Leaders from across the South, including Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, participated on Tuesday in a roundtable discussion of the Federal Commission on School Safety at the Alabama Capitol in Montgomery.
The commission, which has held similar discussions around the country, was established by President Trump following the tragic school shooting in February in Parkland, Florida. The commission is tasked with making “meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school.”
There is no simple policy to create safe, welcoming schools that allow children across the Deep South and the country to reach their full potential. We know that hardening and militarizing our schools will not foster the trust among students, teachers, administrators and the community to make schools optimal places to teach the next generation of engaged Americans and productive workers.
In Alabama, students are suspended out of school above the national average, and black students are suspended at rates much higher than their white peers. These harsh exclusionary discipline policies of schools result in students losing essential instructional time. Students are therefore less likely to graduate on time, and more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, and become involved in the juvenile justice system. None of these outcomes improves school safety or the safety of our communities.
Instead of exclusionary school policies or arming teachers with guns – a policy opposed by educators, parents and school resource officers (SROs) themselves – the commission should focus on evidence-based approaches to discipline like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, restorative justice, and social and emotional learning.
Placing more counselors, nurses and mental health professionals in schools, and conducting school climate assessments and behavioral health interventions, are additional and essential measures school districts can take to create the kind of welcoming and safe schools that foster learning and growth.
As this commission continues its work and offers its recommendations, we hope that it continues to seek input from and meaningfully engage with the students, educators and parents who make up the school communities for whom the commission will make its recommendations; in particular, students of color and students with disabilities, and those who work with these communities.
We hope that federal resources will be directed towards these important and preventive student supports, and not to encourage more guns in schools.