UConn President and others: Don’t turn our schools into fortresses.

University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst and others have signed onto a position statement that calls on meaningful action and a balanced approach in light of the Newtown school shooting.

 They don’t want to see schools turned into fortresses.

 The position paper was developed by nine school violence prevention researchers and practitioners nationwide, including George Sugai of UConn’s Neag School of Education.

The two-page statement – found in its entirety here – updates the School Shootings Position Statement that was disseminated nationally following the school-related shootings of 2006.

In addition to Herbst, Neag School of Education Dean Thomas DeFranco, and a number of UConn faculty the statement has been endorsed by more than 100 professional organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, multiple divisions of the American Psychological Association, Child Welfare League of America, Council for Exceptional Children, National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), National Education Association, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Social Workers, and Mental Health America.

According to a UConn press release, the position statement is intended to communicate scientifically informed principles and recommendations for practitioners, policymakers, and the public at large, and to help build consensus on a course of meaningful action.

Here is an excerpt from the statement:

 “It is too soon to draw conclusions about this case, but in every mass shooting we must consider two keys to prevention: (1) the presence of severe mental illness and/or (2) an intense interpersonal conflict that the person could not resolve or tolerate.

Inclinations to intensify security in schools should be reconsidered. We cannot and should not turn our schools into fortresses. Effective prevention cannot wait until there is a gunman in a school parking lot. We need resources such as mental health supports and threat assessment teams in every school and community so that people can seek assistance when they recognize that someone is troubled and requires help. For communities, this speaks to a need for increased access to well integrated service structures across mental health, law enforcement, and related agencies. We must encourage people to seek help when they see that someone is embroiled in an intense, persistent conflict or is deeply troubled. If we can recognize and ameliorate these kinds of situations, then we will be more able to prevent violence.

These issues require attention at the school and community levels. We believe that research supports a thoughtful approach to safer schools, guided by four key elements: Balance, Communication, Connectedness, and Support, along with strengthened attention to mental health needs in the community, structured threat assessment approaches, revised policies on youth exposure to violent media, and increased efforts to limit inappropriate access to guns and especially, assault type weapons.”

Linda Lambeck