M. Spencer Green, AP Photos
I remember walking my oldest child to school for her first day. I held her hand as we walked along the sidewalk. I was anxious and my heart was pounding knowing I would soon have to let her go. When we finally arrived at the school, I held her hand a little tighter before finally letting her go. I hugged her and told her I loved her and to do her best and have a fun time. She took off walking toward the door and just before she walked in, she turned and waved goodbye. My heart sank thinking I was giving her up to the world.
As I walked away teary eyed, I wondered if teachers would love her as much as we did. Would they take care of her and make sure she would be happy and, most of all, safe. This week, I suspect many parents have that same feeling seeing their child leave the security and love of their home and, wondering as I did, would the school be kind to my child, love and protect her as we did at home.
While I worried about the safety of my child at school way back then, it was more about would she fall, would she be loved and given the attention she would need. Today, parents’ worries may be different. In past years, we knew the school was the one safe place for our child, but not anymore. In today’s fast-paced world, schools are no longer the safe haven they used to be.
Public schools still have the responsibility to assure the safety of our children while under their care; yet, the challenges for school personnel are much greater. Parents have more to worry about. Today, schools are larger, more crowded and impersonal. Many children come to a fast-moving environment, apprehensive, trying to find their identity, and still must be ready to learn. Schools often become cauldrons of anger, stress and frustration, suppressed and on a slow simmer. When students don't feel safe, learning becomes secondary.
Already in Utah, our school year has started out with threats instilling fear. In an effort to see how safe Utah schools are, I contacted several of the larger school districts and was repeatedly referred to the, “Utah State Office of Education School Superintendent’s Annual Report for 2012-2013, Incidents of Prohibited Behavior in School or School-Related Activities,” which listed only the total number of various “incidents” by district — not by school. (The exception was the Alpine School District’s transparent reporting.) It made me wonder if all schools and all districts report all incidents, or if some might define each “incident” differently, or underreport.
The Utah State Board of Education is responsible for overseeing the public education system, including school safety, yet it does not appear to have any reliable method for reporting, monitoring or enforcing its regulations. That accountability problem prevails throughout the system, from district school boards to local schools. So, who knows how safe are our schools?
Parents just want to know how safe is their child’s school. What safety protections are in place to protect them from drugs, weapons, assaults, gangs, bullying and theft, etc.? Who can tell the parents how effectively they are enforced; and who in the school can give them quick and clear answers?
It’s parents' right to know their child is in safe hands when they send them off to school, and it’s the responsibility of school board members to take safety seriously and be prepared to give a straight and immediate answer to: “How safe is my child in this school?”
Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.