No One Answer

In one book on bullying, the author maintains that if the concepts in his book are utilized, a safe school environment will be created and all issues of school violence will be addressed. The author of another book on bullying recently spoke at a conference on school safety and maintained a similar stance. Both authors are critical of law enforcement officers assigned to schools and other control measures, such as security cameras and student identification cards. Both authors maintain that by focusing on the issue of bullying, school violence will end.

In a recent incident in a Northeastern state, a student rode the bus to school with a loaded shotgun. He walked into an area that was filled with students and pulled the weapon. Fortunately, a massacre did not occur because the student changed his mind. Media accounts report that the school had made extraordinary efforts to combat bullying — a consultant had been hired, students and staff had been extensively educated on bullying and a bullying prevention program had been implemented. Yet, the student indicated that he had been bullied severely at school, and news reports maintained that others witnessed such incidents.

This is another example showing how complex the youth-violence problems facing schools have become. It also shows that there are no easy and simple solutions. Bullying is a critical problem in many schools. In fact, it is one of the most pressing issues, but it is far from the only one.

There is no simple or single approach to maintaining a safe school environment. The marketplace is filled with those who offer a wide variety of school safety wares that they claim will make our schools safe places. They offer consulting services, books, videos, security products, software programs and a number of other“solutions” that we can buy to make our children safe. While individual products and services are often viable and valuable components, school administrators should be very cautious when approached by those who offer a solution to the school violence problem.

Leading authorities in school safety advocate a comprehensive community-based approach, rather than relying on limited components. Experience indicates that a broad-based, collaborative effort is much more effective than reliance on a few individual strategies.

School safety is not a product; it is a process. There is no solution to the problem, only strategies to address it. Modern schools are faced with complex issues when it comes to school safety — youth gangs, emotionally unbalanced parents and visitors, special education students with violent behavior disorders, drug activity and child abuse, just to name a few. Add to that a student who feels bullied or persecuted, and plans to commit an act of weapons violence, and you can see why this issue must be addressed in a serious manner.

One of my major work responsibilities is to provide free technical assistance to public and private schools in my state. I also handle technical assistance requests from around the nation and overseas. To be able to provide assistance, I regularly test, review and evaluate products and services relating to school safety. I have evaluated metal detectors, x-ray machines, crime-tracking software programs, weapons systems for law enforcement, mock-crisis exercises, threat assessment services and many other products and services.

There are some exceptional products and services available to schools as useful components of a safe school strategy. There are also those that are of poor quality, and in some cases, even counterproductive to a safe school environment. Above all, I have seen that no one product or service comes close to being“THE solution.”

Those who are still convinced that we can provide a safe school environment by reliance on singular approaches, or by using only two or three strategies, may be rolling the dice with the safety of children at stake. Those who are still behind the times on examining proven and critical components, such as law enforcement partnerships, will continue to allow children to be victimized through their resistance to change. I challenge everyone who is a stakeholder in the safety of our schools periodically to review what they have in place. It is also important to re-examine our cherished beliefs and philosophies to make sure that they are still in line with our changing society. If the children are foremost on our minds, we can make the effort to do so. School safety is not easy in today’s troubled world, but it is a worthwhile goal.

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at