Goldberg's Perspective: School Security, What Can Be Done?

Board of Education member Brian Goldberg wants more resources for training parents, teachers and staff to identify symptoms of mental illness.

The following has been published with permission from Beverly Hills Unified School District Board of Education President Brian Goldberg and comes from his newsletter "Goldberg's Perspective." 

School Security: Can Lawmakers Prevent Mass Shootings?

The simple answer is no. They can help reduce the potential and number, but we cannot legislate our way out of this situation. Right now, the nation is in shock and disbelief. Many, like me, are angry and want our government to do more to prevent a tragedy like this from happening in the future. We have national outpouring of grief and disbelief, vows and commitments from both Republicans and Democrats to work to solve the problem, lots of photo opportunities, lots of political rhetoric, and lots of symbolic gestures to make us feel like the problem is being addressed. We continue to play politics with gun control, as if that will solve the problem of mass shootings by students against students. Within a few days, weeks, or months, we will have moved on and nothing will have been done to address the root cause. We are quick to treat the symptoms, but not willing to treat the underlying disease.

The disease in this case is Mental Illness, which often leads to feelings of abandonment and bullying for students who suffer from this disease. As parents, we often do not know or ignore the signs because nobody wants to admit to a problem that has no cure and has a social stigma attached to it. Let me be clear: not every mass shooter is mentally ill or has been bullied, but we have seen in the most recent as well as high profile cases that the shooters suffered from mental illness and had been the victims of bullying. Unless we are willing to invest resources into training parents, teachers and staff to identify symptoms of mental illness, and provide help for those suffering, I fear we will not be able to prevent a future mass shooting.

As a district, we have seen more and more underfunded or unfunded mandates from the state and federal government to provide services for mentally ill students. We simply do not have the resources to provide the necessary training and intervention that must occur to help these children. The state and federal government have shown an inability to get their financial house in order and continue to dump their problems on local school districts who have limited ability to levy taxes and no ability to charge fees.

Beverly Hills Unified School District can use our $334 million bond to make our campuses more secure, but there is nothing we can do that will guarantee security.

The most prudent steps we can take as a district are to limit access to one controlled entry for each of our campuses and place armed guards with metal detectors at that one entrance. I will remind us all that Sandy Hook Elementary had what we would consider state of the art security in place and the shooter was able to breach that security. What could have made a difference was an armed guard at the entrance, but that would require that no other entrance to the campus could be accessed. This is unrealistic if we hope to comply with fire codes and the intended uses of our buildings for educational and community use.

Having written the above I want to share what steps we have and continue to take to ensure the wellbeing of all our students by sharing with you the message that was :

Dear Parents/Guardians:

I am writing you in response to the tragic events that occurred in a Connecticut elementary school this morning.  An adult shooter entered the school and it is reported that there are multiple deaths and injuries.  Our hearts go out to the members of that school community and to all of us who devote our lives to loving and raising children.

Some parents have already contacted our schools about this event.  The natural response for all of us is, "Could something like this happen in our schools?"  While we all know thatthere are no guarantees, the safety and welfare of our students and staff is always our highest priority.

Here in BHUSD, we continually work to maximize student and employee safety in our schools.  We do this by:

  • Maintaining excellent relationships with the police and fire departments and city officials in our city.  They always provide outstanding rapid response service whenever called.
  • Regularly practicing school wide drills, including lockdown drills, to prepare forworst case scenarios. The specifics of these drills are embedded in each school's safety plan.
  • Maintaining an emergency communication system that we use to connect rapidly with our parents by phone or email.

As a parent of four teenagers, I, like you, will address this issue at home tonight with my children. Experts advise us to do the following:

  • Talk to your children.  Bad things do happen, but there are many people in our schools and our community working to keep everyone safe. 
  • Limit exposure to the news.  Video footage will be shown throughout the next few days and weeks, and we must monitor carefully.
  • Try to keep a sense of normalcy in your children's lives.
  • Look for signs of anxiety, and if you see them, let us know and we will work with you to address your child's needs.
  • It's our job as parents to continue monitoring and listening to our children.

In times like these, we are reminded that every single adult in our school community contributes to our students' safety and well-being.  Thank you for caring, loving and doing all you do for the children in Beverly Hills. 

Most Sincerely, 

Dr. Gary W. Woods
Superintendent of Schools

Call to Action:

Now is the time to hold our elected officials' feet to the fire. We cannot let them off the hook until they take meaningful action to address the underlying causes of these tragedies. They need to provide the resources to every school in America to train staff and parents to identify students struggling with mental illness and help families struggling with this disease pay for the care these children need. In addition, we need help in creating a zero tolerance of bullying of any students in our schools and communities.

We need the parents of bullies to understand that they are part of the problem and not dismiss bullying. We need to train the victims on how to stand up to bullies and defend themselves.

We need to train the bystanders who watch the bullying take place to be advocates and stand up for others because it is the right thing to do. We need to train all staff that when they see children intentionally being mean to other students or bullying other students to use that as a teachable moment and step in and address the behavior in the moment to have maximum impact.

We will never know how many mass shootings we can prevent by addressing these issues, but if we prevent one shooting, it will be money well spent. I implore you to write your state legislators (California Legislators); the governor (Governor); members of Congress (Congress) and the President (President) and demand that they do more than speak at funerals, pay condolences, and use this tragedy to promote narrow political goals. Demand they actually do something. Those actions include reprioritizing spending and provide every school district in America with the resources necessary to address mental illness and bullying in our schools. If we do that, we will honor the memories of those that were lost in this tragedy.

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