Once the kids gets off the bus and into the school, we easily assume they will be safe and protected from harm. Yet the Columbine High School tragedy nine years ago continues to resonate when the subject of school danger comes up.
We must stay alert. In this tech era where middle- and high-schoolers can live separate lives from parents via text messaging, blogging and social networking, and with the post-911 hectic workday of many parents’ lives today, school safety may be the furthest thing from your mind.
While more than 40 other school and college shootings have occured since Columbine – thankfully none in the Middle Tennessee area – we need to be sure that school safety is a maintained priority.
Parker Toler, District 31 Metro Councilmember, says schools in his district are pretty safe. “We have a police officer at almost every school, and possibilities of problems are monitored pretty closely,” Toler says.
Councilmember Toler realizes that the schools have work to do, but he’s confident about the future. “We’re not doing as good as we could be doing, but we’re making some great improvements.â€
In Davidson County, school resource officers (SROs) monitor any problems that occur in the middle, high and magnet schools. They can also take students into custody and write citations for illegal activities such as disorderly conduct, drugs, weapons and assault.
“I think the SROs are a vital tool in the schools as well as the presence of the police car in front of the school,” says Kirk Roncskevitz, a Metro School Resource Officer. “It shows that the community policing aspect of law enforcement is involved. Typically, the SROs know who’s who and what’s what, and we have a feeling for when things aren’t right.â€
Earl Jordan, president of Partners In The Struggle, Inc., an organization dedicated to curbing gun violence in Nashville, doesn’t believe the school resource officers are enough. “They do a good job, but I don’t feel the resource officers can cover every inch of the high schools.” He argues that schools need metal detectors to keep students safe.
Councilmember Toler disagrees. “We don’t want children to feel like they are in a prison. A part of the learning process is about being free and open minded about new things. By having the policemen in the school, I think that gives children the sense of security as much as it does protection.â€
Williamson and Rutherford Counties also have SROs in their schools. Rutherford County Schools have a universal emergency plan in place, too. “All the employees have a flip chart that tells them exactly what they should do in a given situation,” says James Evans, spokesperson for Rutherford County Schools. “If there is an intruder in the schools, it shows us what we should do.â€
The schools in the Brentwood City limits are “very safe,” says Officer Samuel Bady of the Brentwood City Police. He says parents don’t need to be concerned about gang activity in the schools.
“There is no gang activity in Brentwood. Every so often, there are rumors that a group of kids are calling themselves this or saying they are part of a nationally known gang,” Bady says. “It’s just a bunch of guys presenting themselves as something they’re really not.â€
Officer Roncskevitz gives concerned parents a few words of advice: “If the school resource officer ever brings something to your attention, don’t automatically assume that it’s being negative for the purpose of being negative. Usually the SRO has seen more than one, often several instances, in which children have ended up in the criminal or gang life. They are just trying to give parents a heads up.â€
Roncskevitz advises parents to pay attention to who their children are hanging out with, attitudes toward authority, the type of music they listen to and the type of video games they play. These may be indicators children are headed down the wrong path.
“Garbage in and garbage out. When students listen to garbage, it increases the likelihood that they are going to think those kind of behaviors are OK,” Roncskevitz says. “Games like Grand Theft Auto are notorious for glamorizing violence. Sometimes children have difficulty discerning between reality and fantasy.â€
If parents are concerned that their child may be hanging out with the wrong crowd, Roncskevitz advises parents to talk to the school resource officer. More often than not, the officer can tell you which children are trouble makers and which ones are not.
While school bus safety is an ever-green issue, according to USA Today, only 20 deaths resulted from school bus accidents nationally in recent years. This is compared to 448 school-hour/school-age deaths in cars driven by teens, 169 fatalities in cars driven by adults, 131 pedestrian and 46 bicycling fatalities. Stacked together those stats make buses look great. But not to everybody.
“Children aren’t as safe as they should and could be,” says Alan Ross, President of the National Coalition of School Bus Safety. “Most large school buses lack a safety belt. It’s a simple belt that we take for granted in our cars, but our own children are lacking this basic appliance.â€
Catina Cole, a Nashville mother and Metro school bus driver, doesn’t think seat belts are necessary to ensure students’ safety. “There are so many kids on there. If I were to have a wreck, how would I unbuckle 74 kids?” Cole asks. Tennessee doesn’t require seat or lap belts on standard-sized school buses – in fact only a brief list of states do: California, Florida, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Texas.
“This has been a huge debate for a long time. Definitely seat belts are always good; so when you have kids in seat belts in cars and not in buses, it sends a mixed message,” says Barb Shultz, R.N. and manager of the pediatric emergency department at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. “The problem is that you’ve got kids riding on the buses at all ages. So who is going to patrol to ensure that the seat belts fit a 6-year-old as well as an 18-year-old?â€
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) only requires smaller school buses (those weighing less than 10,000 pounds) to equip lap and shoulder belts for riders.
“NHTSA decided that the best way to provide crash protection to passengers of large school buses is through a concept called compartmentalization,” explains Patricia Swift-Oladeinde of the U.S. Department of Transportation. “This requires that the interior of large buses provide occupant protection such that children are protected without the need to buckle-up.â€
â€˜Compartmentalization works like an egg carton,” says Shultz. “Each seat is built to protect kids individually. The younger kids tend to do better than the older kids.â€
“In reality, bus crash statistics are really low, but they are still tragic when they happen,” Shultz adds.
Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital sees two to three school bus accidents a year. “Injuries are mild to moderate and very infrequently severe. Injuries include mild head injuries and broken extremities,” says Shultz.
Doan Phuong Nguyen is a freelance writer. She lives in Nashville.
- Arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to come.
- When the bus approaches, stand at least six feet away from the edge of the road. Line up away from the street.
- Do not move until the bus comes to a complete stop and the doors open.
- When crossing the street, always cross in front of the bus. Never walk behind the bus. Cross at least 10 feet ahead of the bus.
- Always stay in clear view of the bus driver.
Source: National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.