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118

THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 118, April 23, 2001
Just Another Thursday Past

School Crisis Plans Need to Emphasize Local Input

by Vin Suprynowicz
vin@lvrj.com

Special to TLE

As the second anniversary of the murder of 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. draws near, the Nevada state Legislature is considering a bill intended to make sure local schools have a response plan in place to deal with similar crises, should one ever occur here.

Senate Bill 289 -- introduced on behalf of the state Commission on School Safety and Juvenile Violence -- is intended to make sure school districts have contingency plans in place to deal with a wide range of potential emergencies, whether they arise on school buses, during off-site activities, or on the school campuses themselves.

In a recent FBI report on the subject, Supervisory Special Agent Mary Ellen O'Toole wrote that "In today's climate, some schools tend to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to any mention of violence," but that it's far better to be prepared to respond flexibly to the wide range of threats that can occur.

"We were focused on keeping the decision-making as local as we could, because these are local concerns and the people who are closest to the issues should be the ones making the decisions," agrees state Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, who chaired the state School Safety commission.

Unfortunately, it's not at all clear that's what will really end up happening, as SB 289 is currently drafted.

Yes, the bill requires local schools to create site committees with the power to "suggest" deviations from the district-wide master plan. But any such deviations must be approved by the school district's central committee.

And while the bill stipulates that the "local law enforcement agency" will be involved in such contingency planning, Ms. Wiener makes it clear that term is meant to refer to "primary police agencies" like the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, rather than the district school police.

"We have no voice here and we're the pulse of that school," protests Phil Gervasi, president of the Police Officers Association for the Clark County School District Police Department.

Furthermore, the current bill would exempt drafters of such crisis plans from the state open meeting law, meaning the very folks who would be expected to eventually put such plans into effect, and who would thus be most likely to spot flaws (local school police or custodians, for instance) will be shut out of the process.

Ms. Wiener replies that the emergency plans must be kept secret lest some perpetrator get hold of the emergency plan and "work around the plan."

But our schools are not armed military compounds, designed to withstand penetration by professional special forces -- and let's hope they never are. Teachers, parents, and school trustees will take part in compiling these plans, which will then have to be widely circulated to staff, discussed, and even acted out in practice drills. Would the airlines keep secret from their passengers the procedures for evacuating an aircraft, in hopes of keeping potential hijackers from figuring out where the doors are?

In addition to this excess of secrecy, the flaw in the kind of emergency planning envisioned in SB 289 is precisely its top-down nature. The path of least resistance will be to generate nearly identical plans for schools of different sizes and with different floorplans -- schools with or without windows or isolated classrooms, schools filled with seven-year-olds or with 17-year-olds.

The emphasis should be shifted to give the main authority to each local school, subject only to general, overall guidance from the district. Local employees and particularly local school police -- familiar with each building's layout, problems and population -- should play far more substantial roles.

Local principals might even be encouraged to consider the violence prevention/cessation measure which has proved most effective in places like Pearl, Miss., as well as in a locale where school violence used to be most prevalent and tragic: Israel.

Responsible, trained Israeli teachers and parent volunteers reduced violence practically to zero in that embattled nation when they began to go armed. The Legislature should make it clear in SB 289 that school principals are free to encourage willing teachers to apply for and use state concealed weapon permits, if they so desire.



Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter by sending $72 to

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His book, Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998, is available from Amazon.com from that link, or at 1-800-244-2224, or via web site www.thespiritof76.com/wacokillers.html


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