Welcome to the Department of Justice, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

For immediate release --September 2, 1998.
Contact Bob Brammer, 515-281-6699

Attorney General Tom Miller and Iowa Association of School Boards Call for Schools to Adopt Safety Plans

Mary Gannon, Iowa Association of School Boards, 515-288-1991, Iowa Association of School Boards 700 Second Avenue, Ste. 100 Des Moines, IA 50309 (515) 288-1991

Des Moines -- Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and the Iowa Association of School Boards today urged Iowa schools to implement plans to promote safe schools and deal with the possibility of school violence.
In a letter sent today to local school board presidents and superintendents, Attorney General Miller and Ron Rice, executive director of the Iowa Association of School Boards, provide resources to help school districts develop school safety plans. The letter is part of a joint national campaign by the National Association of Attorneys General and the National School Boards Association.

"Nationally the issue of school safety has come to the fore because of the five tragic school shootings that occurred last school year," Miller said. "Iowa remains a very safe place to go to school, but we need to be prepared for the possibility -- just like we prepare for tornados and fire."

"Iowa is in a good position to move ahead because of our excellent schools and our relatively low juvenile crime rate," Rice said. "We already have an enviable record of cooperation among schools, law enforcement and other agencies."

Miller and Rice urge schools to develop a three-part Strategy for Safe Schools in Iowa including Prevention, Partnerships, and Planning. They said that the most important component is prevention programs to teach young people skills such as conflict resolution and problem solving.

They also note the importance of forming partnerships between schools and law enforcement agencies, juvenile courts and other community organizations. Attorney General Miller said, "When schools and the juvenile court work together, two important things happen -- learning goes up and juvenile crime goes down."

Miller noted that one way to achieve the needed partnerships is the use of juvenile court liaisons in schools. "Approximately 80 Iowa schools have juvenile court liaisons who work with delinquent and at-risk youth and provide a critical link between the schools and the courts," Miller said. "Schools with juvenile court liaisons have seen improved attendance and school behavior, academic success, and a reduction in juvenile delinquency." Miller has proposed expansion of this program, over a three year period, to make juvenile court liaisons available to every middle and junior high school in the state that wants to be part of the program.

"Another example of partnerships is information sharing within interagency teams," said Ron Rice. "The Iowa Legislature has allowed school districts to develop agreements with juvenile justice agencies to share certain information about students to improve school safety and help students. We have developed recommended policies and a sample agreement that can be used to guide local school boards in developing these policies."

"Despite Iowa's outstanding record of school safety and our best efforts at prevention, schools need to be prepared for the unfortunate possibility of a violent incident," Miller said. The letter urges schools to review building design issues to assess safety considerations, prepare an emergency plan to establish emergency procedures and conduct regular staff training on those procedures. A committee of education and law enforcement officials has been formed to develop a model emergency safety plan.

The National School Boards Association and the National Association of Attorneys General have created a joint web site, listing resources and information about school safety programs at www.keepschoolssafe.org.

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September 2, 1998

Dear School Board Presidents and Superintendents:

Today the National Association of Attorneys General and the National School Boards Association are announcing a joint campaign by their two organizations to promote safe schools. They are urging the development of local school safety plans and providing a variety of resources to help school districts make this happen.

Nationally the issue of school safety has come to the fore because of five tragic school shootings that occurred during the 1997-1998 school year. That these violent events all occurred in rural areas has made them all the more startling to the public and to those responsible for the safety of children. Fortunately, these events do not forecast a national epidemic of school shootings. In fact, a recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation on school associated violent death shows that children face a one in a million chance of being killed at school, comparable to the risk of being killed by lightening. Certainly, Iowa remains a safe place to go to school.

Despite the long odds, the consequences of such a tragedy are so devastating that we must prepare for the possibility. As one Springfield, Oregon parent said after the shooting there, "you never know when it's going to be one of your kids." Just as we have traditionally prepared for tornados and fire, we should also be prepared to prevent and deal with threats of violence to children at school.

On the state level, our two organizations are endorsing and joining this national campaign. We think that Iowa is in a good position to move ahead because of our excellent schools, our relatively low juvenile crime rate and the enviable record we have already established of cooperation and collaboration among schools, law enforcement and other community child serving agencies.

Specifically, we are urging schools to develop a three part Strategy for Safe Schools in Iowa: Prevention, Partnerships, and Planning.

Prevention. The first and most important component is prevention. We do not want to wait until a crisis arises. We need to begin early, in our grade schools, with programs to teach conflict resolution and problem solving. We need to help our students learn alternatives to violence. We also need to have services in place in our communities to help troubled children and families deal with problems early, before they escalate.

Attached is a list of resources for information about school violence and current prevention initiatives. In addition, The United States Departments of Education and Justice, in cooperation with the National Association of School Psychologists, have developed a guide entitled "Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools" which can be found on the web at http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/OSEP/earlywrn.html or obtained by calling 1-877-4ED-PUBS.

Partnerships. Second, we need to form partnerships between schools and law enforcement agencies, juvenile courts and other community organizations which are concerned about kids. Troubled youth do not just act up in school. They continue to be a problem to the community after the school bell rings at 3 p.m. The people who care about a youth during the day need to be talking to the people who care about him or her after the school bell rings in order to ensure that the child's needs are met and to keep both the school and the community safe. These are two examples of how such effective partnerships are working in Iowa:

Juvenile Court Liaisons in the Schools
Approximately 80 schools in Iowa have Juvenile Court Liaisons housed right in the school building. These individuals work with delinquent and at-risk youth and provide a critical link between the schools and the courts.
Schools with Juvenile Court Liaisons have seen some remarkable results: improved attendance and school behavior, academic success, and a reduction in juvenile delinquency. The cost for a Juvenile Court Liaison is shared by the Juvenile Court, the Department of Human Services and the local school district.

Attorney General Tom Miller has proposed expansion of this program, over a three year period of time, to make Juvenile Court Liaisons available to every Middle and Junior High school in the state that wants to be part of the program.

Sharing Information within Interagency Teams

In the 1997 session, the Iowa Legislature passed legislation which allows school districts to develop agreements with agencies in the juvenile justice system to share certain information about students in a joint effort to "improve school safety, reduce alcohol and illegal drug use, reduce truancy, reduce in-school and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions . . . and to support students in successfully completing their education." Iowa Code §280.25, 1997. Information shared is used only to provide services to the students and their families, never for prosecution. The legislation requires school boards to develop policies concerning these interagency teams.

The Iowa Association of School Boards, in conjunction with the Attorney General's Office, the School Administrators of Iowa and the Iowa Department of Education, has developed recommended policies and a sample team agreement that can be used to guide local school boards. Copies may be obtained from Mary Gannon, Iowa Association of School Boards, at (800) 795-4272. We urge you and your colleagues to consider developing an interagency team and adopting an information sharing agreement.

Planning.
Finally, schools need to be prepared in the unfortunate eventuality that there is a violent incident.

Environmental Design Assessment
We are urging school officials to go through your buildings with a public safety professional in order to assess safety features. Are there changes to the layout or traffic patterns within the school that might enhance control and safety?

Staff Training
We urge the provision of regular staff training on emergency procedures. In addition, you should know who on your staff has had First Aid or CPR training.

Emergency Plan
What would you do if someone walked into your school with a gun? Schools need to develop and practice emergency procedures -- just like we do for tornados and fire. Development of these plans should include the law enforcement, hospital and emergency medical personnel in your community you would want to respond in such an emergency. Once a plan has been developed, there needs to be training for all the components. Finally, there needs to be communication with the community about the existence of such a plan.
In order to help schools with this vital part of the Safe Schools Strategy, an ad hoc committee has been established to develop recommendations for a sample school emergency safety plan. The committee is made up of representatives from the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Iowa Attorney General's Office, the School Administrators of Iowa, the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa Sheriffs' Association, the Iowa County Attorneys' Association, educators and law enforcement professionals.

Recommendations from the ad hoc committee will be sent to you as soon as they are ready. For more information, call Mary Gannon at the Iowa Association of School Boards, (800) 95-4272.

The National School Board Association and the National Association of Attorneys General are planning a conference to share information about programs from around the country. In addition, a joint web site listing resources and information about programs that work has been created at www.keepschoolssafe.org. We pledge both our organizations to participate in this national initiative and to keep you informed of new developments in this important area.

Sincerely,

Tom Miller Ronald M. Rice, Executive Director
Iowa Attorney General Iowa Association of School Boards

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