By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
Life is risky. Anything can and does happen. There are no guarantees of complete safety, good health or long life. For example, on any given day, you might walk out your front door and be flattened by a piano falling from a passing cargo airplane. Is it likely to happen? No. But it is possible, so it’s a risk. The real question is: What will be your reaction to that risk? Do you lock yourself in a bank vault all day? No. Most of us simply accept that little bit of risk and move on with life.
Granted, this is a rather silly example. But it is just this type of situation that Nevada schools, especially those in the rurals, are facing in a new state law. Senate Bill (S.B.) 287 was passed with a near unanimous vote in this year’s legislature. It started out with the commendable premise of stamping out bullying and abuse in schools. But it ends up putting tight restrictions and requirements on, of all things, school volunteers. In the end, it has effectively built a bank vault around rural schools in that off chance of falling pianos.
It is true that there may be some degree of risk, in larger urban Las Vegas schools, of predators getting through security procedures, posing as volunteers, and doing harm to children (though it is arguable whether the new law would effectively address even that risk).
But the risk of that same occurence taking place in the small rural schools of the state is minute. Small-town society is different. People know each other. School administrators in Moapa Valley know and love each student. They know each parent. And they know who belongs to whom. They also know who in the community to watch out for and who to be cautious of. Volunteers in the rurals can be managed quite capably by the local principals and office staff.
Is there a risk that a predator might make it through all of that into the school? Possibly. But it is an extremely small risk. It is so small that it is probably equivalent to that piano falling from the sky. Again, it becomes a question of an appropriate response to that risk.
So let’s talk about the bank vault in this case. The law is requiring every parent, every grandparent, every good-deed-doer that volunteers at schools to be fingerprinted, pay a fee, and undergo a criminal background check. And, right now, they must travel into the CCSD central office in Las Vegas to do it.
This is not the best way to encourage volunteering in the schools. If the sheer inconvenience of the thing isn’t off-putting enough, the insult of decent, civic-minded people being treated like criminals might be. And with the new policy allowing a free pass for volunteers to coming into schools four times per month before being subject to the background checks, it can only hurt the die-hard regulars that help at the school the most; all while doing nothing to address the real risk.
At the heart of the problem, however, is that the new law is yet another one-size-fits-all policy applied to education. It is another sweeping state law, that might sound good and righteous within the halls of the statehouse, but on the ground and in the schools, is just a terrible idea.
On the one hand, the last legislature reaffirmed its commitment to broad education reforms, the CCSD reorganization, that strives to bring education funding and decision-making down to the local level to principals and their School Operational Teams (SOT). But before the ink was dry on that, the same legislature unanimously passes nonsense like this measure, that takes away local autonomy and binds schools down under another unfunded mandate. That’s quite a mixed message, no?
But there is another contradiction that may be even more damaging. The state and federal government have enacted strict education standards and academic measures to ensure that students are keeping up. Schools are given those requirements but they haven’t been given any additional funding or tools to bring it about. The prospects of that become even worse for high-performing rural schools in the state’s most urban district. We have seen those resources syphoned off dramatically over the past couple of years from our schools.
The final saving grace for the rural schools has been a strong tradition of community support and involvement. It has been our local volunteers. Our parents care. The community wants to help its kids. And one way we do that is with a strong volunteer force present in our schools. When our schools run short of funding, staffing or anything else, our community steps up and finds a way to supply the deficit for our kids.
But nothing is sacred in the halls of government. All of a sudden some urban busy-body proposes a feel-good, but ill-conceived, bill like SB 287 that effectively locks out the greatest rural asset asset, just because they think the sky is falling!
We hope that our state legislators in Carson City will hear this one message….again! The benefits of local autonomy and control in schools are the same, whether we are talking about academic performance, school security, gender diversity or anything else. In education, one size NEVER fits all. The best decisions will always be made at the school level by the people who fully know and understand the extent of the real problems on the ground.
The principals and SOTs in the inner city can determine very well just what extra security measures are needed at their schools. When they decide what solutions will best meet their needs, they should be given full support in accomplishing their strategy. By the way, since our legislators have gotten so worked up about it, that really ought to include all the additional funding necessary to implement it.
On the other hand, rural school SOTs and principals are perfectly capable of assessing the security situations at their schools too. Their situations will be drastically different from those in the city. So their solutions to address their situations will be drastically different as well. In this case, the solution should really be commensurate with the real risk; which is different in rural schools. But the rural schools should also be given adequate resources and funding to enact their unique plans.
In either case; and in everything in between; no broad, sweeping central government mandate is needed, thank you very much! Passing another law, like SB 287, that puts a chokehold on local autonomy is nothing short of foolhardy. To do so is truly equivalent to a person spending his/her life hunkered down in a dark bank vault just to avoid the off chance of falling pianos.