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Pennsylvania School Safety Task Force Seeking Comment

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Students feeling safe in their schools is a necessary precondition to learning well. But too often school safety policy mirrors our penal code and is less about building relationships and creating joyous communities than it is about assigning blame and increasing the appearance of security with increased spending on security guards and metal detectors.

We have the opportunity to speak out and let policy makers know that we want our schools to be places of learning, not surveillance. We want policies that are grounded in research and best practices to reduce incidences and improve teaching and learning environments.

Click here to provide your comments to the PA School Safety Task Force.

We are urging the commission to look at programs like the “Building Assets, Reducing Risk” or BARR strategy that is showing strong evidence of improving school climates and learning. You can read our testimony below, and then please click on the link above and give your feedback to the Pennsylvania School Safety Task Force.


Dear Members of The Pennsylvania School Safety Task Force,

I write today to urge the commission to focus on research based practices and professional development that lead to safer schools. I would refer this commission to this study from RAND published in 2001: https://www.rand.org/pubs/issue_papers/IP219/index2.html. Many of the lessons contained herein are still pertinent.

Some highlights:
1. Higher prevalence of school security officers and surveillance is predictive of increased disorder (perhaps because it breeds a sense of insecurity and mistrust in students with the adult personnel).
2. “Zero Tolerance” policies lead to more, not less, juvenile deliquency, in large part because suspensions are highly correlated with students dropping out.
3. Further evaluation is needed to know which approaches can reduce violence, bullying, and improve school climates.

Arming teachers, adding police, and mistrusting students through constant surveillance are strategies that have no evidence of working to improve school climates and reduce violence.

However, there are programs that show promise at which the Commonwealth should look to invest. One such strategy is the “Building Assets, Reducing Risks” program. It is recognized by the What Works Clearinghouse and Evidence for ESSA sites as having strong evidence of success: https://www.evidenceforessa.org/programs/reading/middlehigh-school/building-assets-reducing-risks-barr-struggling-readers.

The benefits of the BARR strategy is that it is a holistic approach, that ensures strong relationships among the adults and students in the building, while supporting student academic growth. I would urge the commission to look rolling out BARR as a statewide strategy for reducing violence in schools. Creating a feeling of a locked-down school with the effects of prisons is not what any of us want for our children. Please reject all knee-jerk calls for more authoritarian approaches, and embrace approaches built on evidence and relationships.

Sincerely,

James Fogarty
Executive Director
A+ Schools, Pittsburgh’s Independent Advocate for Equity and Excellence in Public Education