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School safety hinges on political balance

Nebraska Department of Education

Sandy Hook Promise advocates regulating guns in order to achieve school safety, while the state of Nebraska separates the issues of gun laws and school safety.

Nebraska State Sen. John Cavanaugh, who represents District 9, encompassing Kearney and Grand Island, explained in an interview with Titan Legacy how he sees the issues coincide. 

“If we only focus on decreasing regulation on guns, that is not a way to focus on school safety,” Cavanaugh said. “Making sure that guns are not in the hands of people who are going to use them inappropriately, or who are going to use them to perpetrate mass shooting events is the problem.” 

In order to avoid events like a school shooting, progress is being made in Nebraska to fortify schools.

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Many of the efforts made by school officials in Nebraska to harden their buildings were prompted by Omaha shootings in 2007 at Von Maur department store and 2011 at Millard South High School.

By taking a more preventative and preparedness approach, Nebraska is attempting to balance keeping schools secure while not taking away citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

In regards to how Nebraska can keep a focus on school safety when considering new gun laws, Cavanaugh said there was still work to be done.

“The laws that we have passed in recent years are only going to increase the number of guns out there, and the number of people who have guns,” Cavanaugh said. “We need to find ways where we can constrain that, so that we don’t have these tragedies.” 

With an issue as controversial as gun control, efforts have to be made to avoid polarizing the beliefs of those in disagreement. 

Government teacher Raymond Keller said, in order to achieve this, people must get out of their bubbles and spend time around others  who think differently than they do.

“Listen to what people are saying, and listen to where they’re coming from,” Keller said. “We can have disagreements about this, but we’re still Americans, and we still want the best for our country – no matter what side of the issue you’re on.”

Even for those too young to vote, former State Sen. Adam Morfeld, who represented District 46, which includes the state capital, said there were still options for students concerned with school safety looking to engage in political decisionmaking. 

Morfeld suggested: “Showing up at hearings, contacting their legislator and then talking to their parents and family members and friends who can vote – and asking them to make it a priority.” 

Getting involved politically doesn’t just mean voting. 

“I think there’s a fallacy that voting is the only thing that you can do to make a difference,” Keller said. “Voting is very important, but it’s more what you do besides that voting. Are you engaged in your community? Do you communicate with people, and do you talk about issues?” 

Although lacking the gun laws that the Sandy Hook Promise foundation advocates for, the Nebraska Legislature recognized the importance of school safety and security in 2014 by passing Nebraska State Statute 79-2,144(2). 

This legislation required the commissioner of education to appoint a school security director who, among other duties, must recommend minimum school security standards to the State Board of Education.

Jolene Palmer, Nebraska Department of Education school safety and security director, works with schools to help them understand what is advised to enhance their safety and security.

Palmer was quoted in the Summer 2022 issue of NCSA, a publication of the Nebraska Council of School Administrators, sharing strategies to keep schools safe. 

“One of the things we try to emphasize is that safety and security is everyone’s job – not just the administrators. Everybody is a part of school safety,” Palmer was quoted as saying.  

Palmer’s advice emphasized what she called Threat Assessment. 

“In almost every school shooting there have been multiple warning signs displayed by the killer. They were either missed or ignored,” Palmer told NCSA. “Threat Assessment helps to identify and inform school officials about those warning signs.”

Palmer also promoted the Safe2HelpNE Report Line as a means for students and other concerned citizens to anonymously report on potentially dangerous situations.The Nebraska Legislature has made it possible for all schools (public and nonpublic) in Nebraska to participate in Safe2HelpNE at no cost, and its suicide hotline number, 833-980-7233, is displayed alongside students’ digital ID’s in the PLC Schools app. 

“Safe2Help is the missing piece of prevention,” Palmer told NCSA, “because we need to be able to give students a voice.” 

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