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It's Back to (Newly Hardened) School Season

Despite efforts by federal education officials to promote school safety without turning schools into fortresses, hardened security is still the defining feature of this year's back-to-school season, thanks in large part to renewed alarm after the Texas school massacre last May, Politico reports.

Patchwork efforts to sharpen school security after the killing of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Tx., include tens of millions of dollars Texas is distributing to equip schoolhouse cops with bullet-resistant shields and for campus panic alarms; a $50 million Arkansas grant program to help schools hire more armed guards; legislation in Ohio allowing teachers to carry weapons in classrooms after a few days' training; and a host of other measures nationwide involving more defensive guns and architecture.

These and other programs overlap with new federal legislation to create a broader effort to reduce gun violence.

While the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will fund more fortifications for schools to repel attackers, it also promises billions of dollars to hire mental health workers and spot troubled students. “I believe we need a new approach,” Assistant Education Secretary Roberto Rodríguez said in an interview. “We know that the best measures that support safety and well-being for our students are not just plans that address safety issues within the school, or that address so-called ‘hardening’ of our schools.”

Some of the latest measures taken by states and local school districts go beyond hardening schools. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a fast-tracked bill from California’s liberal state Legislature that, starting next year, will require schools to report shooting threats to police. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy this month signed a new law requiring school districts and charter schools to set up threat assessment teams by the 2023-2024 school year to help identify “students of concern,” assess those students’ risk for engaging in school violence and intervene to manage the risk.

Americans broadly supported having armed police, metal detectors and student mental health screening in the wake of the Uvalde massacre, but not armed teachers, according to a June poll commissioned by the Phi Delta Kappa International education group. Public school parents were also more likely to support the presence of armed officers in schools compared to adults overall.

But while nearly 80 percent of school leaders described their schools as extremely or very safe in a recent survey commissioned by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, only 53 percent of students said they felt the same way.

The bottom line for parents is reassurance that their children will be protected, said New York Commissioner of Education Betty Rosa. "They want to send their kids to school and make sure that they come home," Rosa said. "We are looking at safety, not just from the health perspective, but safety for the classroom.”


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