School Violence and Technology
Using Telecom to Foster Security in Schools: Solutions and Programs
Education planners around the country are facing a rising concern among parents, teachers, administrators, and communities about violence prevention and the safety of our children within the school environment as a whole. Besides the violent acts that make headlines, reports of disciplinary infractions such as assaults against teachers, hate crimes and vandalism are widely reported in recent government studies. In a recent joint study (the Annual Report on School Safety 1999), both the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education report incidents of hate crimes based on ethnicity, gender, race, and color in school systems. The report also demonstrates that incidences of multiple victim homicide have steadily increased over the years in schools.
Fostering a safe environment for learning requires commitments from the community and school administrators to be proactive in making our schools safer. Institutions and communities are actively seeking solutions, programs, activities, and in-service initiatives to address these important concerns. As Nelson Eichman of Lipan ISD in rural Texas puts it, We have had to create a committee to assess our security issues and then make recommendations on improving security for our school district.
Opening lines of communication between the parent, community and the school makes for a safer community, adds Will Webber, a professional educator at New Braunfels ISD in Texas. Telecommunications could be an avenue for improving that communication. A stronger community reduces a sense of alienation.
Telecom for Security nd Violence Prevention
Telecommunications has long been heralded as a means for improving instruction and performance in schools. It stands to reason that telecommunications could be leveraged for combating security issues as well. A National Institute of Justice research report indicates that, until now, most technological adoption has been in the form of metal detectors, video camera surveillance, duress alarms, x-ray inspection of book-bags, and hotlines. The report also suggests that though technologies are not the answer to all problems, they can be valuable as enablers for security applications.
Utilizing the extensive installation of telecommunications infrastructure currently underway in many school districts through E-rate funds, far-sighted administrators are leveraging the opportunity to address security applications, along with instructional infrastructure, in their technology deployment. These districts are making a case to the community that applications that foster stability and security are just as mission-critical for schools as those applications that promote learning. To that end, implementation of cordless, wireless, cellular, and desktop phones in classrooms is now common in school districts.
Effective use of telecommunications for security solutions means more than simply investing in products. Throwing technology at a problem is likely to yield few results, if any, in the long run. Experience has demonstrated time and again that the implementation of hardware alone, in a given situation, seldom alleviates the problem. Telecommunications should be treated only as a component within a broader solution or program.
Presented below is a two-tiered approach that school districts could adopt when identifying and deploying telecommunications for security and violence prevention. The first tier suggests proposed criteria for assessing and comparing the effectiveness of alternative telecommunications solutions. The second tier underscores steps for implementing a comprehensive security program around a specific telecommunications solution.
Assessing Security Solutions
To be effective in school settings, a security solution should meet the following criteria:
1. Offer a proactive approach to prevention.
Solutions that encourage a general peace of mind environment through proactive and preventative technologies are more likely to reduce security risks in the long run.
2. Collaborate with public and private providers.
An effective solution should incorporate community resources such as police and fire departments, as well as utilize private resources for access, security, and expertise.
3. Focus on classroom organization and management.
Empowering the teacher to identify, assess and readily respond to disciplinary or threatening issues should be a critical aspect of a security solution.
4. Improve supervision.
Telecommunications tools should reinforce a message of continual supervision outside the classroom and even after school hours in hallways, libraries or playgrounds.
5. Adopt robust, yet innovative, technology.Innovative technology solutions that leverage existing infrastructure would be more relevant to the needs of institutions. In many instances, it is unnecessary for school districts to import entirely new telecom systems to handle security needs.
Implementing for Impact
A programmatic approach to addressing security in schools, with telecommunications at the core, is likely to have a longer term impact than a mere hardware install. A program can be measured, adjusted and altered for results over a given period of time. Successful implementation of technology demands a deliberate approach to adoption, complementary training and support, assessment and evaluation, and top-level commitment to the intended objectives. Germane to any technology adoption strategy is a financing mechanism. With limited resources at their disposal, schools seek providers who can serve as partners and who will maintain a long-term relationship with these institutions.
Presented below are recommended steps for developing a technology driven program for security and violence prevention in school districts:
Assessment of Risks
1. Assessment of Risks
School administrators should conduct a preliminary assessment to determine the risk factors specific to their institutions. Activities directed at reducing the risk factors might include student, staff or teacher interventions, outsourced counseling, and other measures.
A hallmark of an effective school program is the ability to involve members of the community. Parents, school board representatives, law enforcement agencies, businesspeople and other interested parties should be invited to develop a system-wide effort to address violence prevention and security.
When acquiring technologies, a feasible approach would be to adopt applications that are in line with a school districts existing telecommunications infrastructure. These should be cost-effective when delivered by a provider with experience in installation and support.
Seminars, workshops, and staff and teacher training are integral components of a deliberated program. Training and development of teachers in assessing and responding to disciplinary situations are essential to any technology diffusion effort. Instructors should know whom to contact when a specific situation arises, and not rely on a technological solution.
Institutions investing in telecommunications for security applications and programs should assess a reduction, if any, in risk factors as a result of the implementation. Proactive security programs should be evaluated for six months to a year in order to determine the efficacy and efficiency of the adopted solution.
Through a deliberated approach to telecommunications solutions for security and implementing programs around those deployments, educational institutions can foster a proactive approach to dealing with the hazards that threaten our schools.
For more info contact NEC America, Inc., Irving, Texas, (972) 550-3106, [email protected].
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.