Parents of students have every reason to be concerned about gun violence on campuses. The horrific tragedy in Newtown, Conn., is the most recent in a series of incidents that justify an intensified spotlight on these dangers. The more Americans learn about this issue — beyond the anecdotal evidence — the better is our national ability to keep schools safe. A quick review of two statistical realities helps expand this learning process:
Schools are the safest place for children to be. In 2010, the rate of serious violent crime at schools was four per 1,000 students. That rate is half of the 8-per-1,000 rate that occurs away from school. Those figures were provided in a recent Poynter Institute story, using data from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.
School violence has been steadily and sharply reduced in the past two decades. The center reported that, in 1993, there were 42 homicides and 13 serious violent crimes per 1,000 students at primary and secondary schools nationwide. However, by 2010 those rates had plummeted to two homicides and four violent crimes per 1,000 students.
Statistics, though, mean nothing to victims or their families.
That’s why we’re encouraged to learn that each Clark County school district has its own comprehensive safety and emergency response plan. Moreover, those individualized efforts are bolstered by the fact that the districts are working together. The 15-year-old Clark County Safe Schools Task Force includes security and operations directors from all nine local districts, plus officials from public safety, health, mental health and other government agencies. The task force meets several times annually.
How effective is the task force? When its leaders applied for a grant to help beef up school security plans, they were told that they were so far ahead in their efforts, they would not qualify, according to a Thursday Columbian story by Susan Parrish.
But it takes more than just administrators and security experts to counter the threats. Parental awareness and involvement is critical.
Parents also should know when certain school security efforts are misguided, and we believe the concept of armed teachers falls into that category of well-intentioned but irresponsible over-reaction. One group advocating such a proposal appeared before the Vancouver Public Schools board recently.
After the group made its case, Mike Stromme, the district’s associate superintendent for teaching and learning, explained: “We were clear that the state law does not presently permit what they are asking for.” Nor should it. Stromme also said: “The only exception of guns in schools are trained law enforcement officers.” As it should be. Teachers are specialists in education, not law enforcement.
State Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, has expressed an interest in legislation that would allow trained teachers to voluntarily carry guns in schools. That’s the wrong approach, and we seriously doubt that any such measure will make meaningful progress in the Legislature.
We respect every school district’s right to put armed security personnel on campuses. Some already do locally, and cooperation with local law enforcement agencies or private security firms is a strategy that should be kept on the table.
Understanding each stakeholder’s role — including parents, teachers, administrators and armed officers of the law — is the best way to protect children in schools.