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What could school safety and climate change possibly have in common? Plenty, it turns out. At the root of each of these enormous issues is human behavior: all of us, what we do — and what we don’t.

Whether it’s a school shooting at Sandy Hook, a bullying event, or a school bus accident, too many schools see only darkness and sadness, instead of being healthy, cheerful places of learning. But inevitably, we’ve learned, resilience appears: the amazing propensity for communities to come together to support, love, heal, and rebuild.

Now what does this have to do with the environment? I’ll get to that… First, let’s level set on some facts.

Carbon emissions are analyzed by scientists, who have warned of a planetary greenhouse effect for decades. In a series of increasingly alarming reports, they conclude that global warming creates exacerbated conditions for extreme weather events: major precipitation, historic flooding, unmanageable wildfires, unbelievable wind-velocity accelerations, and record-breaking heat waves among them. All of which affect our school children, teachers, families, and staff, especially if they are asthmatic, or if they live near a coal plant, or a flood zone, or if the coach doesn’t bring practice indoors on a sweltering day. (See, I told you I’d make that connection.)

Threats to schools are often tangible. A gun, social media post, or a bottle of pills. Each of these are controlled by the people who use them — and also by the policies that regulate them, or not. By contrast, carbon emissions are gaseous, barely tangible. But greenhouse gasses are also controlled by human beings, and by the policies that regulate them – or not.

Visitors from another planet might wonder why carbon emissions and school-based crises, both issues with massive public support and smart solutions — have not been fixed. “Why the delay?” they might ask. After all, the danger is obvious. Solutions are at hand.

To tap into the solutions available, we need everyone to get involved. When it comes to climate change, we are involved, with more of us joining the ranks of the concerned and alarmed as we speak. On the school safety front, we see more parents, students, educators, mental health professionals, public safety officials, and general community members stepping up and doing what they can.

School-safety advocates know what climate activists know: culturally, politically, and financially, the established “business as usual” approach does not always welcome change.

For a moment, let’s leave the special interests, the lobbyists, the partisan politics behind. Let’s focus on the lives of our friends and neighbors, doing all we can to help those who feel fear, loss, pain, and suffering due to violence in schools. Similarly, as we watch people’s livelihoods, health, homes, and farms literally burn, smoke, blow, or wash away, we need to be there for each other, to comprehend the loss, and be supportive as we press ahead.

An overwhelming majority of the world’s most esteemed scientists agree climate change is real and human activity is to blame. An equal chorus of first responders, educators, parents, and policy leaders would say the same about school tragedy: it is real, and human activity is to blame.

In climate communications, the Trusted Messenger principle has proven to be powerful: informed and engaged, armed with facts, we can all be influential in our communities and networks. The same is true in school safety. When we work together, across all facets of schools, families, public safety officials, and community partners, we can develop comprehensive solutions to address threats to school safety.

From the broadest standpoint, we need a planet on which to live and educate our youth. As we dive more deeply, the threats schools and communities face due to weather-related incidents, amped up due to climate change, are only going to increase in frequency, intensity, and duration. So for our planet, for our schools, and for our youth, we must step up. We must do all we can to make our children – and our planet – safe and sound. Please help me in protecting our world – the physical planet, and all it holds dear, including our precious students and those dedicated to their education.


Guest Author: Sarah Finnie Robinson is the Director of The 51 Percent Project, a new climate communications initiative based at Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy. She is a parent and grandparent, and she knows the world can be a better place.

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.

His students may call him “Mr. De,” but Frank DeAngelis is known by many others as family, friend, mentor, and colleague.

When I first met Frank in the summer of 2013, he brought me immediate comfort. I never could have predicted how steady a force he would become for Safe and Sound Schools and for me personally.

The summer after my daughter was killed in the tragedy at Sandy Hook, I attended The Briefings, an annual conference presented by the“I Love You Guys” Foundationin Colorado. Friends had encouraged me to come to listen, learn and speak in public – for the first time – about losing Josephine and starting Safe and Sound Schools. Though it was to be a short speech, I was beyond nervous. Up to this point in my life, the only audience I was eager to speak in front of was a classroom full of energetic elementary students.

Sitting in the front row of the auditorium at Columbine High School, my stomach flip-flopping and heart racing, I looked to my right and two seats over, where I caught the eye of Frank DeAngelis. We’d never met before, but he just knew by looking at me, that I was not at all sure of what I was about to do. He reached across the presenter between us, patted my hand, and gave me a look that conveyed, “You got this.” It’s a look he’s given away thousands of times to thousands of others, but that one was for me—and at just the right moment.

Frank’s gesture of support and solidarity gave me the strength to get on that stage and launch Safe and Sound Schools publicly. The feedback from attendees at The Briefings and the I Love U Guys community was incredible and thoughtful. They validated our mission and our approach. I knew we were on the right track and with the right people.

After that day, Frank and I exchanged emails and continued to run into each other in our travels and at conferences. Each time I saw Frank, I felt like I was reuniting with an old friend. The work of building a foundation and launching a mission was hard and surprisingly lonely at times.  Whenever I would run into Frank, I’d leave with my cup filled and a reminder that I was not in this alone.

Years of speaking and working together have passed and the friendship has continued.  Frank is now an integral part of the work we do at Safe and Sound Schools and has joined us as an advisor and speaker. And, we are lucky to have him.

Frank officially retired a few years ago, but has not stopped since. He works with us, sits on the board of the I Love U Guys Foundation, and supports the work of the Koshka Foundation and Safe2Tell Colorado. We joke that his retirement has him busier than ever.

When he asked me to read and review the manuscript for his new book, I was honored, but also grateful that others would have the opportunity to get to know Frank.  Frank is such a special person, and everyone who has met him feels connected to him. But, of course, there’s only so much of Frank to go around.

Frank’s book, “They Call Me Mr. De,” is a perfect opportunity to get to know Frank, and be inspired by a great man and a truly humble servant.

Forever changed by the Columbine tragedy, Frank carries a heavy burden. He does it with heart and dedication, and always in honor of his “Beloved 13,” the survivors, the entire Columbine community, and all those he has come to know and love since the tragedy. His book–his story– is a gift to all of us.

To understand what I mean, take a read or a free preview. And know that a portion of proceeds from this book will come back to support the mission of Safe and Sound Schools and all the non-profit organizations that Frank DeAngelis, a.k.a. Mr. De, generously supports with his time and in his travels.


Author: Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools

According to ED100, each year, we spend about 6,000 hours awake. Children will spend 1,000 of those hours in school not including after-school programs. National Poison Prevention Week, running from March 17-23, gives us a friendly reminder to discuss some of the hazards hidden in hallways of schools across the globe.

Asbestos

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, close to 132,000 primary and secondary schools are still housing asbestos containing materials (AMCs). While some may feel asbestos is a problem of the past that does not affect students, many may feel differently after reading the following facts:

  • Asbestos is a known carcinogen and was used abundantly and frequently in buildings like homes, offices, and schools until the 1980s. The majority of public and private school facilities across the nation were erected during the era of abundant asbestos use.
  • There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. School districts are mandated to test for asbestos, however, if not at the “level deemed dangerous” no action to eliminate the hazard needs to be taken.
  • In schools, asbestos is popularly found in ceilings and floor tiles, ventilation systems, caulking and adhesives, or sealants and insulation. Due to high foot traffic and building usage, the potential for ACMs decaying very high in schools. When these places become damaged, fibers are released and once inside the organs of the body, cancerous masses can form.
  • Asbestos can remain in the air between 48 and 72 hours, and anyone in close proximity can be at risk for aggressive diseases associated with asbestos, like mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls

Polychlorinated Biphenyls or PCBs refer to a number of chemicals that were banned in the United States in 1979. Although PCBs have been banned for many years, many materials used historically throughout school construction still contain various levels of these toxins. Here are some facts regarding PCBs and the dangers they still pose on society and our classrooms today:

This National Poison Prevention Week, we encourage everyone to be more cognizant of the hazards that exist in the environments around you. A school is a safe haven where students, faculty and parents should all feel safe, and we should do all we can to ensure our school buildings are a healthy place for growth and learning.


Guest Author: Bridget Rooney is a communications specialist with Mesothelioma.com where she works to educate the public on the dangers of asbestos and other toxins found in the home.

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

In 2018, we conducted an in-depth look at perceptions that parents, educators, and students have on the state of school safety. We issued the results of that survey in the first-ever State of School Safety Report. We are so grateful to the nearly 3,000 people who participated in this research study. This national survey captured perceptions that school stakeholders have about school safety, including current frustrations, as well as opportunities for improving communication, taking a broader view of safety threats, and conducting outreach to more community members.

We heard from safety experts, advocates, government leaders, parents, educators, and students that this report helped broaden our understanding of school safety and provided a conversation tool for communities around the country.

For 2019, we are thrilled to once again embark on this important research, this time with support from students at faculty at Boston University College of Communication. They have broadened the research in some ways, and focused it in other ways. We aim to measure changes in perceptions and dive more deeply into specific areas.

We hope you will take a few minutes to complete the survey by Thursday, April 4. The survey can be found here: https://bostonu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6MdjpIDIdn2hlyZ.

Safe and Sound Schools will publish a report on the survey findings in the spring, and of course, we’ll share it with you here, first.

Please ask your friends, family, and school communities to take this survey as well. The more people who participate, the better, as we’ll have an even-more clear look at the state of school safety.

Thank you for being here for us… with us… doing what we can for our children today and tomorrow, in honor of those we lost in the past.

After months of preparations, the Safe and Sound Parent Council program training has officially begun! The Parent Council is an exclusive structured education program to empower and prepare participants to advocate for school safety with authority and credibility.  With our first webinar session completed last week, we are now gearing up for a string of guest experts who will teach our Parent Council about each topic in our comprehensive school safety approach.

Brooke, one of our Parent Council members, explained how she has always wanted to get more involved in school safety, but wasn’t sure she could make a difference. She said, “ After the first session I couldn’t believe how my mind was swirling with thoughts on how I actually could make a difference. SASS presented school safety as so much more than just a topic but as a process and as an achievable goal with many avenues. I can’t wait to learn more!”

Next week we will be hearing from Dr. Todd Savage, a professor of school psychology and former president of the National Association of School Psychologists. Dr. Todd Savage will be teaching us about Culture, Climate, and Community. He will be presenting with Bill Modzeleski, a senior consultant with several groups specializing in school safety, threat assessment, emergency management, and homeland security. Bill recently retired after over 40 years of service at the Departments of Justice and Education and  will be presenting on Law, Policy, and Finance.  

We look forward to seeing all the amazing ideas from our fantastic group parents come to life as they work with school administrations to make their schools safe and sound. We are so grateful for this wonderful group of parents who understand that school safety is not one person’s responsibility – it is all of our responsibility.  


Alissa Parker, Co-founder & Director of Safe and Sound Schools

The most visible tool we have to protect our schools are doors. They are everywhere – on the outside of our buildings at various external entrances, and all throughout a school building. While doors may have originally served as a way to allow people to come and go, or help cut down on distractions outside the classroom, doors now play a key role in helping to keep our schools safe and secure.

However, as we travel the country, working with school communities on safety strategies, we see this visible and symbolic tool frequently misused. Yes, doors are important in securing our buildings and classrooms, but too often, we see schools use locking devices and add-ons that actually put students and teachers at risk, rather than protecting them. Here are the most critical considerations everyone should be aware of:

  • First, door locks need to be compliant with building codes, fire codes, and the Americans with Disabilities Act to make sure we’re safe from a variety of threats. Many locks we see do not meet these basic safety requirements.
  • Second, we need door locks to be easy to use for everybody, regardless of age, developmental level, ability, or disability. This means having locks at the right height and easy to operate with one smooth motion. To put it simply, if people have to practice or be trained to secure the door, it’s just not simple enough. History has taught us that people trying to evacuate quickly, especially in groups, can panic and quickly become trapped.
  • Third, the door has to be lockable from inside, without students or teachers needing to open the door to lock it. No one should have to open the door to secure it when there is a possible threat on the other side.
  • Lastly – and this is especially difficult for many of us looking for inexpensive, quick door security solutions – it is important to resist the temptation to install door barricade devices in public places, like our schools. While the intention of these additional devices is to give an add a layer of security, they have the potential to enable bullying, harassment, or much worse when added to public spaces.

When secured properly, doors can be an effective barrier against a safety threat outside the school or classroom AND still allow individuals and groups of people to exit safely should their situation change like in a lockdown turned emergency evacuation.

I urge you – for the sake of our students and educators – to become informed about the right way to lock doors. One of Safe and Sound Schools’ partners, the Door Safety and Security Foundation, has been leading the charge on this issue. We are proud to partner with them to make sure schools understand how and why to properly lock school doors.

In fact, with their generous support, we produced a short educational video you can share with your school community. Help us open a conversation about this important issue in school safety today. Check out the Door Security and Safety Foundation, and their “Lock Don’t Block” program by visiting www.lockdontblock.org.  

I can still remember the feelings of fear and guilt that washed through my body when I first heard a gunman had entered my daughter’s elementary school. Fear because only two months earlier, at a parent-teacher conference, I made comments to my husband about the flaws in the school’s security system. Guilt because I buried the pit in my stomach, despite knowing my child’s safety was in danger, and dismissed my concerns altogether. Guilt because I remember thinking the words, that would never happen here.  Not only did it happen a few months later, but my daughter, Emilie, would be one of the victims who would not survive.  

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, I vowed to never silence my voice again.  This was the beginning of my journey towards becoming a school safety advocate and co-founding Safe and Sound Schools.  

When I travel across the country sharing my story, I am always approached by parents, just like me, who are concerned about their child’s school and feel completely lost about what to do. There was a lack of resources available for parents who also wanted to get involved in school safety, and I know from personal experience how intimidating the process can be.  

The Parents for Safe Schools program is designed for parents who want a more hands-on approach to school safety. This free program helps guides you on how to organize your own community dedicated to safety.  

Just like any school safety initiative, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why the Parents for Safe Schools program offers different options, whether you want to start by learning more or sparking discussions at your school, or if you want to take action and advocate for safer schools in your community, Parents for Safe Schools has guidance just for you.

Over the years, I have seen how incredibly powerful the voices of parents advocating for their child can be. There is so much to be done, and Safe and Sound Schools invites you to join our mission. Together we can make our schools safe and sound.

 


Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools

 

Don’t Miss the National Summit on School Safety

Safe and Sound Schools is thrilled to host our first National Summit on School Safety in partnership with the Region 4 Education Service Center, in Houston, Texas. If you haven’t already done so, save the date for March 28-30, 2019!

This event will bring together educators, administrators, safety professionals, mental and behavioral health professionals, solutions providers, and community members and leaders to learn essential tools and tactics to keep schools safe.

We will welcome national and regional experts to provide a number of resources, materials, and education to improve school safety in our communities. For a list of confirmed speakers, click here. We are working on adding more experts to our lineup and will periodically share blogs, email, and social media updates so make sure to check back in.

In the meantime we encourage you to take advantage of early bird pricing, now through December 31, 2018. Register with our partner Region 4 Education Service Center.

Sponsor the National Summit on School Safety

If you or your organization would like to join us as a sponsor of this event, sponsorship opportunities are available at a variety of levels. Check out the sponsorship opportunities here or email us at info@safeandsoundschools.org if you have questions.

We’d like to give a special shoutout to summit sponsor, Secure Schools Alliance. Thank you for supporting our mission and the inaugural National Summit on School Safety.


About Safe and Sound Schools

Safe and Sound Schools is a non-profit organization started by parents who lost their children in the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Safe and Sound Schools delivers crisis prevention, response, and recovery programs, tools, and resources, backed by national experts, to educate all members of the school community, from students and parents, to teachers and administrators, to law enforcement and local leaders.

About Regions 4 Education Service Center

Region 4 Education Service Center (Region 4) is one of 20 regional education service centers established by the Texas Legislature in 1967 to assist school districts and charter schools in improving efficiencies and student performance. Region 4 serves a seven-county area comprised of 48 public school districts and 37 open-enrollment charter schools, representing more than 1.2 million students, 97,000 educators, and 1,500 campuses.

When parents put their children on a school bus each morning, they are entrusting bus drivers, teachers, classroom aids and administrators with the health and safety of their children. School is supposed to be a secure, happy place for children to learn, grow, make friends and flourish, but when there are toxins in your children’s school supplies, this environment can become dangerous, and in some cases, even life-threatening. Below are some of the worst toxins your children may come in contact with at school, and how you can limit or prevent this exposure.

Benzene

Many children will only agree to go back to school shopping if they are allowed to pick out fun supplies for their classes. For many kids, this can mean glitter pens and scented markers, but parents beware. A carcinogen known as benzene has been found in many brands of dry erase markers, and can harm your children if they even smell the tips of scented magic markers or dry erase markers.

Asbestos

If your children attend a school built before 1970, the walls, floors and ceilings are most likely lined with asbestos-containing insulation. Your children will probably not know they have even come in contact with asbestos, but even trace amounts of secondhand exposure to these fibers can cause mesothelioma. This incurable cancer will eventually manifest in the lining of the lungs, stomach and heart. It typically takes between 20 and 50 years to show symptoms, which are vague, but can include weight loss, chest pain and difficulty breathing.

This poisonous chemical has also been found in many packs of crayons, which makes it especially harmful for children. As the wax from the crayons comes in contact with paper, it disturbs this harmful substance and puts students at risk. If you are concerned about your children being exposed to asbestos from their classrooms or school buildings, attend a PTA or school board meeting to inquire about asbestos management. Schools are legally required to have an asbestos management plan in place and parents are allowed to request access to this plan at any time.

Lead

The most commonly known classroom toxin is lead, which was once used in interior paint, pencils, and mixed into the metal that was used to create desks and chairs. Now, however, lead is being found in different materials that students bring to class. Lead has been discovered in the plastic that comprises both water bottles and lunch boxes, which can potentially make your little one’s food and drinks hazardous.

Lead has been phased out of most metals and even paints, but can still be found in many plastic compounds. To ensure that your children’s lunches do not come into contact with lead, a paper bagged lunch is a safer alternative.

To keep your children protected from toxic chemicals and substances they can come into contact with at school, research the school supplies they will need for classes before you purchase anything, and try to use BPA and additive-free plastics when possible. Your children deserve to be as safe at school as they are in your arms.


Guest Author:
Emily Walsh is the Community Outreach Director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance (MCA) where her advocacy work helps people become aware of what toxins they are exposed to and how to make simple changes for a healthier life. Emily’s main focus is spreading the word about asbestos to all vulnerable communities to make sure they are aware of the material’s potential health impacts. You can follow MCA on Facebook or Twitter.

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

Lisa Hamp is a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting that took place on April 16, 2007. Today, Lisa speaks and writes about her experience surviving and recovering from the Virginia Tech shooting to help others.

I remember as a kid when I used to get excited for a new school year. I would look forward to back-to-school shopping, new clothes, and new school supplies. I would look forward to finding out my class schedule, and which friends I was going to have class with.

My heart aches for the students who aren’t going to have that this year. My heart aches for the students who have survived a school tragedy and don’t want to return to school. My heart aches for those who have witnessed school violence and are experiencing high anxiety as they are fearful to return to school this year.

I grew up in middle-to-upper class suburbia. Helicopter parents, and chain restaurants. Kids wearing Abercrombie and moms driving minivans. I felt safe all the time. But on April16, 2007, that sense of safety was stripped from me. I was sitting in class at Virginia Tech when I heard an unfamiliar popping sound. It sounded like gunfire. During the next eleven minutes, my classmates and I laid on the floor pushing the desks and chairs against the door while the gunman shot at our door and tried to push it open. In those terrible minutes, the gunman killed 30 students and professors in the building, and wounded and traumatized many more.

My recovery journey was far from perfect, but I eventually found my way through the fog. When I reflect on recovery, I realize I learned a lot about counseling, boundaries, confidence, self-care, and feelings. This stuff isn’t taught in school. You learn it by observing those around you.

For those of you who have survived a school shooting or witnessed school violence, I want to share with you what I learned as you return to the school this year.

First, going back to school was harder than I expected. I had a tremendous fear of a shooting happening again. Many people would tell me that it wouldn’t happen again, but I thought to myself, “they don’t know that.” I finally had to accept that there is no guarantee it won’t happen again.

Second, I learned to feel the uncomfortable feelings. I felt survivor’s guilt, fear, anxiety, loneliness, helplessness and self-doubt. I learned that these feelings were telling me something. They were telling me that I didn’t feel safe. Even though I hadn’t been shot, I had been hurt. As time passed, I was able to rebuild that sense of safety, and acknowledge my own wounds.

Third, I found good listeners. My recovery made great strides when I began connecting with others affected by school tragedy. These people helped me feel less lonely. We bonded. We connected on a level deeper than I connected with some of my closest family and friends.

If you have suffered a traumatic experience in school, getting back in the classroom may be one of the biggest challenges in your life. So here’s my advice: Trust your gut. Listen to your feelings. Write in a journal. Talk to your friends. Hug your friends. Trust yourself. Resist the urge to compare yourself to others. Ask to step out of class when it feels uncomfortable. You got this! And remember, you are not alone.


Lisa Hamp, is a survivor, a wife and mother, and national level speaker with Safe and Sound Schools. Learn more about her experiences and work with Safe and Sound Schools at http://www.kirklandproductions.com/lisa-hamp.html.