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School Climate



COPAA Statement: School Safety


June, 2019

Schools must be safe havens so that students can learn. Bullying, discrimination, harassment, aggression, violence and abuse defeat education. The recent rash of school shootings is frightening, and schools must take appropriate steps to prevent further violence. Still, the fear of school shootings must not lead to policies and practices that transform schools from educational sanctuaries into high-security police zones.  Instead, school safety can be promoted by improving the school climate for students and personnel. Bullying, both by fellow students and by teachers, harassment, and punitive school disciplinary practices that pushout and exclude children all create alienation, isolation and anger that often leads to violence in school. Many students, and particularly children who have experienced trauma in their lives, do not feel safe at school.  Punitive discipline, police presence, and zero tolerance policies all magnify that feeling of insecurity. For too long, we have been overspending on crude and counterproductive policing strategies and underspending on the services that can prevent a recurrence of violence in schools.


COPAA believes that we cannot simply ignore the complex issues that arise when children feel threatened, exhibit challenging coping behaviors, (reactivity, aggression or social withdrawal) and/or develop clinical disorders. Maintaining such supports in individual silos denies the need for a whole child and whole school community approach and coordination of care.  School disciplinary practices, zero-tolerance policies, suspension, expulsion, the increased presence of law enforcement in school and school arrests all contribute to the feelings of fear, rejection and alienation in some students. Children with histories of trauma and those with disabilities are disproportionately targeted by these school policies which aim to punish students rather than teach and support them. Such policies serve to promote the school-to-prison pipeline. 


The key to making schools safe is prevention. A multi-tiered system of support that integrates school crisis preparation, safety procedures, counseling and mental health support, positive behavior intervention and supports (PBIS), restorative practices and trauma informed care will promote a school climate that will make it less likely that an alienated youth will become a violent one. To support students and teachers, schools need to end the practice of criminalizing students rather than educating them. Programs utilizing PBIS focus on schoolwide strategies to improve climate as well as targeted and individualized supports for students having difficulty coping with trauma, managing and expressing their emotions or handling stress provide the basis for research-based social-emotional and behavioral health development. Such programs include trauma-informed practices and provide access to comprehensive school and community-based mental health services as well as culturally responsive teaching as well as effective screening through functional behavior assessment and implementation of a student’s behavior intervention plan where required are not parenthetical to learning—they are essential. Key to establishing such a system includes ongoing, robust training in evidence-based practices for all staff. 


To that end, COPAA recommends:

1.     School safety measures must focus on prevention, through creation of a supportive, inclusive, and safe school climate for all students. 

2.     Safe school climates include a comprehensive, multi-tiered systems of support; integrating school crisis preparation, safety procedures, counseling and mental health support, positive behavior intervention and support, restorative practices and trauma-informed care.  

3. Teachers must be provided the training and support they need to teach and provide engaging and academically rich educational programs in inclusive classrooms. 

4.     Teachers must have training in positive behavior support and classroom management, and have access to personnel trained and knowledgeable in conducting functional behavioral assessments and designing school, classroom and individualized positive behavioral programs. 

5.     Schools need to track and actively monitor all disciplinary actions on the basis of a student’s race, ethnicity gender, and disability.  Where the data show disproportionate impact, schools need to review their policies and train personnel to avoid adverse impact in accordance with federal and state statute and regulations.  

6.     Students whose behavior is consistently leading to disciplinary action and who have not been assessed for a disability must be properly screened and evaluated as required under Child Find. A functional behavior assessment must be conducted, and a behavior intervention plan implemented when a disability is diagnosed.  

7.     Students with a disability diagnosis, a history of receiving services for a disability, or an individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan that addresses disability-related behaviors needs support and services and should not be automatically targeted as a potential perpetrator of violence.  

8.     Districts must clearly define the role and responsibility of school safety personnel and law enforcement within a school by written Memorandum of Understanding. They must receive comprehensive training to enable them to work in collaboration with school personnel to maintain a safe and positive school climate; interact effectively and appropriately with students; understand types of disability diagnosis and how such disability may manifest; and the relationships between disability, behavior and communication. Schools should not utilize law enforcement officers to for behavior management or in attempts to scare students into compliance.  

9.    School administrators need to be trained in investigating incidents of bullying and alleged misconduct to protect the rights of all students.  

10. If there is safety monitoring in schools that uses security cameras or other types of surveillance, it must ensure that the data collected is not unlawfully disclosed or compromised in compliance with all applicable privacy laws. Furthermore, videotapes of alleged incidents, if available, must be made available to the family of any student that is subject to discipline for the activity in question.

11.  Schools should provide comprehensive school-based mental and behavioral health services as they are critical to ensuring a positive and safe school climate and need to be the first response to most incidents of challenging behavior.  Referral to law enforcement should only occur in the most extreme cases that involve potential criminal behavior.

12.  Students who are designated as a threat using a valid threat assessment instrument, and their families, must have an opportunity for recourse, have access to the information used to identify them as a threat, and have the opportunity to dispute the information.

13.  Suspension and expulsion are not educative strategies. Research shows that excluded students disproportionately drop out of school and become part of the criminal justice system.  Further, excluding students communicates that the school cannot handle challenging behavior.  

14. Alternative educational programs for students should be appropriately funded so that they provide the full panoply of educational and therapeutic services required to serve students appropriately.



COPAA Statement: Teachers Should Not Be First Line of Defense

June, 2019 

Schools need to be places of safety for children to learn.  Students do not learn in atmospheres of fear.  For that reason, COPAA opposes governmental policies to fund, promote or support teachers becoming the first line of defense against violent perpetrators. School violence is frighteningly prevalent.  COPAA supports efforts to protect school children from violence in the classroom.  Still, we believe arming America’s teachers would be unlikely to provide protection and would inappropriately transform the role of the teacher from educator, mentor and nurturer to that of armed protector.  In fact, any policy that specifically directs or encourages teachers to bring a gun into a classroom would place students and school staff at risk. There is no data showing that such policies and actions will decrease school violence.  On the other hand, such practices increase the likelihood of unintentional violence and lead to the further traumatization of children and adults.


School safety must be promoted by preventative measures to improve the school climate for students and personnel (See: COPAA Statement on School Safety). COPAA will work with its national membership, advocacy partners and within coalitions to oppose any authorizing, appropriation or regulatory act that turns teachers away from their mission of developing our youth. 


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