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Learning First Alliance Issues Joint Statement on Federal School Safety Commission

AACTE and fellow members of the Learning First Alliance issued a joint statement on December 19, 2018 that emphasizes the Federal School Safety Commission should help schools provide mental health resources to prevent violence. LFA members said the federal government should focus its next steps on resources and training more mental health specialists to ensure safety of students and school staff:

A new federal report misses a high-profile opportunity to bring leadership and resources to social-emotional and mental health needs in K-12 schools, the Learning First Alliance, a coalition of 12 major national education organizations that represents 10 million parents, teachers, administrators, school counselors, specialists, teacher educators, and school board members, stated in response to recommendations by the federal Commission on School Safety, led by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Simply talking about the need for something to be done without creating the ability for schools to have the tools to reach more students in need avoids a core responsibility.

Numerous LFA members have provided recommendations to the commission to inform federal agencies of what needs to be done to focus on prevention and provide the resources for schools to implement those critical steps of having the personnel and training to make a difference. The recommendation to drop guidance on school discipline is a distraction from the core mission of this panel, as is the panel’s unneeded suggestion that teachers be trained and armed.

“The federal commission should have put forth a more comprehensive effort that supports schools in their attempts to prevent violence and address the mental health needs of their students and staff,” said Nathan R. Monell, CAE, executive director of the National PTA and 2018-19 chair of the Learning First Alliance. “We are hopeful that the federal agencies will go further than issuing a report that will not only recommend best practices, which well-resourced districts can adopt and implement quickly, but also dedicate federal funds to ensure underserved districts get the support they need.”

The Commission on School Safety report has limited utility for school leaders, its purported audience, if school districts lack resources to fulfill its best practices and recommendations. For instance, communities that lack school and community-based mental health providers would not be able to use recommendations to improve mental health for children, or if a district lacks funds it cannot install physical impediments to school shootings, such as blast- or bullet-resistant glass windows.

“The members of LFA share the Secretary and commission’s commitment to enhancing school safety and students’ well-being, but leadership is more than just telling schools what to do,” said Richard M. Long, LFA executive director. “This is a complex problem, and LFA organizations have examples of what works and need the Congress and the Administration to provide resources and assistance to help meet each school communities’ individual needs.”

LFA member organizations will continue to share resources and offer school safety recommendations to the panel based on their members’ firsthand experiences in schools.

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Jerrica Thurman

Director of Marketing & Communications, AACTE