Takeaways from the School Safety Commission Report

On February 14, 2018 a gunman killed seventeen students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  The shooting outraged the nation and ignited discussions about preventing future tragedies, including steps that could better protect students and ways to respond and recover from these kinds of acts of violence. In March 2018, in the aftermath of the shooting, President Trump appointed U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to lead a Federal Commission on School Safety. The secretary was joined on the Commission by Matthew Whitaker (who recently succeeded Jeff Sessions and is Acting Attorney General), Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen; this group was tasked with providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school.


On December 18, 2018 the Federal Commission on School Safety presented their final report to the president.  The President’s School Safety Commission released a detailed 178-page final report that examined ways to make schools safer for all students and teachers, addressing not only school safety and the violence of school shootings, but mental health, trauma, and emergency responses. The report stressed that the problem of school violence is complex and has existed for decades, drawing on the work of previous studies and reports on school violence at the federal, state, and local levels. 


The report found that while the Federal government has an important role to play, it can play that role more effectively by acknowledging what many people across the country already know and understand: what works in California may not work in Georgia, and what is effective in an urban setting many not be effective in rural communities.  There is no such thing as a “one-size fits all” approach. The report found that local approaches and community priorities are most important.  Because teachers, in partnerships with principals, administrators, and other school leaders, know their schools, students, and classrooms best, they should be able to make decisions about school policies that would be the most effective. Similarly, school-based counselors and other healthcare providers are best positioned to identify mental health needs and develop a workable course of action in preventing school violence.


The report concluded that many individuals have a role to play in prevention efforts – parents, teachers, the media, health care professionals, and law enforcement – and those efforts are wide-ranging.  Each section of the report concludes with actionable recommendations – for the federal government, states, tribes, and local authorities, and for school districts and schools – to be considered and adopted as appropriate in each jurisdiction. They include: creating a positive school climate, combatting cyberbullying, ensuring ratings systems allow parents to fully access the appropriateness of entertainment children are watching, and establishing “No Notoriety” practices in the event of shootings. But the Commission determined that school staff and local officials are best placed to determine which recommendations to implement in each of their communities.


The Commission noted that Stoneman Douglas had some clear security vulnerabilities, and called for school districts to make schools “harder” targets.  For example, teachers at Stoneman Douglas could only lock their classroom doors from the outside, and classroom windows weren’t well-reinforced or covered, allowing alleged perpetrators to shoot right through them. The Commission recommended that schools, districts, and states take a hard look at potential problems with their facilities through “risk assessments”, suggesting that the federal government set up a clearinghouse that districts can use to share security strategies. 


A key point from the section on School Building Security that was of great importance to us was found on page 124:

"Many school doors have windows that allow someone outside the door to observe the inside of the classroom. These windows should be protected or reinforced and have a removable covering that can be quickly applied that obscures visual observation from both sides."

The first step in classroom safety starts with locking the doors and covering classroom windows quickly and efficiently during a lockdown. Our team at ALP has been manufacturing classroom blackout shades and promoting lockdowns shades for over six years, and we understand the importance of protecting students and teachers in classrooms. Our sole focus has been to provide the best options in blackout shades for every school district. 


What the shooting at Parkland and other schools, like Sandy Hook Elementary, has shown us that when an active shooter can see into the classroom, the students become targets. A blackout shade between the shooter and students can save lives. And the most important consideration when choosing a blackout shade is how well it blocks classroom views from intruders and how securely it stays in place during an active shooter situation. 


The Stoneman Douglas shooting was not the first such tragedy in the U.S. and the report found that it is not likely to be the last – at least not without significant changes at the federal, state, and local levels. But the practices adopted from the report’s recommendations – especially the use of blackout shades to protect classrooms – will help schools better prepare for future shootings.