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The inauguration of Joe Biden takes place this week. The President-elect recently proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package which includes new aid for K-12 and higher education. Here are the details on his approach, which has been called a “rescue plan” aimed at reopening schools.

(Updated 1/14) A new, $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposed by President-elect Joe Biden would dedicate an additional $170 billion for K-12 schools and higher education, as well as spending billions more to prop up the state and local governments that are critical to funding education.

Biden’s announcement comes less that a month since Congress approved a $900 billion Covid relief package that included about $82 billion for education. The December 2020 package provides:

  • $54.3 billion for K-12 schools, largely delivered through Title I funding. That’s about four times what schools received in the CARES Act approved in March.
  • $22.7 billion for higher education with $1.7 billion set aside for minority-serving institutions and close to $1 billion for for-profit colleges
  • $4 billion for governors to spend at their discretion, with $2.7 billion of that for private schools.Biden’s proposal would put another $130 billion toward K-12 schools and $35 billion to support higher education institutions. Another $5 billion would go to governors to use at their discretion for the “hardest hit” K-12, higher education or early education programs. The K-12 dollars would be focused on helping schools reopen, though the allowable uses would be quite broad, A portion would be used challenge grants focused on educational equity.

Read this full article in FutureEd: What Congressional Covid Funding Means for K-12 Schools

As schools grapple with reopening plans across the country, education leaders, teachers unions, and parents clash over what they believe to be the safest path forward. A recent study offers new insights about how school impacts public health.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, experts and educators have feared that open schools would spread the coronavirus further, which is why so many classrooms remain closed. But a new, nationwide study suggests reopening schools may be safer than previously thought, at least in communities where the virus is not already spreading out of control.

The study comes from REACH, the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice, at Tulane University. Up to this point, researchers studying the public health effects of school reopening have focused largely on positivity rates. As in, did the rate of positive coronavirus tests among kids or communities increase after schools reopened?

Read this full article in NPR: Where Is It Safe To Reopen Schools? New Research Offers Answers

During the pandemic, most schools have been tasked with reaching students online.  However, finding way to engage, connect with, and reach students –especially those without reliable internet access or tech devices–has been an extraordinary challenge. Now, educators and local tv stations have teamed up for a creative solution to engage students at home.

Nearly every weekday morning, Valentin Vivar curls up in bed next to his older sister, Araceli, and switches on one of his favorite television shows.

The hourlong program, “Let’s Learn NYC!”, isn’t typical children’s fare. Valentin, 5, watches as educators from New York City public schools teach math and science, sing songs and take viewers on virtual field trips to botanical gardens and dance performances. Araceli, 17, is there to help out.

After the coronavirus pandemic shut down their schools in March, the siblings attended virtual classes from their apartment in Queens on Araceli’s iPhone. Their parents could not afford another device, and their class attendance was sporadic because sometimes both had school at the same time. Valentin, who needed speech therapy, was missing out on conversations with classmates, and he was struggling to pronounce words.

Then a teacher told them about the television program, and Valentin was hooked. He sounded out letters and words and formed strong bonds with the teachers he saw onscreen.

Now, Valentin “wants to read books by himself, and he’s writing new words,” Araceli said. “I really like to see him learn and grow.”

Around the country, educators and local television stations have teamed up to help teachers make their broadcast debuts and engage children who are stuck in the doldrums of distance learning. The idea — in some ways a throwback to the early days of public television — has supplemented online lessons for some families, and serves a more critical role: reaching students who, without reliable internet access or a laptop at home, have been left behind.

Read this full article:

New York Times: Teachers on TV? Schools Try Creative Strategy to Narrow Digital Divide

Over the weekend, the CDC director and FDA gave final approval for emergency use authorization of the first COVID-19 vaccine in the US.  As questions surrounding efficacy and distribution arise, some school and public health officials say vaccination requirements may be on the way.

Note: The recent authorization is for people 16 and older. 

…pediatricians and school and public health officials are bracing themselves for and bristling against the onslaught of questioners asking the one thing they don’t want to talk about. At least not yet, anyway.

Will children be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to return to school?

“You hear the questions about whether vaccines should be mandatory or not,” says Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. “That’s not the question to be asking right now.”

“The questions to be asking right now are, ‘Is it effective? Is it going to be free? Is it widely accessible?'” she says. “What we’re not doing right now – regardless of what I personally think – we’re not weighing in on whether a vaccine should be mandatory or not right now because that’s not an appropriate question right now.”

The caveats of “right now,” “yet” and “at this moment” do a lot of heavy lifting in conversations about immunization requirements, and that’s because the answer is complicated and not as straightforward as parents would probably like. Not only does it depend on where families live, as different states have different vaccination requirements for schools, but it also depends on drug companies enrolling more children in their trials in order to amass enough data to show – as most pediatricians and public health experts fully expect – that it’s efficacious and safe in children.

Read this full article in US News: No Vaccine, No School?

Additional Resources about the Pfizer vaccine:

New coronavirus measures emerge as states across the country experience a surge in cases.  In California, two of five designated regions dropped below hospital ICU capacity, resulting in new stay-at-home orders as of Sunday at 11:59pm PST.  All schools and day camps may remain open if they adhere to reopening protocols, but schools with three positive COVID-19 cases or more over 14 days must close for two weeks. 

A new stay-at-home order will be imposed on Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley Sunday night, as the coronavirus crisis spirals out of control with a speed that has exceeded health officials’ most dire projections.

Some 33 million Californians will be subject to the new order, representing 84% of the state’s population. The state mandated the restrictions in the Southland and Central Valley as capacity at hospitals’ intensive care units hit dangerously low levels. Five Bay Area counties will also begin lockdown restrictions in the coming days despite not yet reaching the threshold at which such action is mandated by the state.

The rules are less sweeping than California’s pioneering stay-at-home order in the spring, which is credited with slowing the first COVID-19 wave. But the new order will change daily life for many, especially in suburban Southern California counties like Orange and Ventura, which so far have enjoyed more open economies than hard-hit Los Angeles County.

Read this full article in the LA Times33 million Californians face COVID-19 stay-at-home order that will restrict movements and business

Thank you to the national leaders who joined our December School Safety Leadership Roundtable to share insights on the most pressing issues regarding school safety:

  • Jim Accomando, Past President of National Parent Teacher Association
  • Elizabeth Brown, Principal & Member of National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • Mo Canady, National Association of School Resource Officers
  • Sharon Newport, Executive Director of Door Security & Safety Foundation
  • Melissa Randol, Executive Director of Missouri School Boards Association & Member of National School Boards Association
  • Melissa Reeves, Past President of National Association of School Psychologists
  • Paul Timm, Physical Security Professional at Facility Engineering Associates

This month, we’ll be sharing some of the panel’s key insights on our social handles.

Make sure to follow Safe and Sound Schools: 

 

Ransomware is a kind of malicious software that encrypts a victim’s files.  Attackers will typically demand ransom in exchange for restored access to those files.  Therefore, understanding how ransomware technology evolves is key for school leaders to remain vigilant and protect against it.

The public schools in Baltimore County, Md., will remain closed Monday and Tuesday as officials respond to a cyberattack that forced the district to cancel remote classes for its 115,000 students just before the Thanksgiving holiday, officials said.

The attack, first detected late Tuesday night, affected the district’s websites and remote learning programs, as well as its grading and email systems, officials told WBAL-TV.

Schools were closed Wednesday, one day earlier than scheduled for Thanksgiving. On Saturday, the district announced on Twitter that classes would be closed for two additional days on Monday and Tuesday due “to the recent ransomware attack.”

Read this full article in the NY Times: Ransomware Attack Closes Baltimore County Public Schools

Mark Williams, physical safety expert and Chair for the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools discusses the newly released PASS Safety and Security Guidelines with Safe and Sound Schools.

The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) just released the 5th edition of its Safety and Security Guidelines for K-12 Schools. Who should read them and why?  

The Guidelines were originally introduced in response to schools in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting.  Schools were struggling to understand what they needed to do.  Specifically, their questions fit into a handful of categories:

  • How do we assess our current state of safety and security?
  • What should we do? What are other schools doing? Vetted best practices.
  • Where should we start?

While the original Guidelines were oriented around providing a roadmap for schools to follow to answer those questions, they have evolved to be a resource that is useful for other stakeholders in the safe schools environments, like architects who design schools, general contractors who build schools, emergency responders, and parents.  All these folks are involved in taking an all hazards approach to enhancing the safety of our schools.

Who endorses the 2020 guidelines?

We have many organizations that support, reference and endorse the PASS Guidelines and Checklist, including Safe and Sound Schools.  The PASS Guidelines are listed as the only non-governmental document on physical security within the Department of Homeland Security SchoolSafety.gov website.  PASS is also referenced in the National Fire Prevention Association’s NFPA 3000 ASHER standard as well as the Federal Report on School Safety and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Commission Report.  The State of Ohio in their “School Safety Report and Recommendations” recommended that all public K-12 schools in the state of Ohio should meet with PASS Tier 1 requirements.  Additionally, COPS (The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services) which is a component with the United States Department of Justice, published a list of the 10 Essential Actions to Improve School Safety.  PASS was included in that Top 10 list.

What’s new in this year’s guidance?

There is a lot of new material in the 5th Edition. We are very excited to finally release it. Some highlights include:

  • An expanded conversation on non-code compliant barricade devices
  • New technology around Zone Emergency Response Systems which dramatically reduce the time it takes to get emergency responders to the exact location on school campus or building
  • Guidance on Lockdown Drills – what should they be and what they shouldn’t be
  • Enhanced Visitor Management practices
  • Grounds assessment and use policies
  • Recommendations on the installation of audio/video call boxes in various layers of school security
  • Architectural elements like delineating hard corners in classrooms in order to have room occupants shelter in safe places during a lockdown
  • An enhanced Checklist Tool which enables schools to document both current state and serves as a planning document going forward.
  • A new section on Emerging Technologies. These are technologies we see evolving and being tested in the k12 environment.

We are really pleased with it and hope to see even more schools make use of the updated guide.

What is the biggest takeaway for schools? 

We believe the biggest takeaway for schools is that the Guidelines and Checklist tools are evolving in a very dynamic environment to reflect the current vetted best practices from around the country.  We have a cross functional Advisory Committee of experts that are out in our school environments every day and are dedicated to making sure our schools are as safe as possible.

How can people access the new PASS guidelines? And how do you see schools using this free resource from the experts at PASS?

The Guidelines and Checklist tools are available as a no cost download at https://passk12.org/guidelines-resources/.

Schools are finding this document easy to understand and a helpful tool in assessing their current environment and a planning tool for their future needs.  It also provides a platform and resource to assist schools to pursue grants that are available for school safety and security equipment and training as well as a document to help them establish effective and appropriate solutions for enhancing the safety and security of their environments.

We set out to provide free, clear, and unbiased guidance for school leaders and decision makers when we started the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools.  We are thrilled to see more and more schools taking advantage of the resource and grateful for partners like Safe and Sound Schools spreading the word.


Guest Author:

Mark Williams served for over 30 years in the Safety and Security Industry in a number of leadership roles. He also has 15 years of experience teaching life safety codes and sits on the NFPA 3000 ASHER (Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response) technical committee. Mark has been involved with Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) since 2014 and currently serves as its Board Chairman.

Ensuring the safety of a school community is a tough job under normal circumstances–and these past 6 months have been anything but normal. As we look ahead to a new school year, the job is more challenging and more important than ever. For months now, our school communities have continued the heroic work of providing for the basic and educational needs of children, youth and families through the COVID-19 crisis. And as the year began to draw to a close, school district leaders began “sharpening their pencils” to plan ahead for a very uncertain school year.

Then the tragic death of George Floyd shifted conversations in communities, large and small, across the country to the role of police in our schools and the programming needed to overcome long-standing race and equity issues in our nation.  Another defining moment in our history emerged – one that will shape future generations. The role of our schools in the collective efforts of our progressing nation cannot be emphasized enough.

Only a month earlier, Safe and Sound Schools had initiated a series of focus groups to discuss the reopening of schools this fall across the country. Through these discussions we were able to offer support through these crises and gather data to inform our summer webinar series, “Return to Learn With Safe and Sound Schools” set to kick off on July 7th.  For the past several months we’ve heard from parents, teachers, school social workers, counselors, psychologists, nurses, principals, superintendents and yes… students as they shared their hopes, fears, concerns and challenges as they think about the upcoming school year.  In some ways, the focus groups felt like virtual support groups as peers from across the country quickly found they shared much in common.

Although the data collected exceeded our expectations, it was the sincere passion and love for our children that we wish we could pass on to each person reading this blog. As one teacher put it, “I don’t know what I will do if I don’t get to see my kids this fall.” That is the inspiration behind our Safe and Sound “Return to Learn” webinar series! We hope you can join us to make the hope of that joyful reunion of teachers and students–in whatever form it takes–a reality this fall.

What could fatherhood and school safety possibly have in common? Plenty, it turns out. At the heart of each is a primal instinct: survival and a need to protect. Central to each is a call to action — what we do and how we make our voices heard.

I began my professional career working with children as a general and special education teacher, and then through my doctoral training, gained a wide array of experiences as a psychologist  – working with children, adolescents and adults, forensic and health psychology, crisis and disaster mental health, and trauma-informed care and practices.

When our son was nearly two years old, I decided to leave full-time private practice as a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist in New York City to help design and open a global network of international schools, nursery through grade 12, the flagship campus of another international school, Avenues: The World School. This first campus would open the same year our son would begin his first formal educational experiences and enter nursery school. While I was excited to help build a “dream school,” I was also glad to be near my son and protect him throughout his school years.

Just as many “expecting parents” do, I sought to continue learning as much as I could about school design, safety, crisis management, and the many dangers our children face in setting out on this new journey to collaboratively design a new school. As a senior school administrator and leadership team member at Avenues and, more recently, the United Nations International School, I played an instrumental role in planning and developing key support foundations and programs, including health and safety; emergency management and crisis prevention; response and postvention; child protection and safeguarding; school climate; student physical and mental health prevention and wellness; social-emotional learning; life skills and human sexuality; and school safety,  school violence prevention, risk-reduction and intervention.

With a wonderful team of “co-parents” (aka school administrators, faculty, staff, and parents), Avenues opened in September 2012. Proud of this new venture, I was eager to participate and experience the growth and progress of this new school and simultaneously, this new stage of development of my own son as he began his early school years.

With halls abuzz and the academic year off as one would expect for a startup school, two disasters hit before winter break that, ironically, in my mind, have stuck as “the year of Sandy”: Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012.

Hurricane Sandy, a natural disaster, caused some physical damages due to flooding. We needed to close school for a few days and provide essential outreach and support to school community members who lost homes. So many parents and community members reached out with a desire to provide support, and some raised important questions about safety measures for our leadership team.

As the school doors reopened, regular school routines and rituals resumed, and the fall months quickly passed. This was, of course, until a news alert from the NY Times popped up on my iPhone during the morning hours of the last day of school prior to our first winter break. It was Friday, December 14, 2012.  The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, an act of human violence, shocked and traumatized the Newtown community, the State of Connecticut, the nation, and the entire world.

As an administrator, the shooting at Sandy Hook was hard to accept, but as a parent, it cut to the core of my most grave fears about our children’s safety. I saw how community members came together to show support, and how human connectedness was essential for care, healing, and rebuilding. I was glad that through work, I had a role to play in safeguarding “my” children.

Upon relocating to Cincinnati in 2017 with our son and my partner for his career, I became a stay-at-home parent and for the first time, had to send our son to school on his own. Not only would I not be in the same building during the day, but I was also no longer one of the key leaders and decision makers. This was hard, so I was on the lookout for ways I could proactively put my “primal parenting” urges of physical and psychological protection to use.

Inspired and impressed by the strength and growth of the Safe and Sound Schools mission, becoming a part of the Parent Council was a no-brainer. I applied for the program, eager to increase my own learning in the area of school safety advocacy from a parent and community member perspective.

Since starting this national leadership program, I’ve been able to collaborate with like-minded parents interested in being active, invested and empowered ambassadors, advocates, and parent leaders. Through our Parent Council training program, I’ve looked at school safety from a parent’s perspective. It has been an eye-opening and inspiring experience and a true privilege. Schools should be healthy, cheerful places of learning. The Safe and Sound Schools Parent Council is a way to foster this potential and reality.

As noted in the Final Report of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission: “the successful implementation of Safe School Design and Operations (SSDO) strategies requires the support of ‘local champions.’ Each community or school district should have a small standing committee or commission, comprised of individuals representing the school community, law enforcement, fire, EMS and public health, whose responsibility is to ensure that the SSDO standards and strategies are actually implemented in their community.”

Parents have an essential role to play in this framework. Combined with the resources of Safe and Sound Schools’ Comprehensive School Safety Planning and Development model, communities have a plethora of tools to help create safer schools. While negative news coverage may dominate the headlines, we need to keep reminding ourselves of how communication, collaboration, and proactive planning has resulted in stronger, prepared, and resilient school communities.

There is so much more we can all be doing to make our schools safe and welcoming places where our children can reach their full potential, and teachers, staff, and administrators can educate without fear. Our common voice as parents and safe school advocates is extremely important towards this vital goal, and we need to exercise it at all levels with an overarching belief of ‘everyone safe, everyone learns and everyone is successful.’

Herein is the call to action. Let’s work together to make this happen!


About the Author:
Topher Collier, PsyD, ABSNP, In addition to being the proud father of a 9-year-old, Dr. Topher Collier is a licensed psychologist and school administrator with advanced training in trauma-informed and crisis-specific care as well as in clinical care and intervention and neuropsychological, psychological and educational assessment of children, adolescents, adults, and families. 

Editor’s Note:
This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.