Six months after Sandy Hook shootings, schools seek secure redesigns
Six months after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre, schools around the country are considering security upgrades.
June 10th, 2013
10:05 AM ET

Six months after Sandy Hook shootings, schools seek secure redesigns

By Paul Caron, CNN

(CNN) - When Alissa Parker first heard there was a shooting at her 6-year-old daughter’s school, she immediately thought of the building’s security weaknesses and wished she’d spoken up.

“Knowing the location of where Emilie’s classroom was, if anyone gained access to that building, I knew that my child was very vulnerable,” she said.

Parker’s daughter, Emilie, was among 20 first-graders killed in the December 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Six months since then, parents, school leaders and lawmakers around the country have raised questions about how to make schools more secure. Many schools reacted by immediately increasing security personnel and hiring consultants to assess their security plans. An Education Week analysis found nearly 400 bills related to school safety filed in the months after the deadliest K-12 school shooting in U.S. history; legislators proposed arming teachers and adding guards or police officers. Many proposed shoring up the security of school buildings.

Parker and other Sandy Hook parents started the Safe and Sound, an initiative to help communities improve their school security plans.

As parents gathered information after the shooting, they realized schools all over the country are vulnerable, said Michele Gay, whose 7-year-old daughter, Josephine, was also killed at Sandy Hook.

“One line of defense is all they had, and once that is penetrated, anything can happen. That is the problem with most schools,” Gay said. “We are about empowering folks … gathering everybody at the table - local police, fire, custodians, teachers and when appropriate, students. Everyone needs to be at the table to make it work.”

After the Sandy Hook shootings, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed new gun regulations into law and created the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, a 16-member public safety panel set to make recommendations about school safety, mental health and gun violence.

In its preliminary recommendations, the commission suggested:

- Requiring that all K-12 classrooms be equipped with doors that can be locked from the inside by the classroom teacher.

- Requiring that all exterior doors in K-12 schools be equipped with hardware capable of a full-perimeter lockdown.

- Creating a panel of design and security experts to establish, within 12 months, recommendations for safe design.

But what might make those buildings safer?


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Teachers' lessons in heroism and healing
Moore, Oklahoma, teacher Tammy Glasgow walks from school with her second-grade students after a tornado.
May 27th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Teachers' lessons in heroism and healing

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - On page 73 of the elementary school handbook in Moore, Oklahoma, among entries about chewing gum and bicycles, there’s a warning about the weather.

“Sudden tornadoes are a common occurrence in Oklahoma, especially in the spring,” it cautions. “Teachers should strive to maintain an atmosphere of orderliness and calmness.”

Indeed, they knew just what to do last week as a massive EF5 tornado approached. Children crouched along interior walls, faces down, legs tucked, fingers woven over their necks. They bunched into closets or huddled beneath their desks. Teachers positioned themselves between the kids and the howling, quaking wind they heard coming.

At Briarwood Elementary School, Tammy Glasgow told her second-graders she loved them as she shut the doors to the bathrooms where they sheltered.

First-grade teacher Waynel Mayes commanded her kids to sing “Jesus Loves Me” over the roar of the wind - to scream it if they needed to.

When the walls quivered at Plaza Towers Elementary School, principal Amy Simpson shouted “In God’s name, go away, go away!,” again, again, again, until the tornado had.

But gone, too, in the aftermath were Briarwood and Plaza Towers schools, decimated into a tangle of bricks, desks, school books and mud. Seven Plaza Towers students died in the rubble. All of Briarwood’s students survived, along with thousands more around the district.

At a news conference late last week, Simpson recounted, “Not one parent blamed us … because they’re Oklahomans, too, and they know what a tornado means, and they know what it means in school.”

They know, just as she does, that teachers were watching over their children.

“The teachers,” Simpson said, “were able to act quickly, stay calm and take literally the weight of a wall onto their bodies to save those that were under them.”

After years of political beatdowns and public backlash, educators have emerged as heroes time and time again in recent months.

It happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, where six educators died along with 20 students when a gunman burst in.

Again in Taft, California, where a teacher stood before a 16-year-old shooter who had already wounded a student and persuaded him to hand over his shotgun.

Another time in January, when a school bus driver in Dale County, Alabama, died while blocking an armed kidnapper from snatching multiple children from his bus.

Even last week, when Ingrid Loyau-Kennett approached a man wielding a bloody meat cleaver on a busy street in London. She calmly kept the man talking until police arrived. Loyau-Kennett hadn’t trained for this, exactly, she told ITV’s Daybreak, but said she used to be a teacher.

As the man with the butcher knife spoke, she said she thought of a school nearby that would soon release children in the middle of the gruesome scene. She said it was more important to keep talking than to worry for herself.

“Better me than the child,” Loyau-Kennett said.


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Filed under: Oklahoma • Policy • School safety • Teachers
May 22nd, 2013
10:28 AM ET

Inside a tornado-ravaged school

By Josh Levs, CNN

(CNN) - It was the end of the school day. The kids at Plaza Towers Elementary School were stuffing their backpacks, looking forward to going home, playing with friends, eating snacks.

But the tornado warnings changed that.

When the twister came barreling in Monday afternoon, terrified young students huddled together in the hallways, screaming as walls and roofs caved in. Chairs and backpacks swirled above them. The winds and blaring sounds enveloped them. Cars from the parking lot landed just inches away.

Teachers dove onto groups of kids to protect them from falling debris.

It was the biggest tornado they'd ever seen. Described as a lawn-mower blade spanning two miles, it shredded through their town.

A snapshot of courage after tornado levels school

"It was scary," student Julio Rodriguez told CNN. Teachers instructed the kids to crouch down, "and you covered your head with your hands," he demonstrated.

A first responder captured this photo at the scene of the devastated Plaza Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma.

"I had to hold on to the wall to keep myself safe because I didn't want to fly away in the tornado," one little girl told KFOR.

The 17 mile-long twister stayed on the ground for 40 minutes.

By the time it was gone, so was the school in Moore, Oklahoma. In its place was a huge pile of rubble, trapping teachers and children.

How to help

And seven students were dead.

They were in a classroom, Moore Fire Department Chief Gary Bird told CNN Wednesday.

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb told CNN Tuesday that the children were in a basement, where they drowned. But Bird said Wednesday that based on everything he's been told, "it had nothing to do with flooding."

In the tornado's wake, the school quickly became the epicenter of the tragedy in this shattered town, part of the metropolitan Oklahoma City area.

Read the full story

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Filed under: Oklahoma • School safety • Students • Teachers
May 21st, 2013
09:56 PM ET

Heroes or just doing their jobs? Teachers save lives during Oklahoma tornado

By Ed Lavandera and Dana Ford, CNN

Oklahoma City (CNN) - Second-grade teacher Tammy Glasgow walks around what's left of Briarwood Elementary, struggling to pick out of its wreckage the things that once made a school.

"This was the cafeteria."

"This is where my desk sat."

"This is my classroom door."

"That yellow wall that's standing, that's where we were," said Glasgow, pointing to a squat stack of cinder blocks.

She, like many teachers at Oklahoma City's Briarwood, helped to keep students safe when the tornado tore through Monday, killing at least 24 people in the area, but incredibly, given the state of the building, no one at Briarwood.

Their actions no doubt saved lives.

Many have called the teachers - at least one of whom literally shielded children with her body - heroes.

But Glasgow said simply: "It's just our job."

LZ Granderson: The courage of teachers

Right before the tornado hit, she hurried students into two bathrooms and a closet. There were about eights boys in the boys' bathroom, including Glasgow's son, and a dozen girls in the girls' bathroom.

She and other adults were with three children in the closet.

"Before I shut the doors, because both bathrooms had doors, I said, 'I'm going to shut these doors,' and I said, 'I love you.' The boys looked at me a little strange. (I) walked in the girls' (bathroom) and said, 'I love you' and they all said 'I love you' back.

"I just told them to pray, and then that's what we did the whole time in the closet, just prayed," said Glasgow.

The storm blasted through.

Read the full story

May 21st, 2013
02:50 PM ET

My View: The courage of teachers

LZ GrandersonBy LZ Granderson, CNN contributor

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and was a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) - Each day more than 55 million students attend the country's 130,000 schools.

Each day, parents and guardians entrust some 7 million teachers with the education of our children.

And on a normal day, that is all we expect teachers to do - teach.

But on those not-so normal days we are reminded that for six hours a day and more, five days a week, teaching is not the only thing teachers are charged with doing. On those not-so-normal days, we are reminded that teachers are also asked to be surrogate parents, protectors, heroes.

Monday was one of those not-so-normal days.

My View: Above all, teachers are in it for the kids

The nation watched in horror as a 2-mile-wide tornado with winds up to 200 mph tore through Moore, Oklahoma. As sirens blared and the ground shook, the full force of the twister hit Plaza Towers Elementary School around 3 p.m. It was full of students, young scared children who had nowhere to hide as the tornado ripped off the roof, sending debris everywhere.

"We had to pull a car out of the front hall off a teacher and I don't know what her name is, but she had three little kids underneath her," a rescuer said. "Good job teach."

Read Granderson's full column

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Filed under: Oklahoma • School safety • Teachers • Voices
April 11th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

To stop school violence, L.A. focuses on teens' mental health

In Los Angeles, a program is trying to stop school violence by addressing teens' mental health. There's no predicting violent outbursts, the team says, and it's tough to watch out for L.A.'s nearly 700,000 students - but they feel like they've reached kids who probably wouldn't have gotten help, otherwise.

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Filed under: Counselors • Mental health • Safety • School safety • Students
NRA-backed group wants gun training for school staff
Former GOP congressman Asa Hutchinson headed the National Rifle Association-backed School Safety Shield.
April 2nd, 2013
11:48 PM ET

NRA-backed group wants gun training for school staff

By Kevin Liptak, CNN

Washington (CNN) – A commission tasked by the nation's most influential gun lobby to assess school safety proposed a set of recommendations Tuesday that includes a plan to train and arm adults as a way to protect kids from shooters.

Former GOP congressman Asa Hutchinson, who headed the National Rifle Association-backed School Safety Shield, said the plan to train school personnel to carry firearms in schools made sense as a way to prevent shootings like the December massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

"Response time is critical," Hutchinson said at a press conference revealing the plan.

"If you have the firearms in the presence of someone in the school, it will reduce the response time and save lives," he said.

READ: Texas superintendent explains why some of his staffers carry guns

Hutchinson said the recommendation for school personnel to carry weapons includes the stipulation those adults undergo a 40-60 hour training program and are screened through a background check.

The entire report contains eight recommendations, including enhancing training programs for school resource officers and developing an online assessment portal for administrators to gauge their schools' security.

Read the full post on CNN's Political Ticker blog

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Filed under: Guns in school • Politics • School safety
March 29th, 2013
11:35 AM ET

Drill team keeps kids in school, off deadly streets

By Erika Clarke, CNN

(CNN) - Camden, New Jersey, is not an easy place for a kid to grow up in.Just ask 15-year-old Destinee Williams."Camden has this reputation of being dangerous because you can walk outside at 3 in the afternoon and hear gunshots," Destinee said. "Gangs and drugs are a huge deal. Kids get into gangs to feel safe so they won't get killed."

Unfortunately, Destinee has had to deal with too many killings in her young life.

"My father was murdered in Camden last year, and my cousin was murdered (last month)," she said. "In the last month, I know of at least three people getting killed. In Camden, I expect it to happen. I'm not surprised anymore."

For many people, the violence in Camden can make it feel more like a war zone than an American city, but the battle doesn't end there.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 42% of Camden's population is living below the poverty line, making it one of the poorest cities in the United States. The New Jersey Department of Education reports that nearly 90% of Camden's schools are in the bottom 5% performance-wise in the state.

About 42% of Camden's population is living below the poverty line, making it one of the poorest cities in the United States.

"For too long, the public school system in Camden has failed its children," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday, when he announced the state would be taking over the city's schools. "Each day that it gets worse, we're failing the children of Camden, we're denying them a future, we're not allowing them to reach their full potential."

Camden may seem like a city without hope, but one of its native daughters is on a mission to change its downtrodden reputation and empower its youngest residents.

Tawanda Jones started a dance team, the Camden Sophisticated Sisters Drill Team, to entice young girls to stay off the street and do something positive with their lives. Over the years, she has incorporated boys into the team and also started a drum line program.

"People perceive Camden and its kids as garbage," Jones said. "We have so many gifted kids. They want more out of life. There's just nothing in our city to do. Therefore, what happens when a child has idle time and no positive way to channel that energy? They have to find something else. And it just may turn into the dark side."

Through the drill team, Jones aims to teach kids about discipline, dedication and self-respect, things she believes are necessary to survive and thrive in this rough community and beyond.

"Whether you need it for work, you need it for school, you need discipline, period," said Jones, 40. "Drill team is good as far as structure, because you have to be precise. You have to be on point."

Jones also stresses education, as kids in the program have to keep a C average in school.

"If they get too many Cs, we put them on academic probation," Jones said. "We don't want to kick a child out because they're not doing well in school, so on my days off I go to the child's school just to correspond with the teacher. I'll just make sure that the child is doing well or (see) what we can do on our end to help that child get to where she needs to be."

Read the full story

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Filed under: Extracurricular • Girl Rising • High school • School safety
March 7th, 2013
02:20 PM ET

My View: Oberlin wrong to cancel classes after hate incidents

John S. WilsonBy John S. Wilson, Special to CNN

Editor's note: John S. Wilson is a contributing writer for Forbes, Huffington Post and Black Enterprise. He frequently writes about health and education policies and politics.  He's on Twitter at @johnwilson.

(CNN) – When I was around 12 or 13, one of just a few black students in my entire grade, a substitute teacher made inappropriate remarks about slavery. When I got home, I just knew my mother would do something about it; this was a woman who visited my school as though she had to punch a clock.

She listened, said the teacher was wrong, and that was it. No angry phone calls, no marching to the school, no request for anyone to be reprimanded or fired. I was shocked. But she told me that my school didn’t share the same values as that teacher, and she was confident the unfortunate incident was temporary but the values the school instilled were permanent.

That’s what a school’s mission is all about: permanency. Instilling character that cannot be tarnished by temporary incidents - even when very offensive – over which it has little control.

But Oberlin College in Ohio made a very poor decision this week. Classes were canceled in response to a rash of racist and anti-gay incidents aimed at students and a student’s report she had seen someone on campus dressed in a white hooded robe. (Police said they received a report of a student wearing a blanket, but couldn’t say whether the incidents were related.)

On Monday, the campus held a “Day of Solidarity,” which consisted of diversity programming, an Africana teach-in, and what Meredith Gadsby, chairwoman of the Africana Studies Department, called “positive propaganda.” If you're at a loss for exactly what that is, think a collegiate version of a “Sesame Street” marathon, minus Oscar the Grouch.

Oberlin passed up an opportunity. Instead of canceling classes, they should have continued normal business while finding ways to draw upon their incredibly strong history of diversity and inclusion.

By canceling classes and generally overreacting - let's face it, racism and baseless discriminatory scrawls on posters and walls will never go away - Oberlin is only sheltering students, instead of assisting them to overcome adversity, an action that would truly fortify their character. What example does this set for students, many of whom will soon be in the workforce? If a supervisor or co-worker offends them, who will be there then to host their day of solidarity?


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Filed under: College • Diversity • School safety • Voices
March 6th, 2013
11:30 AM ET

As classes resume, Oberlin grapples with hate messages

By CNN Staff

Oberlin, Ohio (CNN) - A day after students at Oberlin College put down their books to focus on how to respond to a spate of hate messages targeting blacks, Jews and gays on campus, classes resumed Tuesday amid tension.

The messages included graffiti with swastikas, posters containing racial slurs and other derogatory statements targeting various student communities and fliers bearing racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic language.

A student's report on Monday that she had seen someone on campus dressed like a member of the Ku Klux Klan led the school to suspend classes for the day.

"I saw someone in what seemed to be KKK paraphernalia walking on a pathway, like, a pathway that leads to South Campus," the student, Sunceray Tavler, told CNN affiliate WJW. "Just seeing that and having that sink in, this is something that's real, that actually happens."

Police said they received a report of a student wearing a blanket on his or her shoulders but could not say whether the incidents were related.

Two students have been identified as being involved in the postings from February and will be subject to college disciplinary procedures, Oberlin police said.

Oberlin President Marvin Krislov said he was not able to discuss the details of the ongoing investigation. "It is a law enforcement matter," he told CNN.

He praised Monday's campuswide focus on the matter, calling it "an educational moment." The students "feel inspired because this institution has the courage to talk about these issues and to confront concerns and that that is part of our educational mission," he said.

Read the full story

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