Safe Schools Start With Collaboration
School safety is not a new issue, but recent events have brought into sharp focus the need for schools, law enforcement and the community to work together to provide consistently safe environments for learning and to be prepared in the event of an emergency or crisis.
In 2008, the Lehigh County District Attorney’s office created the Safe Schools Task Force to address the increasing number of safety issues school administrators must address and acquaint them with available resources through our office, county departments and agencies. Through the task force, we share information to proactively prevent problems before they occur. To that end, regular meetings bring together school administrators and staff, school resource officers (SRO’s) and local law enforcement to enhance understanding and communication.
Meetings have covered a variety of topics. Drug and alcohol abuse, including the opioid and heroin epidemics, are discussed, giving those who work in schools specifics of the problem in Lehigh County, ways to combat it and actions that are being taken by law enforcement to deal with the issue. Statistics and strategies from the Department of Human Services’ Drug and Alcohol staff are provided so schools can take action.
Facts about gangs and gang-related violence in Lehigh County help schools understand the scope of the problem, where and how it is occurring, and how the District Attorney’s staff addresses gang and gang-related cases. This work helps schools across the county ensure a safe environment for all students.
Information about presentations which the District Attorney’s office can provide to schools, for example on the topic of Sexting, is dispensed to administrators and school resource officers. Resources available through Lehigh County Human Services is shared, too.
An important conversation we also have addresses how the legal system works and is carried out when dealing with juvenile offenders. This includes not only how members of the District Attorney’s legal staff prosecute juvenile offenders, but also how Juvenile Probation handles these individuals once they are sentenced.
Just as we share information with the schools, task force members share information with us. Their input and insights into the very real challenges they must address in daily school life keeps us current on concerning trends and engaged with lines of communication open.
Solutions take shape when people have access to information, and they grow most successfully as a result of collaborative efforts. In the case of school safety, accomplishment is measured one productive and peaceful day of learning at a time. To the credit of all of our members, we continue our work together to ensure county schools know more about law enforcement’s role and resources, and we continue to listen to the needs of our county schools and the issues confronting them.
Written by Jim Martin, District Attorney of Lehigh County. For more information on the Lehigh County Safe Schools Task Force, please contact Meg Wieand at firstname.lastname@example.org or (610)782-3230.