Amid the whirl of preparing students for December break, school counselors haven’t had the chance to digest the Federal Commission on School Safety. Counselor organizations and civil rights groups have largely responded with disappointment over what the report included, and what it didn’t include:
- The report did recommend the removal of guidelines for school punishment policies that had been put in place by the Obama Administration. These guidelines were installed to help address the imbalance of school discipline practices that adversely affected students of color. Civil rights advocates see this as a step backward in the efforts to support underserved populations.
- The report offered little guidance on removing guns from school, or policies to strengthen current gun control efforts. While the report also backed away from President Trump’s recommendation to arm teaches, counselor groups viewed the lack of recommendations on gun control as a huge void.
- While mentioning the need for additional mental health resources in schools, the report did not recommend specific funding targets or service goals for either the states or the federal government.
It would be easy to see the lack of specificity in these key areas as limitations on our abilities to move local efforts forward in school safety. At the same time, the simple presence of a national report on school safety is more than enough to fuel counselor efforts to begin local discussions on this important issue. This is particularly true if counselors keep these key points in mind:
- The Trump Administration has long believed that education is primarily, if not solely, a state responsibility. Since that’s the case, it shouldn’t be a surprise that ED has developed a report that creates a framework for discussions the states need to fill in with programs, policies, and goals that are tailored to meet their unique needs. Since that was clearly the objective from the day the Commission was created, viewing the report as an invitation for local discussion is the best way to go.
- Safe schools is still a hot topic among state legislators and policy makers. While the Commission’s report contains no specific funding recommendations, Congress has already provided the states with additional Title IV A Funding, money that can be used for everything from offering AP classes to increasing student mental health services. States are currently deciding just how to use that money, so now is the time to find out which agency in your state is overseeing the distribution of those funds, and make the case for using more of that new money for safe schools.
- State funding for safe schools is still on the table. The increase in Title IV A could be reason enough for state officials to decide they don’t need to break open local coffers to support this effort. On the other hand, elected officials who made safe schools a campaign issue at the state level could be persuaded to see the Federal money as a good start—one that needs state support to really make a meaningful difference.
- This is a huge issue with principals. School counselors lament that principals don’t provide counseling programs with enough budget, support, or credit for the important work done to advance their building’s mental health goals. With safe schools dominating the headlines, any principal would gladly welcome a counselor-constructed plan to advance safe schools as a department goal. That can pay big dividends for students and counselors alike.
We often tell our students to find a way to make lemonade when life hands us lemons. The Safe Schools report, if nothing else, gives us an opportunity to practice what we preach.