19 January 2013

How we can make safer schools for our children

It's been a little over a month since the horrific tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  Now that classes have resumed after a winter break, parents worry a lot about their children while at school.  It's completely understandable, and I agree with you on that.

With that in mind, this is the question on parents' minds now that classes have resumed:  How can we make safer learning environments for our children at school?

First and foremost, let me tell you what is not the answer:  Turning our public schools into state penitentiaries, based on a recent St. Petersburg Times editorial on turning our public schools into fortresses.  Or closed neverworlds for that matter.  Let me expand on that.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook incident, the pro-Second Amendment, pro-right to bear arms National Rifle Association jumped onto the bandwagon and recommended that there be armed security personnel be placed in every elementary school, as the Hillsborough County School District wants to do as described in the St. Petersburg Times editorial.  Further, proposals to better enhance school security include arming faculty and administrators among other things.

Placing armed security officers and/or arming faculty and administrative staff is not the answer.  Instead, doing so would only raise the anxiety and fear quotient in our children rather than placing an emphasis on what a school is supposed to do:  Educate our children.

Another disturbing trend which I have noticed is school districts taking ownership of your children during the school day.  Back in September 2012 over Labor Day weekend I reported about school principals declaring war on your rights as a parent.  In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, it is possible that more and more school principals start turning their already severely access controlled campuses into closed neverworlds, much like what you would find in the closed neverworld of North Korea.

Two elementary schools already practice this by not allowing parents on campus to a certain extent.  One elementary school of recently is Sand Pine Elementary School in Wesley Chapel, a community north of Tampa just over the Hillsborough-Pasco county line on Interstate 75 at the northern terminus of Interstate 275.  When the 2012-2013 school year started, Sand Pine Elementary's principal, Todd Cluff, decided that students attending his school are the property of the Pasco County School District during the instructional day on campus and has placed signs at the entrance to the school letting parents know that they are no longer welcome on campus.

The only exception is if you have official business, such as a parent-teacher conference:  When you enter the school office, your governmentally issued ID will be checked and when the time comes to meet with your child's teachers, you will more than likely be given the journalist's tour of North Korea as far as your child's progress is concerned.

Have you seen the video from ParentalRights.org entitled Overruled:  Government Invasion of your Parental Rights?  I encourage you to see it for yourself, especially the second scenario regarding your children in school.  In fact, I have the YouTube-based video embedded in my blog entry on Back to School and Your Parental Rights if you would like to see it.

Another elementary school takes not allowing parents on campus to a major extreme.  That elementary school happens to be Virgil Mills Elementary School located in Ellenton in Manatee County, just east of Interstate 275's southern terminus at Interstate 75 on 69th Street East.  As I reported in several blog entries on parental rights such as this blog entry when I became aware of it on Bay News 9, Virgil Mills Elementary's principal, Mike Rio, decided that students attending his school were property of the Manatee County School District during the instructional day and instituted procedures as to how parents pick up their children at the end of the school day.  What makes this so tyrannical is that parents are not even allowed to step one foot on the campus of Virgil Mills Elementary and if parents do so, a Manatee County Sheriff's deputy is stationed - on the orders of principal Mike Rio - to declare the parent a second class citizen by handing out a trespass warning which bans the parent from anywhere on campus for six months.

Six months?  That's half a school year!  Doesn't Mike Rio have something else better to do such as educating our children in a safe learning environment rather than dangle the threat of turning parents into criminals by the mere act of having a trespass warning issued?

And yet another elementary school wants to do the same thing, and it's right here in Pinellas county, in Clearwater to be exact:  Plumb Elementary School, according to this Bay News 9 article, is making changes in the name of school security:  Severely restricting access to campus by parents, despite the ultra-secure measures already in place.  Since when did the Pinellas County School District take ownership of your children during the school day?

After all, access to public school K-12 campuses is severely controlled.  Most of the security measures are kept secret from parents and the general public, but several aspects are visible:

1.  Access to a school is restricted to only one entrance during the school day.  That entrance is the one that is closest to the school office.

2.  If you go on campus for a legitimate purpose, the office staff will ask you for a governmentally issued photo ID.  This is used to check to see if you are a convicted sex offender among other things, and the results of the check are returned in seconds of the ID swipe.

3.  School campuses are fenced in and gates - except for the gate that is closest to the school office - are kept locked during the instructional day.

And if you think access to public school K-12 campuses is indeed severely controlled, think again.  According to this St. Petersburg Times article, the Pinellas County School District is considering locks and buzzers to add to the security mix.  Yeah, turn our public schools - funded by your taxpayer money - into maximum security penitentiaries like Florida State Prison in Raiford.  All to keep raising the anxiety quotient in our children as well as their parents.  What's next inside our schools?  Detention hardware such as prison style locks, barred steel and solid steel doors?

Now the question is this:  How can we make our schools safer for our children?

Putting armed security in our schools, especially our elementary schools in the wake of Sandy Hook, is not the answer.

Arming faculty and/or administrative staff is not the answer.

Turning our public schools into armed fortresses, state penitentiaries or closed neverworlds - like the closed neverworld of North Korea - is not the answer.

State laws such as Florida's school security zone law - where you can be arrested (and charged with trespassing, thanks to Section 810.0975 of the Florida Statutes) for even going within 500 feet of a school during the school day, akin to the East German sperrzones that were part of the border between East and West Germany during the Cold War - are not the answer.

Dangling the threat of arrest for trespassing or handing out trespass warnings against parents for legitimate school related activities (such as the drop off and pick up procedures at Virgil Mills Elementary School) is not the answer.

The answer to keep our children safe at school starts right at the source:  Effective gun control at the federal level.

And we may see more effective gun control at the federal level, as President Barack Obama unveiled a plan to curb gun violence by signing a total of 23 related Executive Orders on Wednesday, 16 January 2013 among other things according to this article on Truthout.  Among a few of them are:

1.  Addressing barriers in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (the HIPAA Act) that would allow the states, such as Florida, to make information available to the National Instant Background Check system.

In Florida, this is addressed in Section 790.065 of the Florida Statutes when a person is involuntarily committed to a mental institution by order of a court.  Notice that a person that is taken into custody for mental health evaluation pursuant to the Baker Act does not constitute an involuntary commitment - there is a petition and a hearing process which must take place before the 72 hour Baker Act hold window expires.  The county Clerk of the Court submits data on persons who have been involuntary committed to a mental institution to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in an electronic format according to the statute.  President Obama's recently signed executive order would give Florida's courts a sigh of relief to report mental health commitment data without running afoul of the federal HIPAA Act.

2.  Clarifying that the federal Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors about asking patients about guns in their homes.

The federal Affordable Care Act trumps state laws to the contrary, especially Florida's law that prohibits doctors from asking patients about gun ownership as described in Section 790.338 of the Florida Statutes.  Federal law, by rights, should trump state laws of the fifty states including Florida especially when it comes to something that is the exclusive domain of the United States Government.  Besides, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that the powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution, nor prohibited to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people.  And by the way, the federal Affordable Care Act's major components have been upheld by the United States Supreme Court.

3.  Letting health care providers know that there is no federal law that prohibits reporting threats of violence to local law enforcement officials.

4.  Directing the United States Attorney General to review the categories of persons that are not allowed to have weapons and ammunition in their possession, and to close the so-called gun show loophole once and for all with the appropriate legislation passed by Congress.  It needs to be.

Just a quick rundown on the categories of persons not allowed to have a firearm in their possession:

Conviction of a felony crime.
Conviction of any domestic violence charge (misdemeanor or felony).
Under criminal charges for a felony such as a felony indictment.
Recipient of a domestic violence restraining order.
Being a fugitive from justice.
Being an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance.
Received a dishonorable discharge from the United States military.
Anyone in the United States illegally (in other words, an illegal alien).
Renounced American citizenship abroad before an American consular official.
Adjudication of mental incompetence in a court of law and commitment to an institution.
Becoming a ward of the state in a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding.

5.  Launching a safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.

6.  Asking Congress to restore the ban on military style assault weapons, which expired since 2004.

7.  More emphasis on mental health care as far as health insurance is involved.  For years mental health care has taken a back seat when it comes to such care being covered by health insurance.  With the Affordable Care Act now on the horizon, there will be more guidelines that Medicaid and the insurance exchanges created thanks to the Affordable Care Act that will have to be followed when it comes to mental health care.

8.  Close the so-called gun show loophole once and for all as mentioned earlier.

If you walk into a firearm dealer and you purchase a firearm, the dealer will collect basic identifying information about you so it can be run through the FBI's National Instant Background Check System (in Florida, this is done through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in which the NCIC (federal) and FCIC (Florida) databases are checked).  Then there is a three day waiting period imposed by law, upon receiving a successful background check, before you are allowed to take your purchase home.

However, as our current laws are on the books if you purchase a firearm at a gun show held at some civic center or auditorium, the background check and waiting period laws don't apply.  You get to take your purchase home right from the gun show.  Sound scary?

9.  Stronger enforcement of gun control laws already on the books.  Among them:  Make it a crime for anyone to purchase a gun for someone who is not allowed to have one in their possession.  This is what is called a straw purchase.

In fact, it is illegal under federal law to misrepresent the identity of the ultimate possessor of a firearm when such firearm is purchased at a firearm dealer.  Unfortunately, that federal law is too weak as it is written in the books.

Here in Florida, will Governor Rick Scott implement the proper changes we need to make to make our schools safer for our children by addressing it at the source?  Or will Florida continue to turn to the use of school security methodology that penalizes parents for lawful activities involving your children at school, at the expense of keeping your children safe?

After all, President Obama is doing everything to take America in the right direction when it comes to more effective gun control on the federal level.  And it needs to be done so that our children can learn in a safe educational environment.

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