NORWICH – Schools should be places of dignity, honor and respect, not fear and violence, according to one of the nation’s foremost experts on school safety.
That was the message Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International and author of “Weakfish,” had for school board members and administrators from across the county last week, as he addressed those gathered for the Chenango County School Board Association fall dinner.
“Michael Dorn believes that every person in this room has the incredible power to profoundly effect the lives of students,” said CCSBA Vice President Brian Brennan, a member of the Unadilla Valley Board of Education, as he introduced the internationally renowned speaker.
The dinner, held Nov. 5 at the Canasawacta Country Club in Norwich, was the third consecutive event hosted by the organization focused on bullying and school safety.
Dorn discussed the link between safety and test scores. Schools have a “moral and legal obligation to provide a reasonably safe school environment,” he said, the first steps in which are assessing safety, controlling access and providing good student supervision.
Throughout the course of his presentation, Dorn discussed horrific examples of school violence including a 1958 incident in Chicago, where one boy with a match killed 95 students and nuns at a Catholic school.
But despite these grim worst-case scenarios, Dorn called himself “an extreme optimist” when it comes to school safety in the U.S.
“Violence is not a leading cause of deaths in American schools,” he reported, explaining that 30 years ago the homicide rate was twice what it is today. “We’ve made tremendous progress.” Other countries, including the UK, have much higher homicide rates, he said.
But while schools are able to keep students safe “most of the time,” school violence does exist, as Dorn illustrated with one case study after another. And it isn’t only in inner city schools.
“Some of the best schools in America have been caught off guard,” he said, citing the Columbine tragedy as an example.
According to Dorn, who has penned 25 books on the subject, school safety and test scores are connected...