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Friday, Oct 24, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Fear shouldn’t be a subject for students

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Published:   |   Updated: June 25, 2014 at 06:19 AM

Even an optimist looking at the headline in Mother Trib might have had reason to pause.

The pessimist would have changed the headline, which read “56% of high schoolers feel safe,” to the more significant point of the story, which is that 44 percent of high schoolers either do not feel safe or aren’t sure.

That comes from a recent survey of 18,000 students taken by the Hillsborough County school district. The numbers were worse for middle school students, among whom only 54 percent feel safe.

The article goes on to quote a national safety specialist who brilliantly says: “A sense of security is necessary for learning at high levels.”

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No kidding. It would be my guess that learning is somewhat diminished if you are afraid someone is going to come storming into your classroom. But then, I am not a national safety specialist.

The article wasn’t too specific in defining what students fear.

However, in this world in which news as well as misinformation is as available as that so-called smartphone in your pocket, being jumpy in school or any other public gathering place is understandable.

It also is unforgivable within our school system.

No one is in favor of turning our schools into fortresses with armed teachers and classrooms isolated from the real world, where “career day” is celebrated with videos of what people do for a living rather than in-person visits from those people.

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At the same time, we have the technology and can find the money to provide real security in our schools as well as on the buses that move students around.

I’m astounded that gaggles of candidates are making the rounds before upcoming elections, and not one that I’m aware of is pounding a podium, demanding we get off our duffs and figure out a way to ensure safety in our schools as best we can.

There are plenty of other issues to be debated regarding schools, from the new Common Core approach to high-stakes testing, the decline of a comprehensive and balanced curriculum, down to what kids eat for lunch.

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But security comes first.

It is a huge and complex issue that is going to have to begin in the home with the required cooperation and involvement of parents.

The district must rethink and retool to provide safe environments in an atmosphere that encourages learning and confidence.

There were other disappointing numbers in the survey, including that less than 30 percent of middle and high school students feel they are treated with respect by their peers.

Equally troubling was that less than half of them know where to go with reports of inappropriate sexual behavior.

To me, those are examples of a serious communication gap within the schools and — at the least — a lack of leadership at some level within the system.

My guess is that not much is going to happen this summer and, unless you demand more from the school board candidates and incumbents, not much is ever going to happen.

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