Opinion > Commentary

How safe is safe?


Picture of Ron Bennett

Ron Bennett

Much has been, and will be, written about the latest incident of senseless violence on a school campus. But there will never be a rational explanation for what has happened or anything written that can reasonably justify the taking of the lives of our children.

Schools across this state and across this country take very seriously the responsibility for developing school safety plans that protect students and staff during times of crisis or disaster. Our school campuses are generally the safest places in our communities. But these plans are not designed to, nor should we expect them to, protect our schools against horrific acts of violence.

We think that in a free society like ours there will always be opportunities for troubled individuals to violate our societal norms and harm our fellow citizens; that is part of the price of freedom. But at the same time, we believe that the key to having safer schools is to have a safer society in general.

Picture of Suzanne Speck

Suzanne Speck

A culture that glorifies violence increases its tolerance for and acceptance of violence. Our children grow up believing that conflict and acrimony are normal; examples range from the highest levels of government – for example, the lack of resolution of the “fiscal cliff” – to the conduct of individuals who lash out against others and use confrontational and violent behavior regularly. In order to really break the chain of violence in our communities, we must address the manner in which conflict and violence is handled in our society.

We believe that one of the primary roles of public education is to teach and reinforce the cultural norms that make the American experiment unique among all other nations of the world. Our society gives individual freedom, but demands individual responsibility. And we believe that early educational experiences play an essential role in the formation of positive, constructive attitudes that will last a lifetime.

As is often the case, we believe the key to safer schools is a very long-term proposition and will require a commitment that goes far beyond the fences of the school site. It will require that as a state and as a nation we teach and model the principles of peace building and diplomacy in our schools and in our communities. Regrettably, with the highest class sizes in the nation and fewer counselors, nurses, administrators and support personnel of all types, schools in California do not have the resources they need to successfully champion this urgent and momentous cause. We hope Governor Jerry Brown and the Legislature will recognize this point as they examine the priority that public education enjoys in our state.

We hope the lesson in the recent series of senseless killings is that we can only elevate our society by elevating everyone in it. No one can be left behind. We are all Americans, and an American problem is our personal problem. How we treat the next-door neighbor or the homeless person on the street will be noticed by our children and will find its way into the norms they establish for themselves as they become adults.

During this holiday season, those of us fortunate enough to be with friends and family have an opportunity to strengthen the culture of our nation by modeling the principles of peace, diplomacy and basic human kindness. An opportunity to influence a child, any child, in a positive way must be taken fully. One can only wonder, in the case of recent violence against innocent schoolchildren, how many opportunities were lost because someone didn’t think it was important to care or to act.

All of us at School Services of California will be engaged in an examination of our own opportunities to teach peace, diplomacy and kindness, and we encourage you to do the same. As educators, we have the ability to change our nation one lesson at a time. But we cannot do it alone – the issue of societal violence needs to be addressed at every level right now.

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Founded in 1975, School Services of California has served most of California’s school districts, county offices and community colleges in meeting their management, governance and fiscal responsibilities. The effective administration of California’s public schools has always been the firm’s primary mission and the company has played an integral role in the development and implementation of education policy at both the state and local levels.

Ron Bennett is president and CEO of School Services of California. Previously he served as the Chief Business Official for Long Beach Unified School District, Fresno Unified School District and ABC Unified School District. He holds an MBA from Michigan State University and a BBA from the University of Oklahoma, and is licensed as a CPA (inactive) in the state of Oklahoma.

Suzanne Speck is director, Management Consulting Services, at School Services of California. For more than 20 years, she has served school districts in California as a special education teacher, site administrator and human resources professional. She received two credentials and her master’s degree in Education Administration from California State University, Sacramento.

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One Response to “How safe is safe?”

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  1. Bill Cirone on January 7, 2013 at 4:34 pm01/7/2013 4:34 pm

    • 000

    Wounds remain raw after the horrific tragedy
    that struck Sandy Hook Elementary School in
    Newtown, Conn. As President Barack Obama said
    at the memorial service that we have been through
    this too many times as a nation. We have to
    change. We have to protect our children.
    Columnist Nicholas Kristof asked a very
    telling question in the immediate aftermath of the
    tragedy: Why can’t we regulate guns as seriously
    as we do cars?
    “The fundamental reason kids are dying in
    massacres like this one is not that we have lunatics
    or criminals — all countries have them — but that
    we suffer from a political failure to regulate guns,”
    he wrote.
    The National Rifle Association asked for an
    armed guard at every school in the nation, but
    there was an armed guard on duty at Columbine
    High School during that tragedy, and the armed
    guards that abounded at Fort Hood were unable to
    avert the mass murder that occurred there a few
    short years ago as well.
    For the sake of our children, people from all
    parts of our society are now asking for reasonable
    restrictions on assault weapons and better controls
    on who has access to ownership.
    Former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough, an
    ardent gun supporter, wrote: “The ideologies of
    my past career are no longer relevant to the future
    that I want for my children. Friday changed
    everything. … We all must demand that
    Washington’s old way of doing business is no
    longer acceptable. Entertainment moguls don’t
    have an absolute right to glorify murder while
    spreading mayhem in young minds across
    America. And our Bill of Rights does not
    guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to
    sell military-style, high-caliber, semi-automatic
    combat assault rifles with high-capacity
    magazines to whoever … they want. It is time for
    Congress to put children before deadly dogmas.”
    Kristof urged that we treat firearms as the
    center of a public health crisis that claims one life
    every 20 minutes.
    He pointed out that in school buildings
    nationwide, building codes govern stairways and
    windows. School buses have to pass safety
    standards, and those who drive them need to pass
    tests. We regulate school cafeteria food for safety.
    “The only thing we seem lax about are the
    things most likely to kill,” he said.
    There are five pages of regulations regarding
    ladders, which kill about 300 people each year in
    this country. Guns kill 30,000 Americans each
    year.
    “What do we make of the contrast between
    heroic teachers who stand up to a gunman and …
    politicians who won’t stand up to the NRA?” he
    asked.
    Kristof wrote that as a lifelong gun owner, he
    knows that guns are fun. But so are cars, and we
    accept that we have to wear seat belts, use
    headlights at night and fill out registration forms.
    Our driving backgrounds are checked when we
    seek a license, and we mandate air bags, child
    seats and crash safety standards. We have limited
    licenses for young drivers and curbed the use of
    cell phones while driving. In doing so, we have
    reduced traffic fatality rates by nearly 90 percent
    since the 1950s.
    Some argue that restrictions won’t make a
    difference because crazy people or criminals will
    always be able to get a gun. And they will. We
    won’t ever be able to eliminate gun deaths all
    together, just like laws governing cars will never
    eliminate car accidents. But reducing gun deaths
    even by one-third would mean 10,000 lives saved
    each year.
    Here’s another sobering statistic Kristof cites:
    “More Americans die in gun homicides and
    suicides in six months than have died in the last 25
    years in every terrorist attack and the wars in
    Afghanistan and Iraq combined.” Read that one
    again.
    Kristof said that many of us are alive today
    because of sensible auto safety laws.
    “If we don’t treat guns in the same serious
    way, some of you and some of your children will
    die because of our failure,” he wrote.
    Now is the time to take a stand for the safety
    of our children and our families. We need to
    initiate discussions that lead to serious policy
    changes. As another famous quote dictates: “If not
    us, who? If not now, when?”
    As a new year begins, it is a good time to turn
    a new page on this wrenching problem.
    — Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s
    superintendent of schools.

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