2000-12-02 / Columnists

Chatting With Chapey

My mother, Dr. Geraldine D. Chapey, member of the New York State Board of Regents, and I recently met with Lieutenant Governor Mary Donohue to discuss the very important issue of school safety.

Lt. Governor Mary Donohue began her professional career as a teacher. For 10 years she served the children of our state as a concerned and dedicated teacher who worked to help each child achieve their potential. This 10-year teaching commitment gives her an in-depth insight into the needs of our children and our schools.

As lieutenant governor, Mary Donohue is in a strong position to use the information and knowledge that she has gained as a parent and teacher to steer our state to effectively deal with educational issues. Mary Donohue chaired the NYS Task Force on "Safer Schools for the 21st Century: A Common Sense Approach to Keep New York's Students and Schools Safe".  She was appointed to chair this task force by Governor George Pataki.

Mary Donohue clearly states that New York's most precious resource is its children.  She sincerely wants our young people to be healthy, to have the opportunity to learn and grow to be prosperous, responsible adults. According to the lieutenant governor a safe school environment gives our children the chance to thrive and reach their fullest potential.  She also
stresses that parents have a right to peace of mind that their children are
safe and secure in the school environment.

The lieutenant governor chose people from a wide range of professions to serve on the task force so that the issue could be viewed from many different perspectives.  By having input from various groups she felt that it would produce a well-rounded working document that would encompass all areas of school safety.  As a former teacher she recognized the importance of including representatives from the entire education community including teachers, administrators, students, parents and community-based providers. She opened the committee to professionals in the fields of criminal justice, mental health and business. She invited elected officials and community leaders to address the committee.  The primary aim was to focus on establishing the most useful tools to ensure a safer environment in all of our school settings.

The committee started with the premise that teachers want to teach and students want to learn. Testimony at the committee hearings reinforced the fact that the vast number of children attending our schools is "caring, honest and hard-working." It was also noted that the students understood that each individual in the school must act in a responsible manner. It was clear that they wanted to achieve the goal of helping their schoolmates to achieve a positive working and learning environment.

Another aim of this committee was to establish statewide procedures to accurately record the number of incidents and the level of violence in any
particular school.  Prior to the formation of this task force New York State
did not have in place one uniform reporting procedure. Since this data was absent the committee reviewed the 1997 Youth Risk Behavior Study to determine the level of school violence reported.  This report looks at issues such as student bringing weapons to school, types of victimization in a school setting and other key issues.  On the national level, the Center for School Violence has gathered statistics regarding procedures, which are currently in place across the country to track school violence incidents.  This analysis was the result of President Clinton's initiative in calling for the "creation of an annual report card on school violence."

The task force recommended 24 steps to achieve school safety. It emphasized that school districts should establish school safety teams in order to produce a Comprehensive School Safety Plan, which would outline emergence response procedures. They are looking to all members of the school community to have a shared commitment to insuring the safety of children.  

Once the plan is in place it should be continually updated, monitored and evaluated.

One important outcome of the task force is the requirement that all future new teachers will be required to take a course on how to deal with school violence and how to spot it. This focus on building a common goal of working for school safety is very important.

 Lieutenant Governor Mary Donohue stresses the fact that our children should learn civility, character and citizenship. Respect for teachers and fellow students are a key to ensuring safety in our schools. We must have children learn to appreciate their similarities and their differences.

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