Rethinking school safety… again?

Burning issue or played out buzzwords
By T Martin (as Escritor X)

If you want to know how this year’s Presidential election will go down, know this: a school administrator’s worse headache will help elect the President.

There are several reasons for this, namely that the public education system is merely politics and that schools produce buzzwords that once had meaning. The meaning is now lost in politics involving educational leaders with a questionable agenda and the elected officials that help keep the lid on things.

Nobody should believe that without some validation, so here’s a recent example that has people talking since early February: school safety. A long time ago, those words had meaning, but they’ve been taken in vain so much over the years, that they’ve become mere buzzwords to promote some ulterior agenda.

It seems that at least once a year school districts and communities are “rethinking” school safety. For a few weeks or months a year, school safety is a hot issue before it gets buried in the media beneath numerous other topics for the year. This year it’ll get buried under stories on the Presidential campaign.

Let’s talk about that principal – any principal – with a thorn in the side, that kid with a history of dysfunctional family life, drug abuse and other factors that cause him to be the discipline problem he creates in the school. That child creates a problem in the school that parents will say threatens the safety of other students, and no matter what the principal does to get rid of the kid, the system just doesn’t make it easy to deal with the child.

Finally, after months of paper work and red tape and parent signatures and IEP meetings and some District political maneuvering, a transfer is pushed through and the kid is out of the school.

Never gone for good
But there’s unfinished business. The child waits around outside the school with new friends he’s met at the disciplinary school to which he was transferred. They wait until dismissal and pounce on any suspecting or unsuspecting victim they find. Then school safety means more than just protecting students inside the school; City police have to baby-sit every school in Philadelphia in the morning and during dismissal.

Even if they mitigate situations within the school, just outside the school, and within an 5-block radius of the school… the violent vendettas continue in the neighborhoods to which students return every afternoon.

Following the tragic deaths of 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs and Simon Gratz High School student Raymond Antoine Dawson, school safety became a burning issue again. Soon rewards for information leading to arrests were out there, but it still doesn’t look as if anybody wants to “rat” anyone else out, mainly because of fear – even to avenge a crime that took the life of 10-year-old Thaiyanna Son, a fourth-grader at Olney Elementary School.

Like puppets at the beck and call of the powers that be, the media picks right up on it, and asks, “So what can we do about school safety when it is threatened by local violence?” Clearly, that’s not the issue, but there has to be an appearance of good being done to right the wrongs, and that’s the question that gets answered. How?

Well, we can tear down the ragged chain-link fence around the students’ recess area and put up a wrought-iron one in its place, as was done at Taylor Elementary School Annex.

No virtue denied
I’m not denying the virtues of putting up stronger fences, but are the fences to bar the bad guys out or to jail the good guys in? More directly, does the new fence address the real issues at the school where it’s being erected?

Admittedly, I was pleased to see the old chain-link fence go at Taylor Elementary Annex. It was old and worn, cut in a place or two, and badly in need of replacement.

Admittedly, I was glad to see the wrought iron fence go up, too; mainly because I had bet someone that a wrought iron to match the school’s main building would be going up in place of the old one, but also because I have faith that the fence offers some sense of added security to the students playing in the yard of the Annex.

Now if only they’d blacktopped BEFORE they put up the wrought iron…

We can restore the second crossing guard at Sedgley Street and Erie Avenue, where drivers seem to forget how to drive, as happened for Edison High School and Clemente Middle School students crossing at the busy intersections every morning and afternoon.

We can populate every high school with two armed officers this coming school year as Philadelphia School District CEO Paul Vallas proposes.

Better yet, break down that disciplinary code and create some policies that make it even easier to play musical chairs with our schools’ top offenders. Then rate schools that don’t underreport serious incidents and declare them to be persistently dangerous; create a School Choice program that allows parents the option of voluntarily transferring their children out of those schools regardless of “boundaries”; and then deplete the nation’s tree supply to print brochures designed to convince parents to keep their children in those schools.

Is it worth the effort?
None of this is to say that what we’ve tried or have been doing won’t work. In fact, new policies – even old policies brought back to life – could well help us with the problems surrounding school safety, but that’s still not the issue.

What happens next is that school safety gets carried off into the night as kids take their issues to the streets. And since most of them lack the culture to settle a fight the good old-fashioned way, they resort to gun violence. Quick, easy and by pointing the gun in all the right directions, you can intimidate others not to talk about what they saw or thought they saw.

There’s no doubt that the unfortunate chain of events of late has sparked much talk about street violence, drugs and drug dealers, and gun violence. Soon the elected officials (because they don’t like being called politicians in this “politically” correct age) are getting photo ops to promote various programs and initiatives around the City. This will help in a few years when they’re offices are up for re-election.

Gun violence is a touchy issue. Since people defend their constitutional right to bear arms and manufacturers defend their right to earn a profit from defending that right, gun safety comes up at every turn. By now, school safety and street and gun violence are being talked about on online forums or in chat rooms, but the media has played them down just enough to keep gun safety issues on or near the front page.

Gun safety affects citizens beyond school grounds, and as they implore their legislators to do more to prevent gun hazards, elected officials respond with more photo ops and TV appearances. They are genuinely concerned about these issues and about protecting their constituents, though they are sure we can rest easy because of what they’re doing to keep us safe. This they tell us, as they approach the press conference podium surrounded by their bodyguards.

Down to nuts and bolts
But gun safety isn’t the issue either. Let’s face it, locking up a gun just doesn’t do what stricter gun laws would, right? Wouldn’t stricter gun control legislation reduce violence? Keep in mind the catch phrase that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” Sure, all gun owners say that, but look at statistics.

Then your gun control advocates reveal studies that show that in cities where stricter gun control laws were enforced, the rate of gun violence reduced by leaps and bounds.

“In 1990, there were 500 homicides reported. 400 were gun-related. In 2000, only 300 gun-related homicides were reported.” Sure, there were 600 total homicides, but only 300 were gun-related compared to 400 10 years ago! (Numbers are merely hypothetical, not actual statistics.)

The real issue: gun control. Just like same-sex marriages. And whatever other issues that will make a strong point during Presidential elections. What should be about protecting children on their way to school, during school so that they get an education, and on their way home to school… is really about snowballing school safety into the much bigger issue of gun control laws that will help one Presidential candidate beat the other to the Oval office this year.

School safety joins a number of topics that should be about the people and their rights to live safely but that are really about getting the media to hype the issues and manipulate the public about the personal agendas of the powers that be.

School safety, like similar topics, used to be “hot issues” or even “burning issues.” Now they’ve sizzled down to buzzwords, a catch phrase to help a school administrator’s worst headache elect your next U.S. President.