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School safety suffers with no national guidance

FILE - A mourner stops to pay his respects at a memorial at Robb Elementary School, created to honor the victims killed in the recent school shooting, June 9, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
FILE - A mourner stops to pay his respects at a memorial at Robb Elementary School, created to honor the victims killed in the recent school shooting, June 9, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
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If you’re a parent, school safety is top of mind with children now back in the classroom. But is violence protection a priority in your child's school? Spotlight on America discovered some U.S. schools are flying blind when it comes to protecting our kids.

In a school emergency, would your child know what to do? Would their teacher?

“You don’t know pain until you bury five of your kids that you didn’t send home,” teacher and school shooting survivor Missy Dodds said. Dodds thought her Minnesota classroom was ready for an emergency until a gunman burst into it in 2005. She does not remember ever practicing lockdown drills prior to the shooting.

It’s important that we do these in school, that we do these properly, that the federal government steps in and provides the proper training and guidance and helps protect our kids,” Dodds said.

We discovered that even in states home to some of America’s deadliest school shootings, there are no consistent school safety drill standards. In Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were gunned down in Uvalde, individual school boards decide how many safety drills students practice. The same standard is in place in Florida where 17 died in a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“We have a significant issue at the federal level in that we have no guidance about what this should look like. Because of that, you have variability between states and districts,” professor and researcher Jaclyn Schildkraut said.

Schildkraut is one of the few researchers who’ve studied how school safety drills impact school safety. She believes the range of safety standards, oversight and policies between states and individual school districts mean school emergencies will continue to be more deadly than they should be.

She believes the U.S. Department of Education should provide American schools with a federal safety standard for emergency drills.

The U.S. Department of Education does post safety information for schools on its website. However, the disclaimer at the bottom of the page shows little faith in the department's advice.

It reads, “This website, should not be presumed to reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education.” It goes on to say the DOE doesn’t guarantee “the accuracy, timeliness, applicability or completeness” of the information on the site.

The U.S. Department of Education told Spotlight on America, by law, it is not allowed to tell schools what to do.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., wants to give the Education Department some guidance. She wants to force the department to start collecting and reporting basic school safety information, including a detailed accounting of every school shooting, the number of people killed or injured, how the shooters were stopped and the type of weapons and ammunition used in every case.

I don’t know how you’d make national federal policy that is minimum safety standards required for every school district if you haven’t defined what are our most significant problems and what are the similarities,” Wasserman Schultz said.

She has sponsored and introduced the School Shooting, Safety and Preparedness Act to force the Department of Education to begin collecting that basic information. Once the data is collected and analyzed, standards could be established to mitigate risk nationally. Individual school districts would no longer have to be their own experts, Wasserman Schultz said.

But until that happens, school safety remains a patchwork of policies, leaving people like teacher Missy Dodds worried history will keep repeating itself.

“You can fix it," she told Spotlight on America. "You can fix it in simple ways. You can give guidance on how to do drills. I get mad when I think about it, why are we not doing everything we can?”

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