- Parents shouldn’t need to wait to hear about school safety problems until they boil over into the news. And teachers deserve a direct line of communication to express their safety concerns to parents. Tweet This
- Governor-elect Youngkin can improve school safety by working for legislation to launch anonymous, open-ended surveys for teachers and students. Tweet This
Editor's Note: The fifth essay in our week-long symposium comes from Max Eden of AEI, who offers suggestions on how Gov.-elect Youngkin can help improve student safety in Virginia's public schools.
Glenn Youngkin’s campaign was turbocharged by news reports that Loudoun County school leaders falsely denied knowledge of a sexual assault in a school and enabled another alleged sexual assault by transferring the assailant to a different school. As harrowing as this Loudoun County school system failure is, it may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to school safety in Virginia.
Last month, a Washington Post ran an article titled “Back to school has brought guns, fighting, and acting out.” Videos of school fights in Virginia have gone viral, capturing national attention. Last week, a high school student brought a gun to school in Virginia Beach. The week before, an elementary student did the same in Hampton. Stress from the pandemic is partly to blame. But so, too, are the “restorative justice” disciplinary leniency policies that have been—and will be—pushed by the federal Department of Education, which pressure school administrators to sweep troubling behavior under the rug.
Parents shouldn’t need to wait to hear about school safety problems until they boil over into the news. And teachers deserve a direct line of communication to express their safety concerns to parents. Governor Youngkin could take a simple, strong step to restoring school safety by promoting legislation to empower a dedicated non-profit organization to administer, free, school safety surveys in every school, every semester.
The surveys should be simple, focused exclusively on physical safety. They must be anonymous—so staff and students feel comfortable providing honest answers. And they must provide a free-response section, so that true stories can be told to parents and the press.
Data points aren’t enough. After Virginia Beach Public Schools adopted a “restorative justice” approach to school discipline, the number of teachers and administrators who said that schools weren’t safe doubled. But that didn’t lead the district to change their new, politically correct approach to discipline. When school district leaders face pressure from the federal government to implement policies that make schools less safe, only pressure from parents can make them reconsider.
But teachers almost never have the opportunity to tell their stories unfiltered. In 2018, I spent several months searching hundreds of districts for publicly available school safety surveys. I found only a handful of districts where (thanks to teachers’ unions) teachers were able to speak anonymously to the public.
Here are some representative comments from the surveys I could find. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: “We were told that referrals would not require suspension ‘unless there was blood.’” Buffalo, NY: “Students are threatening teachers with violence and in many cases physically attacking teachers with little to no consequence.” Fresno, Cal.: “Students are being allowed to throw rocks at teachers.”
For progressive school leaders, these may be acceptable consequences of the politically correct drive to address concerns with equity in school discipline by decreasing standards. But parents will likely disagree. For parents’ voices to be heard, teachers’ and students’ voices must be heard clearly. Governor-elect Youngkin can make that happen by working for legislation to launch anonymous, open-ended surveys on school safety.
Max Eden is a Research Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
*The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.