School Safety and Technology Briefing 10/9/18

By Vic & Bonnie Sutton

The major take-home from a Congressional Briefing on School Safety and Technology, a little surprisingly, was that technology does not play a major role in ensuring school safety.

The briefing was arranged by the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training (NCTET), and was held at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC, on 9 October.

Kathleen Minke

Introducing the meeting, Kathleen Minke — Executive Director of the National Association of School Psychologists — pointed out that schools are an ideal place to promote mental wellness. The main challenge that they face is a shortage of trained staff — school psychologists or counsellors.

The recommended ratio of such staff is 1 per 250 students. Nationwide, the actual level is 1 per 482 students, and in some states the ratio is much worse. 

Students with mental and behavioural health needs, she stated, are more likely to be victims of violence than to promote it.

Christina Connolly

Dr. Christina Connolly, Director of Psychological Services for Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, explained that her county now has a program for students in grades 6-12 to ensure that they know how to seek help for themselves and their friends if they are facing threats such as bullying.

Montgomery County also has a counsellor on-call at all times. And all panelists agreed that anonymous tip lines were a good way to allow students to report potential problems.

Richard O’Malley

Dr. Richard O’Malley, Superintendent of Florence School District One in South Carolina, told the meeting that both that district and Edison school district in New Jersey, where he worked previously, had psychology-based therapists in each school.

Ian Brodie, a Middle School Counsellor at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Virginia, explained how his district used a data base to track students — to watch for example, whether students’ grades were going down, or whether they were missing school. These indicators could signal problems.

Ian Brodie

But otherwise, technology did not seem to play a big role in tackling problems of school safety. As Dianne Vumback commented — she is the principal of Lincoln Middle School in Meriden, CT — communication and relationships are the key.

Panelists also stressed the importance of prevention. Ian Brodie cited digital citizenship lessons, bullying prevention and lessons on mental health and wellness to prevent depression.

There was some discussion of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.

But as Dr. Connolly commented, “If we can’t share information because students are not an imminent threat, how can we do our job? And what happens when students move to another district?”

The most effective safeguard, as Kathleen Minke pointed out when she opened the meeting, was to ensure that each student could relate to one adult in their school.

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