Parents and School Safety

It's almost Father's Day, and today we're talking about some tough parenting decisions.

Last month, a Santa Fe High School student open fired on students and school employees, killing 10 and injuring at least a dozen more. In response, Gov. Gregg Abbott of Texas set up three roundtable discussions with school administrators, law enforcement, groups promoting gun control and also groups promoting the second amendment. He also held listening sessions with victims, parents, educators, lawmakers and policy experts to help generate solutions.  And from these discussions, he came away with a list of 40 recommendations for drafting a plan to reduce school violence;  a plan that he describes as a starting point.

The Cleburne Times quoted Abbott saying, “It’s crucial, for parents to know their children are safe and for everyone on a school campus to feel safe in their learning environment. It’s a must. As a father, I understand this and will fight to make sure the legislature acts in the upcoming legislative session in January to protect our kids.”

But a real question will be whether parents will trust the efforts of politicians even when the politicians are well-intended. As a parent myself, I can respect the sincere efforts of Abbott, but I also empathize with the fear gripping many parents in this country. Some parents are seeking solutions that give them more control over safety concerns. For example, The Washington Times recently reported numerous statistics from different states tracking the surge in homeschooling as parents search for safer options for their children.

For parents, safety choices can only be based on the information available to them. Sadly, although parents can access a lot of information about schools’ standardized test scores, getting reliable information about the culture and safety of a school can be difficult. Take, for example, Brentwood High School in NY where The Washington Post recently ran an article about the violent and rampant activity of the MS-13 gang.

Five students at Brentwood High were murdered by the MS-13 gang over a 2-year span before a sixth student was rescued from abduction and murder., a common web source of information on school quality, ranks Brentwood High School as a 5 (average), but this score is entirely based on test scores. Although also includes other types of ranking systems (ex: college readiness or race/ethnicity), there is nothing included about school culture or safety.

But if a family knew a school had average test scores AND five recent murders with high gang activity, it is very likely they would consider that school unacceptable. But it is difficult to get access to information about a school’s culture or the presence of criminal gangs. As seen in a snippet from the Times story below, although schools may have a good sense of who is involved in gang activity based on gang markers and culture, there’s very little within a school structure to report gang activity that isn’t criminal.

School officials say they walk a fine line, reporting illegal activity while respecting students’ rights. “We can see a gang member coming a mile away,” said Carlos Sanchez, safety director for the Brentwood Free Union School District. “The problem is that it’s not against the law to be a gang member, even if they identify themselves as MS.”

Parents would want to know if a school had an MS-13 problem, but where would they go to get this data? 

Due to the lack of clear information about school cultures and safety,  the 74 has created maps of schools and crime data in LA and NY to empower parents to make informed decisions about schools and safety. But, sadly, this information won’t empower parents who can’t afford to move away from an unsafe school or who can’t afford to pay for a different school. So, what options do these parents have? The reality is they have very few options. But we’d like to change that.

Want to learn more about empowering parents and giving children the education options that fit their needs? Check out this video.