Our schools should be sanctuaries for learning. Sadly, violent episodes are commonplace in classrooms across the country. To compound this issue, the scourge of mass shootings continues to infiltrate our schools. We must push our leaders to take action on behalf of our schools and communities.
Part of NYSUT's core mission is to advocate for safe environments for our students and better working conditions for our educators and school staff. We believe that safe, secure, welcoming school environments are essential for effective teaching and learning. Therefore, we must act — and act quickly — to address this current and escalating crisis of safety in our schools.
In addition to the immediate actions and advocacy that NYSUT and our national unions are engaged in in Albany and in Washington, NYSUT is launching a new Safe Schools for All Task Force to hear from our members on this topic and get your input on next steps. The Task Force is charged with building a list of recommendations for how our state and districts can best support safe public schools at the center of every community. We will focus on several key areas most crucial to building safer school environments:
Addressing Social-Emotional Needs of Students — The social-emotional impacts of the pandemic have led to increased incidences of students acting out, classroom disruption and violence. We must focus on supporting and lifting up our students to root out behaviors that can lead to this disruption and violence. Relying solely on punitive measures will only harm our students in the long run and exacerbate the very problems we are seeking to solve. Properly addressing social-emotional needs is one of the best ways to prevent future acts of violence in our schools.
Ensuring Appropriate Staffing Levels — School staff already are stretched too thinly, to say nothing of the physical injuries and mental health impacts stemming from fights, threats and other forms of disruption. School staffing levels must meet the level of needs. We need more school counselors, school psychologists, social workers, school attendance teachers, resource officers and other support staff. By adequately staffing our schools, we can ensure that all staff should have appropriate caseloads that allow them to focus on preventative work with students.
Fostering Community Partnerships — Schools do not stand alone as islands in our society. Rather, our schools are integral and active parts of our communities. School-community partnerships must be an important part of developing safe and vibrant schools in all of our communities.
Confronting the Crisis of Mass Violence in Schools — For far too long, schools have been the sites of mass-murder events. The list of schools and towns made infamous by mass shootings is long and grisly. Our educators are thrust on the front lines to help students and families process horrific events, while simultaneously trying to cope with the unthinkable themselves. No student, educator or parent should live in fear of this scourge infecting their communities. This ongoing violence, and the profound threat it poses to the lives and learning of our children, is a national embarrassment that must end.
Safe Schools for All Task Force will be meeting this summer to produce a final list of recommendations and actions.
Please stay tuned for more information as this develops.