based on responses made by the child and analyze the data to determine if behavioral improvements are being made” is high-minded. But what assurance is there that data collected on a student’s behavior will not be used to perpetually pigeonhole a child as a “problem” in the future.

When this acceptance of monitoring and data mining is combined with a sense that technology offers a cheap solution to the complicated problems that face us as human beings we are setting ourselves up for a world where a centralized team of “techno-autocrats” can assume a dominant role. The access to the data collection currently occurring in schools is currently limited to school personnel. But it’s systematic collection makes it plausible that it could someday be used for repressive purposes… as could the data being collected on surveillance cameras, smart phones, and internet searches.

As one who read George Orwell’s writings, I find the trend of widespread data collection, the expansion of video surveillance, and use of facial recognition software unsettling. As Richard Kagan noted in the Axios article, our current trends in the use of technology indicate that “We may find ourselves back where we were circa 1914, when the only free, democratic space was in what Walter Lippmann called the ‘Atlantic Community’ — comprising the U.S. and Western Europe.”

I hope that as we contemplate “hardening” our schools even more that we will do everything possible to ensure that our students are not being raised in a democratic space.