ALBANY, N.Y. Aug. 30, 2022 — With educators seeing more disruptions and violence in their schools, New York State United Teachers today released a new report detailing local, state and federal policy recommendations that will help bolster school safety and help meet the unprecedented needs of students.
The Safe Schools for All report was created from the input of NYSUT members from across the state who met over the summer to discuss their firsthand experiences with disruptive and violent episodes, which are becoming more commonplace. In turn, these incidents are having an impact not only on those students who engage in such behavior, but also on those whose learning is being disrupted by it.
The Safe Schools for All Task Force’s recommendations are designed to help address the increased social-emotional needs of those students engaged in disruptive behaviors and the broader overarching safety issues having an impact on schools, including gun violence. The idea is that school safety is a day-to-day concern that must be addressed proactively, rather than reactively.
“Whether you’re a parent or educator, every adult expects a safe school environment in which children are free to reach their full potential,” New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said. “So when everyday disruptions and the epidemic of violence infecting our communities are increasingly coming through the schoolhouse doors, we have an obligation to do something about it. Our educators are taking a stand in support of safe schools for all. Who will join them?”
The full report, including all 13 task force recommendations, is available at nysut.org/safeschools.
- Prioritize funding to hire critical staff, including dedicated student support specialists, and secure state-recommended staffing ratios for school counselors, psychologists, social workers and nurses. Addressing ongoing staff shortages in schools across the state goes hand-in-hand with bolstering school safety.
- Demand that the state issue updated, uniform school safety guidance to alleviate issues stemming from district-by-district — and even school-by-school — variations in procedures ranging from lockdowns to single points of entry.
- Strengthen federal gun safety regulations to eliminate access to high-capacity magazines, establish universal background checks, restrict semi-automatic gun purchases for those under 21 and establish national red flag laws.
- Implement at a district level proven behavioral support practices — such as therapeutic crisis intervention services and restorative practices — reduced class sizes and training for all staff, including school-related professionals, on both safety procedures and student intervention techniques.
The nation continues to grapple with increased mental health needs stemming from the pandemic, along with behavioral issues arising from those needs, and schools are no different. Educators had reported increased incidents of classroom disruptions and violence in schools prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and these have continued as students have returned to classrooms.
Task force members reported a range of experiences with everything from training to help manage student behavioral issues to lockdown procedures. One reported that staff training has become an exercise in checking the box in his district, while another local union leader reached an agreement with his district to provide staff with additional stipended time to focus on developing self-care skills, which in turn help staff better meet student needs. A task force member said adjoining middle and high schools in her district have followed different lockdown procedures and have different policies on single points of entry. Meanwhile, another district partnered with a task force member who is a nationally recognized expert on mass shootings to standardize their emergency response protocols across dozens of school buildings.
The task force also dove into the safety issues that go beyond classroom walls, including community issues and violence that spill over onto school grounds, such as a February assault outside a Buffalo high school at dismissal time that resulted in a student being stabbed and a security officer shot. A recent report from Everytown for Gun Safety, in collaboration with the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, found that during the 2021-22 school year, there were 193 incidents of gunfire on school grounds. That’s nearly four times the average since 2013, with the mass murder of students and educators in Uvalde, Texas, spurring marches nationwide to call for gun reform.
“These are the hard issues educators deal with day-in and day-out, but they do it because they are dedicated to helping their students thrive,” Pallotta said. “Our students and staff deserve safe schools, and we’ll raise our voices until they have exactly that.”
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.