Nothing about the 2020 presidential campaign is typical and the debates are no different. Diane talks with Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, about how they are planning in the middle of a pandemic.
Last week’s horrific attack inside a Connecticut elementary school has sent a wave of anxiety among parents across the country. Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut had a very good security system in place, and the teachers and staff there were well trained, but no system and no amount of training can create a completely secure environment. By every measure students are safer in school than anywhere else. Still, many parents are asking if schools in their own neighborhoods have adequate protections in place for their students: Please join us to discuss school safety.
- Kenneth Trump President of National School Safety Services.
- Lucinda Roy Alumni and distinguished professor at Virginia Tech, and author of the novel "Lady Moses" and several poetry books.
- Christine Bailor Safety and security coordinator for Henrico County Public Schools.
- David Osher Vice president of the American Institutes for Research (AIR), AIR Institute fellow and co-director of the Human and Social Development Program.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The mass killings inside a Connecticut elementary school last Friday have touched off numerous questions about our nation's gun laws, mental health services, and also about safety in schools. Schools are among the safest place for kids to be, but some people are asking whether more can or should be done.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about school safety: Lucinda Roy, she is professor at Virginia Tech, David Osher of the American Institutes for Research, and joining us from Virginia, Christine Bailor, coordinator for safety and security at Henrico County Public Schools. I do invite you to join the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Feel free to follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
PROF. LUCINDA ROYGood morning.
MR. DAVID OSHERGood morning.
REHMGood to have you with us. First, joining us by phone from Cleveland, Ohio, is Ken Trump. He is a school security consultant. Good morning to you, sir.
MR. KENNETH TRUMPGood morning, Diane. Thank you.
REHMKen, talk about the elementary school in Connecticut. It seemed to have a very sound safety system in place. Would you agree?
TRUMPWell, what they had in place in Connecticut is -- at Sandy Hook is fairly standard for what we see at the elementary school levels since Columbine: the camera buzzer, intercom at the front door, your other doors locked, your staff trained on some basic drills, lockdowns, evacuations, police that are trained and active shooters.
TRUMPAnd I think what I'm hearing now across the country, Diane, is that parents feel because they had those things at Sandy Hook and still had a tragedy, parents are feeling hopeless and helpless and powerless. And I think we need to take a different angle in looking at this in that, yes, one life lost is terrible. But parents need to have some conversations with their school principals to find out what they have.
TRUMPMost schools have many positive prevention efforts, relationships with kids, counselors, psychologists, which we need more of, and as well as some basic security measures and emergency planning. And I would say that while we did not get the outcome and one life lost is one too many, I think that because of those steps that the school had in place at Sandy Hook, it probably prevented even a greater loss of life, Diane.
REHMBut, Ken, is what you're saying that, even with all those security elements in place, it could not prevent what happened? What are you, if anything, suggesting needs to be done further?
TRUMPThere are some things that we need to do. I'm a father, first of all, of two elementary-age kids. My 25 and plus years of school safety experience went out the door as I got a punch in the gut that Friday. I was actually at my own kids' playground volunteering supervising safety at recess time. And I think that what we need to do is not necessarily throw out the playbook of best practices on prevention, security and preparedness, but to focus on the fundamentals.
TRUMPWe've had an enormous amount of budget cuts from federal governments, eliminate a lot of the prevention funding, the security, the school -- cops in schools, to secure our schools for equipment. They eliminated the school emergency planning grant, which is unbelievable. I testified to Congress four times -- or three times on these issues, and they still eliminated. So we need to go back and look at some reasonable funding, recognizing there's no blank check. But at the building levels, we'll also have a competition for time.
TRUMPI have counselors and prevention staff that tell me that, even when they're in the buildings, they have harder time getting access to kids because of the focus on test scores, test scores, test scores. So we're competing for time and money. We need the leadership at the building level to make safety a priority and prevention and security and practicing our drills. Then we also need the resources put back and some reasonable grant funding to stimulate this. But we need to focus on those fundamentals. I don't think we need to reinvent the wheel. We need to just do what we know needs to be done.
REHMDo you believe, as Bill Bennett, former secretary of education, has suggested, that there needs to be an armed guard in each and every school?
TRUMPI strongly support what's known as school resource officer programs, school-based police officers. That's your certified trained police officer from a local or county law enforcement or state law enforcement agency. But I believe that most teachers want to be armed with textbooks and computers, not firearms. And I think we need to provide some resources to help with that school policing function where -- in those districts that need it.
TRUMPI don't know that even if -- I think as a parent, I would -- every parent would like to have not only an officer in every school but one officer per child just for our emotional safety, and I understand that. But I think that we need to -- even if we had the money, Diane, think about it. Even if we had an unlimited pool of money, the implementation of that, getting trained police officers, getting the manpower, making sure you sustain that five years or 10 years down the road, I mean, look at what happened to Columbine over 13 years ago. We had major national dialogue.
TRUMPWe were all excited and moving on prevention, building relationships with kids, on improving security and emergency planning. And here we are in the last five or six years where the conversation has not been as intense and consistent, and the funding has dissipated for all of the above. So we're a rollercoaster society. We have rollercoaster public awareness, policy and funding on these issues, and we need sustainability. And I don't -- I question how, even if we got the initial funds, we would be able to sustain that over time.
TRUMPNow, that's certainly not a relief to parents who want -- say there is no price on saving my kid, but I think we need to take a balanced approach, focus on the fundamentals. I do think support school police, and we can -- need to take those officers. Right now, they've been whittled down so much that when they're in school districts, they're only at the high school or middle school level.
TRUMPMake some funds available to have officers at least rove around in a district, dedicated officers to work with elementaries on prevention, on security measures, advising them on local issues but not necessarily -- you might not be able to put them in the building every day. And I don't support arming non-law enforcement people in schools.
REHMSo considering Columbine and considering what happened last Friday, what do you expect will change?
TRUMPWell, I tell you, what I'm cautious about and worried about are two things. One is overreaction in terms of unrealistic expectations. My email box is now at about 347 messages in the last day, and some of the titles, as I look at them while I'm speaking with you, are bulletproof vests for teachers, bulletproof backpacks for children, teaching our kids to throw pencils and iPods and attack armed intruders. That's what we don't need. We need to go back and focus on the fundamentals. And I hope our legislators will take a look at all the cuts that they've made, restore some of the things that work.
TRUMPDon't reinvent the wheel. We may -- you know, schools do need some funding for -- you know, I've heard talk about fortifying doors and security equipment and those types of things. You know, our school buildings are in -- from a physical security, they are in horrible condition across the country, doors with all glass, doors that even have locks that you close and if you pull hard enough, they'll pop open. I think it's going to have an enormous cost. I don't know how we'd ever be able to fund all of that from outside.
TRUMPBut I do think we need to do some training on our staff on basic security, talk about how they can build the physical security into their capital improvement budgets over time, make sure -- and I think the government can help support that, but I think at the local level, principals and superintendents need to be talking with their school community about the things they have in place. Many of our schools in this country are doing the right things. They're just not communicating ahead of time.
TRUMPI mean, we've actually built in, on the training that we do, a whole component on crisis and regular communications about safety for principals because they're not telling parents what they're doing. And what happens is parents are afraid of the unknown. And fear is best managed by education, communication and preparation.
TRUMPWhen parents hear from school officials what they're doing on prevention on security, on preparedness, parents are less anxious, less alarmed and get more back into a pragmatic, practical framework rather than an emotional one, and that's how we need to make our decisions now. We need to be thinking rationally as hard as it is. I have to tip -- fall back to my father gut instincts here with my two little kids and say, what's reasonable, what's realistic, what's practical, what can we do now? And I think that we need to put it on the front burner.
TRUMPI mean, we now, you know, you're talking -- look at the mental health issues, Diane, out here today. Look at the, you know, the shootings in the malls, in places of worships, in theaters. It's hard for a principal to predict when that type of person, a stranger to the school perhaps is going to walk across the school house doors. So you have to have some type of security and preparedness measures. But we can't forget that many of the incidents we've dealt with over the years also comes from within, with kids that have mental health issues and need help as well.
REHMYeah, Ken Trump, I must say, you sound fairly pessimistic.
TRUMPWell, I tell you what, you know what I'm pessimistic in? It's not being an alarmist-type pessimist. It's just my faith in the political process, in the political aspect. I mean, in my book, I have a chapter on the politricks, (sic) as I call it, politics of school safety. And my -- perhaps my biggest pessimism is not in what's going on in the front lines but the support that we give to our educators to get those resources and to keep safety on the front burner.
TRUMPI mean, what happens is, on a daily basis, the urgent drives out the important. When principals are pressured to worry about test scores and education reforms, budget facility issues plus the day-to-day problems and concerns kids bring across the door, the urgent, which is school safety gets pushed out. Push -- or the -- with the -- the important rather, which is school safety, gets pushed out by all these other urgent issues.
TRUMPAnd my pessimism, if any, is in the fact that we need to have consistent leadership in our districts to keep this on the front burner and also consistent leadership from our politicians. I guess, to sum it up in a nutshell, for all of the calls that I've had and emails in the last few days from people who want to review their emergency plans, who want to know where they can get resources for prevention, who want to talk security and do training, my question in my heart was, where were you this time last week before the crisis? Why weren't we talking about it?
REHMKenneth Trump, he is president of National School Safety Services. Thanks for joining us.
TRUMPThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd now here with me in the studio, as we continue our discussion about school safety, David Osher, he's vice president of the American Institute for Research, and Lucinda Roy, she's an alumni and distinguished professor at Virginia Tech, author of the novel "Lady Moses" and several poetry books. And joining us by phone, Christine Bailor, she is coordinator for safety and security at the Henrico County Virginia Public Schools. David Osher, what was your reaction to Ken Trump's comments?
OSHERI think Ken to talk about going back to fundamentals is correct. And I think we have to think about the fact that fundamentals are not just the hardware security fundamentals, but they're also the fundamentals of prevention. And that's what we do universally in a school and also in a community to make it much less likely that young people and adults will behave inappropriately, and in some rare cases, dangerously.
OSHERAnd at the same time, have interventions in place, particularly mental health interventions that are easy, accessible, timely for young people, for their families if they noticed the fact that the young people are troubled, as well as for -- if we think about in a community, for adults and their families who also may be seeing warning signs. That, as Ken Trump said, in the '90s, when we had the wave of rage shootings, there was public focus on it.
OSHERI think the government did very reasonable things regarding a combination of focus on security on the one hand, but a three-tiered approach to prevention and intervention trying to link mental health services in place. I think that Sandy Hook actually not only had the elements of physical safety, it also had the very important elements -- and I'm a grandfather right now thinking about my seven grandkids -- of emotional safety. It was a responsive classroom school from what I can gather.
OSHERSo every day, students were in class meetings with their teachers talking, getting ready for the day, deepening their relationships of trust. And I imagine that that's one of the reasons also why along with the good security plan, you actually did not have chaos in what was really an incredibly horrific situation. And so I think Ken Trump's notion of fundamentals -- and then just to use a word that came from Cleveland when there was a shooting in 2007.
OSHERAnd the district built on Ken's good work when he worked there in the '90s but decided that the issue was not just hardware. The issue is what in Cleveland they called humanware -- how do we put a system in place in the school and the community, so we reduce the likelihood that any of the types of problems would happen? And if they do happen, we're able to respond in a healthy way as possible.
REHMChristine Bailor, let me turn now to you and ask you about your coordination of safety and security for the Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia.
MS. CHRISTINE BAILORWell, what we do is we work very closely with the police and the fire department. And we've laid out a security and safety plan that, I think, is very much like what they had -- have in Connecticut. So, I mean, what Ken said, I think, is exactly right. You have to start with the fundamentals. I think you really -- it really goes way beyond bricks and mortar.
MS. CHRISTINE BAILORI mean, you can harden the target at the schools, but you really have to build a culture of safety and security in the schools. And the principals have to be committed to it because they are the ones, you know, you have boots on the ground. They are the ones who actually carry it out.
REHMAnd, of course, that's exactly what you had in Connecticut. So the question becomes, do schools around the country have to go even further? Christine.
BAILORWell, I think what you have to do is you have to look at every single situation and see what you can learn from it. I think generally what happens in every tragedy, people suddenly jump to try to put a Band-Aid on it, try to have a fix. And I think that what we have to do is we have to take some time and take a longer look at it.
BAILORWe have some very vocal people who want a police officer in every school. We have, you know, and I'm not sure that the silent majority really wants that. I think you have to find a balance with a welcoming school and a safe school. And I think we have to work at continuing to identify that balance. And we're always open for suggestions.
REHMAll right. Turning to you now, Lucinda Roy, you teach at Virginia Tech, and you did, in fact, have some contact with the student who later gunned down 32 people in April of 2007. Talk about the contact you had with that young man.
ROYI was chair of English in 2005 when he was first brought to my attention. I'd had him before in a class of 250 students. But I hadn't known him one on one very well. I had required writing, though, from all those students, so I'd got to know him a little bit. And I realized that he was a student that seemed to be very sensitive. He'd contacted me earlier.
ROYAnd he told me that he was writing a novel, and he wanted an agent. And there was something in his notes that made me realize that he seemed to be very vulnerable. So when I responded to him, I made sure that I told him that it was important to know that there were various other things he probably needed to do first before sending out his novel.
REHMYou used the word vulnerable. Can you expand on that?
ROYWell, after you've been in teaching for a long time, you get to recognize certain signs. And one of the signs is often that people are very down on themselves. When they say that they're -- they got huge ambitions but almost no feeling that they're going to be able to accomplish them, and when you see that kind of disconnect, when you see that huge chasm between the yearning and the ability, then you need to look very carefully.
REHMBut aren't there a lot of students who might fall into that category? Were there other signs that troubled you?
ROYThere were other signs, and they really erupted after he was in a poetry class in the fall of 2005 when he wrote a poem that seemed to be aimed at the class and seemed to be threatening to the Prof. Nikki Giovanni. So she reported that to me. I was chair of the English department. At that time, there was only one real option at Virginia Tech. You had to transfer the student out of the class into another class.
ROYI didn't feel that that was acceptable because I wasn't quite certain how safe that would be. So I asked him to come to my office, and I sat with him and the assistant chair because I never do that kind of thing by myself. And we had an interview. And he showed up in his sunglasses that he wore indoors, most of the time, a cap, and he spoke in a whisper that was so quiet that it was almost impossible to hear him.
ROYAnd then you need to contrast that with the fact that he kind of shouted his poem in the class. So there was, again, that disconnect, which is why I got in touch with the Virginia Tech Police, the college, the student affairs office counseling services. And I had a protocol that I developed because I was very concerned about troubled students, and we've had some before.
REHMAnd what happened as a result of your references to those other groups?
ROYWell, unfortunately, he hadn't made any explicit threats. And I think that this is something we need to remember, that it's very easy to say, yes, we need to respond with extreme measures in these cases and intervene. But if someone hasn't made an explicit threat, it can be hard to do so. I still felt that he needed to go to counseling services. But I couldn't persuade counseling services that that was something that needed to happen.
ROYSo my only option was to try to persuade him myself, I felt. So I met with him, and we'd work on his novel eventually a little bit and on his poetry and write together. And then at the end, he did tell me that he was going to counseling, and he did actually seek out counseling not just once. He sought them out at least a couple of times.
REHMWere you totally taken aback by his ultimate action?
ROYI actually felt at the beginning that he seemed to be so depressed that he could possibly be suicidal. I also did not feel safe myself, and I made that pretty clear to counseling services that that was -- it seemed to me that this was somebody who was not always in control. And sometimes silence is a manifestation of shyness, and other times it seems to be a manifestation of menace. And it was both of those things.
ROYAnd it wasn't till later, years later, that we learned that he suffered from selective mutism after the tragedy, which is a condition that does not allow you to speak in certain social situations. And many people suffer from it, and I want to make it absolutely clear that this is not an indication of some kind of predilection for violence. It's not. But he did suffer from it, which meant that he'd been virtually silent since the age of 3.
ROYSo when I learned that, I was really surprised, to tell you the truth, that he and I had been able to write together and work together to some extent, at least. It was very difficult, though, and I -- and that's why I wrote about it afterwards. It's very difficult when you write a book like I did because most people don't want to talk about this issue. And so when I wrote "No Right to Remain Silent," I think that some people still feel it was something we should never have spoken about.
ROYI actually feel we've got to get into the conversation because these young, crazed boys are on Net, on the -- online, talking about this all the time, and nobody is providing a counter-narrative. And we really need to be aware of that, and we need to plan for the future. But I have to say, I am more hopeful than I have been in five years.
ROYBecause, for the first time, people are waking up. For five years, some of us -- and I would include the guests that you're having on this program today -- have been saying, there is a terrible problem with mental health services. There is a terrible problem with unpreparedness in schools. We are not ready to respond to these students. We are getting cuts in education. Teachers are not valued.
ROYTeachers are brave, often, as has been testified in the past few days. We have to have a renaissance in education in the United States of America. I think President Obama is ready to do that. And I think, for the first time, the NRA has taken a step backwards, which gives us all a chance to take a step forwards and say, we're really going to cherish our children and find a way through this, and there are things we can do.
REHMLucinda Roy, she's a distinguished professor at Virginia Tech. If you'd like to join us, give us a call: 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." David Osher, you wanted to comment.
OSHERYes, and that -- you know, as Lucinda said, we have lots of brave and lots of sensitive teachers. What we really need is a capacity so that when a teacher notices something, one can get the support, and there are two things I was hearing in what Lucinda was saying. On the one hand, we need the ability, when somebody exhibits warning signs -- and warning signs are not necessarily predictive of bad things -- for people who have professional capacity to assess that. In addition, we need the capacity to do threat assessments, to understand when somebody really is a threat.
OSHERLet me add that I really share Lucinda's optimism, and I share it not just because of the mental health issues. But over the last two years, an increasing number of people are starting to understand that social-emotional factors, social-emotional learning, what some people call non-cognitive factors, are important. And at the same time, there's an increasing interest in creating supportive school climates, and a part of that is not just removing students because of their behavior, but rather giving them support so you really do create a more supportive and safer place in schools.
REHMWe are going to be talking even more tomorrow about mental health issues in this country and certainly the factors in which they played into this tragedy. But, Christine Bailor, I want to come back to you and ask you whether you believe an armed guard in each school throughout the country, as Bill Bennett has called for, makes sense.
BAILORI hope we never get to that point. I certainly agree with Ken Trump that it makes a lot of sense. And we -- when we do that here in Henrico County, have a school resource officer who is a Henrico police officer in every high school and every middle school, and they are there. We also have an unarmed security officer, and the two together -- the unarmed security officer deals with matters of the code of conduct, and the armed police officer deals with law enforcement.
BAILORSo the two together really provide a complete security package. At our -- in our elementary schools, our officers are really there. We have school resource officers who serve a number of schools, so we don't have one per school. But they're there really for education and to get students used to police officers because in some homes, the only time they see a police officer is when the officer responds to the home for domestic situations.
REHMAll right. And, Lucinda, do you agree that we should not be thinking about armed guards at schools, or do you think we should consider that even more seriously?
ROYAnd I guess the way I would answer that is to say, supposing we took out the children from the classroom and we put instead, say, $10,000 in each seat, and we said, we're not going to guard this, we're just going to leave it there, I think most people would be horrified and say, you must be crazy. This is a crazy thing to do. People will come in and take the money, and you will not have it there. We guard our banks all the time.
ROYI actually do not see anything wrong with guarding our children in much the same way as we would guard our money, knowing that they are our greatest treasures. Do I like that idea? No. Do I think that teachers should be armed? Absolutely not because it takes away their focus from the children. But I do think we need to think very carefully about being aware of idealizing the learning situation.
ROYOur learning communities are not safe. Many of us have been saying this for some time. So if there are 300 million guns in America, and if we know once in a while a parent is not going to be responsible, then it's not just the inside of the classroom we need to be worried about. It's also what's happening in the community. I don't trust every gun owner to be sensible with their guns. I don't. And so if I don't, then therefore I need to think of some things to protect the children.
REHMLucinda Roy, an alumni and distinguished professor at Virginia Tech. Short break. When we come back, we'll open the phones.
REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about school safety, we're going to open the phones now first to Alex in Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning. You're on the air. Alex, are you there?
ALEXYes, I am. Hi. I just wanted to comment on, you know, the safety aspect. I have a first grader and a kindergartener. And, you know, the security in these schools, you know, there's a buzzer. There's that, like was already mentioned. But, you know, these doors need to be reinforced because if you look at the outcomes of these things, everything happens in the first five, 10 minutes. Once the police get on the scene, often, these things end, so you need to be able to protect these kids, you know, barrier them into these classrooms where they'll be safe. I happen to be an ER physician.
ALEXAnd on the mental health aspect, I'm glad that people are talking about it. It's hard enough to get people who have diagnosed conditions into proper treatment, let alone fringe people, so it's good. I'm glad that we're starting to discuss these topics because it's not just about firearms. You know, firearms are a tool. It's the person that pulls the trigger. And I know that's the rhetoric that everyone, you know -- oh, he's a crazy person. But at end of the day, we need to, A, protect the teachers and the students and, B, get these people on the fringes into mental health.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Just before the break, Lucinda Roy, you said you agreed to a certain extent with Bill Bennett about the use of unarmed guard in each school. I don't want to put words in your mouth.
ROYAnd I was really referring to school resource officers that are in middle school and high school. I actually think they should be in elementary school too. But I want to make it really clear that I do not think that adding more guns to the equation is going to make for safer schools ultimately. It's not. We've -- the most important thing to think about is that we need a real cultural change here.
ROYIts not just about security issues. It's about how we think about students. So, for example, one of the main questions we have to ask ourselves is, who should intervene and when? We should also ask ourselves, what risks are involved when one does intervene? So, for example, if you intervene with a troubled student, you know that it's quite possible you may be putting yourself at risk. You may be putting your staff at risk.
ROYI felt that I was doing that in the English department to some extent by meeting with him. What kind of resources can you rely on? Could you be -- for years to come, in all kinds of liability cases because you have intervened too much, don't you need some training in order to do that well? There are cultural things that we need to do. And maybe more importantly than anything is we need to really start talking to these young people.
ROYNobody is asking them, are you unhappy? Are you depressed? What are you thinking about? People are not doing that. And I realized when I was talking with Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter at Virginia Tech, I think -- I believe I was probably the first person, perhaps outside of his family, to ask him those questions. I think people have to ask those questions.
REHMHere's an email from Amy in Yorktown, Va. She says, "According to this morning's paper, our governor, Bob McDonnell, says, 'Lawmakers should discuss the possibility' of allowing school staff to carry guns as part of a larger debate on school safety." Christine Bailor, what's your reaction?
BAILORMy initial reaction is that I would not be in support of that, that anybody would carry a gun in the school unless they are trained law enforcement because law enforcement officers get trained over and over and over again. And I can't imagine that we would put teachers through that same kind of training, that same level of training.
REHMAll right. To San Antonio, Texas. Good morning, Paul.
PAULYeah. Diane, thanks for taking my call.
PAULI just wanted to reflect some of those, you know, some of the same issues the professor brought up. This is an incredibly nuance question and problem, but this is kind of a 9/11 for us. And I think that here in San Antonio, we have police officers in the high school level as a substation to respond to the other schools. And we'll probably hear people bringing this up, too, to put more officers in the middle schools and the elementary schools as well. But, you know, we guard our money, like she said, with armed people because some addicts, they look at things.
PAULAnd despite them being not mentally stable, they still have the capacity for thinking. And if a target is armed, they will think twice about being hit. And I have the benefit of years of military and medical experience and also that -- the emergency physician who called in. We have officers in the military department for the same issue, same reasons because you can't predict this. And I don't think the mental health question is going to be solved very quickly in this country. So I think, like 9/11, we need to take measures to protect harmless, precious resource.
OSHERI think we need security. And at the same time, if we look at the statistics, schools are very safe places. What we need is trying to minimize the possibilities that somebody like that disturbed young man shows up. And if we get sucked into an over-emphasis on thinking that just putting another officer, no matter how trained, or a piece of weaponry in the school is going to eliminate things, we're deluding ourselves.
OSHERIf I read correctly from the Connecticut State Police, they said, given the level of armament that that young man had, if they had come in, they could not have probably stopped him sooner.
OSHERTo make just one last point. When I had the privilege of being -- leading the federal government's response as it contracted to these shootings in the 1990s and we asked to do early warning signs, our internal conversation in the expert panel at the White House had asked was, we don't want to note that somebody's warning when he shows up with an Uzi wearing combat fatigues. We want to really help someone much earlier so we're never at that point that we have to worry about a shootout in the school.
REHMSen. Barbara Boxer spoke this morning. She said we have to pass commonsense gun control laws. But what I call the in-the-meantime strategy is this: we have to keep our children safe. So she's introducing two bills. The first is called the school safety enhancement act to provide schools with more resources and create a joint task force to develop advisory guidelines to protect schools.
REHMSecond, a bill is called save our students that would allow governors to use the National Guard, to use personnel to help support local law enforcement agencies in protecting children at schools. We spend over 600 billion on national defense. What are we doing to protect our children? Not enough. Isn't it part of our national defense to keep our children safe? What's your reaction to having the National Guard help out, Lucinda Roy?
ROYI can understand why Barbara Boxer's a wonderful politician. And I can see why she would think that that might be a good idea in certain circumstances. They have to be able to respond. And it can be overwhelming to campus police to try to have to respond to these kinds of things and to local officers. But I do want to emphasize -- building off of what David said that I thought was so important, we have to balance our response to these things.
ROYAnd unfortunately, the focus is very often on those last few minutes, when the gunman comes to campus and then start shooting. And we start to think of all the things that we can do in those last 11 minutes. But, in fact, what we should be thinking about is all the things we could do in, say, Seung-Hui Cho's case. For the 23 years before that, there were many moments, windows of opportunity where people could intervene.
ROYAnd they actually intervened very successfully when he was in middle school, when he was fantasizing about Columbine. But when he got to 18, he decided he wasn't going to take his medication any more. It became much more difficult to intervene. But even in 2005, he was ready to seek help. So we need to make sure that we've got those mechanisms in place so that we can intervene.
REHMBut if we can, for a moment, put the mental health issues aside because I understand that they are at the root of what has happened. What can we do immediately to make our schools safer, Christine Bailor?
BAILORI just think that if you put an armed guard in the school that what tends to happens is that people become dependent on that person to be everything that they want in security and they stop being vigilant. I would much rather see thousands of eyes and ears out there from teachers and administrators and even students. We like our students to be vigilant.
BAILORAnd they often tell us when somebody is on a playground that that shouldn't be there. We want to keep that vigilance. We want to continue to build that culture of safety and security with inside the school. And we want to get parents involved in our school. We want them to be there and be volunteers and help us add to the number of eyes and ears that we have in the schools.
REHMSo from your perspective, David Osher, what kind of further training of teachers, for example, would you embark on?
OSHERI think we want to train teachers, both regarding how to build a supportive school environment so young people feel safe coming forth if they're worried about themselves or other people. We also want to make sure that teachers know what warnings sign are, not so that they resolve them, but rather they also know what can happen and who do you go to and that there will be back up.
OSHERWe also want to make sure that they're aware of the fact that there are a variety of vulnerabilities among their students. And if I can, let me give you resources that are on -- is a -- the federal government created the National Center for Safety in support of schools. And on that center, there right now are links to resources for what schools can do right now, including links to sites regarding security measures.
OSHERI mean -- but I think the important thing is to see our teachers and the adults are resources. Make sure that they know how they can respond to students, help them integrate that into their teaching. This cannot be a choice between teaching and safety. It has to be a combination. And as Christine said, it's -- this young people and the teachers and the principals are the eyes for safety.
REHMLucinda Roy, it sounds to me as though you did everything you could possibly have done to help that young man to alert others to the potential for danger, to suggest alternative means for helping him, and nothing worked.
ROYIt didn't work. And that's, of course, is the burden that I carry. And you could argue that perhaps I was not persuasive enough. I try to make sure, though, that what I'm doing and what other people need to do is focus on what is possible now. I think that there are two main things we could do immediately. We could train more teachers and bring them into the classroom. A good teacher makes a tremendous difference. And we could help parents who are struggling on their own and who may well be even afraid of their children. We need to help them.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Dan. You're on the air. Dan, are you there? All right. Let's go to Waynesville, N.C. Sonia, good morning.
SONIAGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
SONIAMy husband is a retired school teacher, and therefore, we have spent a great deal of time sharing our thoughts about the situation. And we have come to a mutual understanding that, other than these threatening defensive tools, teachers with guns, guards and stuff, there's a need for a supportive cultural change, we believe, beginning with pre-school and continuing through school years, using full-class hours each day to explore ways toward conflict resolution, self-awareness and assertiveness.
SONIAFortunately, in 11th grade, I had to take a class in which I was able to think and write about my family's values and whether my values were the same as theirs. And it was so helpful for me, just that one year in understanding how life works. So that's it for me.
REHMAll right. Thank you for calling. And, finally, an email from Christie in Indianapolis, who says, "My children came home yesterday from their public elementary school, telling me they had a red alert drill, where they practice hiding in the classroom with the door locked and the lights out. My 8-year-old was proud that he had found the best hiding spot." She says, "It breaks my heart that this is what we have come to in America, practicing hiding from a gunman."
REHMSo do we simply teach kids that schools are no longer safe? What do we tell our young people in terms of -- yeah, I'm talking about kindergarteners and first graders and second graders. What do we tell them, David Osher?
OSHERI think we tell them what the heroic teachers at the school where the tragedy was told them, that we will keep you safe. And what again sounds to be the case was that the little children really felt that they did feel protected in that terror situation. Now, what we also have to do, as you've been -- we've been talking about today, is deal with the fact that we don't want people with guns making them unsafe.
OSHERBut it's important for young people to know that teachers have their backs and that their fellow students have their backs. And together, they can learn that they can support each other, that they can be healthy.
REHMDavid Osher of the American Institutes for Research, Lucinda Roy, an alumni and distinguished professor at Virginia Tech -- she is author of the novel "Lady Moses" and several books of poetry -- and Christine Bailor, coordinator for safety and security at Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia, thank you all so much for being with us.
BAILORThank you very much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Jill Colgan. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones.
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