Threats lead to backpack ban

After several bomb threats, a New York high school has banned backpacks and sealed lockers. For the last two weeks of the school year, students at Wantagh High School will “carry their books and belongings in plastic bags, sign in and out to use the bathroom and submit to searches when entering the building,” reports Fox News.

One message on a restroom wall said: “Blowing The Skool [sic] up today no joke I’ve had it.”

More schools nationwide are banning backpacks and removing lockers in hopes of controlling drug and weapons.

“If a school is doing this in response to some sort of threat, it’s just window dressing to create a visual cue that there is a perception of increased safety,” said Ken Trump, a school safety and security expert. “It’s something that makes people feel safe, but it actually doesn’t make them safer.”

Why teens drop out — and come back

Abusive or absent parents, unsafe schools, gangs, homelessness and teen pregnancy make school a low priority for some high school students, concludes a GradNation report, Don’t Call Them Dropouts. Many of the “interrupted-enrollment students” interviewed in 16 cities said “nobody cared” if they stayed in school.

A “caring connection” with an adult who can help with problem solving could keep many of these teens on track, the report said. It also recommended “fewer exit ramps” from school and easier re-entry.

Obama urges school safety, mental health grants

In addition to various gun control measures, President Obama wants to fund school safety and mental health initiatives in response to the Sandy Hook massacre, reports Ed Week.

A new, $150 million Comprehensive School Safety Program would fund 1,000 additional school resource officers (guards), psychologists, social workers and counselors.  Another $30 million would help school districts develop emergency plans.

Obama wants $50 million to help 8,000 schools “put in place new strategies to improve school climate and discipline, such as consistent rules and rewards for good behavior,” reports Ed Week.

The mental health package would improve young people’s access to mental health services. Also:

 $15 million to help teachers and other adults who work with youth provide “Mental Health First Aid,” enabling them to identify students with mental health problems early and steer them toward treatment;

$40 million to help districts work with law enforcement and other local agencies to coordinate services for students who demonstrate need;

$25 million to finance new, state-based strategies to identify individuals ages 16 to 25 with mental health and substance abuse issues and get them the care they need.

$25 million to help schools offer mental health services aimed at combating trauma, anxiety, and bolstering conflict resolution; and,

$50 million in new money to train social workers, counselors, psychologists and other mental health professionals.

Before Newtown, Obama proposed eliminating grants designated for school counselors and nearly $300 million aimed at school safety, notes Ed Week. Now the administration is back to creating little pots of federal money for specific uses.

My daughter interned with the California Education Department’s office on preventing school violence two years after the Columbine massacre. She created a web site showing grants districts could seek to fund various anti-violence programs. When that was done, she was asked to help districts evaluate the various programs by posting links to research on their effectiveness. There was no such research. Perhaps we’re wiser now on what works for troubled kids.

Obama’s proposals — “well-intentioned and largely symbolic” — could undermine instruction by wasting time, energy and money preparing for a exceptionally unlikely event, writes Rick Hess.

The president’s proposed “mental health first aid” training grant works out to $150 per school.

. . . it’s likely educators will get a few hours of desultory training, which will be just enough to waste their time without making a difference. Or, if they actually get the training and support they need to do this well (with the $150 per school!), it’ll distract from training in their core work of preparing instruction, crafting assessments, monitoring student learning, and so forth.

An array of federal grants create “extra paperwork, meetings, and opportunities for small-dollar consultants,” writes Hess.

Schools are rethinking zero tolerance

More schools are rethinking zero tolerance policies, reports the Washington Post.

In Delaware, for example, zero-tolerance cases were a repeated issue in the Christina School District, where a 6-year-old with a camping utensil that included a knife was suspended in 2009. Discipline procedures were revamped last year, giving administrators the discretion to consider a student’s intent and grade, as well as the risk of harm. Out-of-school suspensions in the state’s largest school system fell by one-third in a year.

Researchers have found no evidence that zero-tolerance policies keep schools safer, according to a 2008 article in the American Psychological Association journal.

Discretion! What a radical idea! Maybe that 12-year girl with a couple of Advil isn’t a drug dealer in the making.

As Instapundit puts it: About freaking time.