In the weeks following the massacre last month of 26 people -- 20 of them young children -- at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the National Rifle Association and some conservative members of Congress have called for armed guards or police officers in public schools.
But a coalition of civil rights organizations, law enforcement and education officials are cautioning the White House against supporting proposals to put untrained armed guards or more police in schools.
The coalition -- which includes the Advancement Project, Dignity in Schools campaign, the Alliance for Educational Justice and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund -- released a report Friday that outlines problems and issues that can arise from stationing police and armed guards in schools, and offers alternatives.
"Consider the unfortunate school shooting in California yesterday," said Mustafa Sullivan, National Campaign Coordinator for the Alliance for Educational Justice, referring to Thursday's shooting at Taft Union High in Kern County. "What stopped the shooting was a teacher who cultivated a deep personal relationship with her students, not a gun."
As Vice President Joe Biden's task force on gun violence develops policy recommendations to try and reduce gun violence such as occurred at Sandy Hook elementary and a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., -- both committed by lone gunmen with multiple weapons and ammunition, school districts across the country and throughout the Bay Area are scrutinizing their safety and security plans to in an effort to beef up protect against armed intruders.
Valley Christian, a private school in San Jose, now posts an armed security guard at its elementary-middle school campus. Before, it had an armed guard only at its high school.
The school has also placed security cameras on the road leading to the school and has taken other steps to "buy time" in case an armed intruder makes it on campus.
But many districts in the East Bay are taking a longer-term look at their campuses, policies and procedures, before deciding what actions to take. The Martinez district is requiring classroom doors to be locked during the school day and plans to strengthen its anti-bullying courses.
The Berkeley district is working with a consultant to identify possible safety improvements and the West Contra Costa district is using a safety grant it received to determine areas of need. In East Contra Costa County, the Antioch, Byron, Knightsen and Oakley districts are reviewing physical campus improvements such as fences, as well as procedures to broadcast instructions throughout the school. The Mt. Diablo school board expects to review its school safety plans Monday.
The coalition said research shows armed officers are not always effective deterrents to violence and can be detrimental to a safe environment in cases where police harass or intimidate students and arrest them for minor infractions, which can contribute to a "school to prison pipeline." Instead, the coalition advocated more money for counselors and conflict resolution programs.
"It's important to note that police in schools do not necessarily increase safety, nor do they catch early indicators of mental health needs, identify root and underlying causes of violence, or use the resources of law enforcement in an effective way," said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis.
Some school board trustees in Contra Costa County, however, disagreed, saying trained police School Resource Officers contribute to the sense of safety on campuses and can be trusted confidantes for students. The officers can also make intruders think twice about barging into a school. But, they agreed that more counselors would help.
"I'm not jumping right now to say that every principal should have a gun," said Cheryl Hansen, Mt. Diablo school board president. "But a School Resource Officer and additional counseling -- certainly."
Staff writers Sharon Noguchi, Rowena Coetsee, Katy Murphy, Doug Oakley and Lisa P. White contributed to this story.
Alum Rock Union Elementary
West Contra Costa
To see the complete report: "Police in Schools are Not the Answer to the Newtown Shooting," visit http://www.advancementproject.org. Click on "National," then "Coalition Says Armed Police in Schools Wrong Answer For Stopping Gun Violence."
For more information about what Bay Area districts are doing to protect students, read the On Assignment blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.