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ACLU Issues Statement on Proposal to Keep School Safety Discussions and Plans Secret

Posted: April 04, 2013|Category: Open Government

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The ACLU of Rhode Island issued the following statement today in response to the consideration of legislation by the General Assembly that would amend current laws addressing school safety plans:

“In light of the recent tragedy at Newtown, the ACLU recognizes the state’s understandable interest in strengthening school safety. But discussions of this issue cannot be complete, thorough or optimal if they are conducted largely in secret. Parents should not be left in the dark about what schools are doing to protect their children. Unfortunately, the Governor’s proposed legislation would reverse more than a decade of transparency and shroud the school safety process in secrecy. Doing so undermines important public policy goals, is more likely to encourage the adoption of flawed safety plans, and may foster concern and distrust among parents – all without enhancing school safety.

“Under this legislation, unlike under current law, all school safety plan discussions would take place in private, closed school committee meetings, and every document produced by school safety teams would be exempt from disclosure under the open records law. Although ways to best protect students from very rare, but terrible, tragedies like Newtown are now the subject of nationwide debate, passage of this legislation would quash much of that debate in Rhode Island at the local level.

 “If the bill passes, many important questions would be decided behind closed doors without any meaningful public input. Among them: Based on state department of education standards, how well is the school district complying with school safety recommendations? What sort of training should school officials be given in order to best respond to a crisis? What methods should be used to contact parents in the event of an emergency? Will existing school programs be cut to fund new school security measures?

“Thus, in the name of security, parents will be largely left to wonder and worry exactly what schools have done to promote safety, whether they meet state recommended standards, and if not, whether anything is being done to address the problems. By withholding so much information and holding these important discussions in private, the public will have no opportunity to fully address the appropriateness of school district safety plans, or to hold officials accountable if their implementation falls short.

“The ACLU firmly believes that there is much more to be lost than gained by keeping the discussion of school safety hidden from the public and from the parents of the school children they are designed to protect. Most parents will be more secure knowing what the school is doing to protect their children, rather than being left to guess. Some documents certainly deserve confidentiality, but they – and discussions surrounding them – should be few and far between. We hope the General Assembly will give much more consideration to incorporating parents and the public into this important process instead of shutting them out.”

Read a copy of the ACLU's testimony on this proposed legislation.

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