AG panel taking on school safety | NevadaAppeal.com

AG panel taking on school safety

The topic will be school safety when the attorney general’s Teaching Tolerance Task Force meets Tuesday.

The panel headed by Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto will review a report issued last month by the National Association of Attorneys General which makes a series of recommendations for public schools and colleges designed to prevent incidents similar to what happened at Columbine or Virginia Tech.

But according to Superintendent Mary Pierczynski, Carson School District is already well along on some of the most important recommendations in that report – including the need to assess the potential threats facing schools and create a system for identifying disturbing behavior by students.

“I think all of us have recognized the need to do threat assessments,” she said. “With a lot of these kids, identifying them beforehand is the key.”

She said Dr. Eric Johnson of the Oregon Forensic Institute came to Carson City last year to teach school psychologists, deans and teachers how to identify students who may become a threat to others and to spot the students who are being abused and may become violent.

“It’s not as developed as we want it to be, but it’s something we are working on,” said Pierczynski.

“If you ask a parent what’s important to them, they say ‘that my child goes to school every day and is safe.'”

She said that’s why one of the school bond issues included money for safety, including added fencing at schools and locks on classroom doors so they can be locked from the inside in an emergency.

And she said Carson already does what the report recommends, bringing in the sheriff’s department, Carson mental health services, parole and probation among others: “It’s a multi-agency approach.”

She said every school also has emergency lockdown procedures and is directed to hold drills as though someone with a gun had entered the school.

“Teachers lock the doors and the kids huddle in a certain area of the classroom.”

She said Carson deputies have participated in some of those drills.

The district also has a strong anti-bullying program.

“We talk about bullying a lot in school. We have told kids part of the training is reporting. If you’re being picked on, tell an adult. And anymore, if a child reports to a teacher, that reporting is taken seriously.”

Some of the report’s recommendations are outside the authority of school districts. One issue raised in the report is the conflict between the need to share information about mental health issues involving students and federal laws prohibiting the sharing of that information because it is confidential. That can only be fixed by the federal government, according to the report.

But it calls on state officials to evaluate their privacy and mental health laws and remove barriers to information sharing with the schools.

It also calls for better tracking and enforcement of laws prohibiting the sale of firearms to the mentally ill and creation of an anonymous way for students to report possible threats. It says states should consider requiring creation and maintenance of emergency plans as a condition for receiving state funding and urges states to adequately fund training at schools and college campuses.

“We’ll look specifically at the recommendations and how we can get the resources we need to tackle them,” said Nicole Moon, public information officer for the attorney general’s office.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.