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State Chiefs Join Together to Lead School Safety Steering Committee

Washington, D.C. –– The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) announced today that 12 state chiefs will lead CCSSO’s newly formed School Safety Steering Committee to work toward creating safe and supportive school environments for all students.

The initiative, formed in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, is an effort among state education chiefs to take the lead in identifying promising practices to stem the far too frequent incidences of school violence. The steering committee’s work continues to be a priority for CCSSO and its members as tragedies have occurred more recently at schools in Maryland and Texas.

The School Safety Steering Committee’s work has just begun and will determine what guidance or support CCSSO will offer to states around school safety. In addition, the steering committee also will inform how CCSSO will continue to support states in efforts to prevent violence from ever taking place by fostering safe, supportive schools that address the emotional well-being of all children.

“Our priority, and the priority of chiefs across the country, is to provide students with a high-quality, equitable education, but none of that is possible if our students and educators do not feel safe and supported in their classrooms,” said CCSSO Executive Director Carissa Moffat Miller. “By coming together, sharing lessons learned, and prioritizing this issue, state chiefs are taking the lead to tackle this issue collectively and help bring about the change our students and educators deserve.”

CCSSO’s effort to address safety in schools is grounded in CCSSO’s commitment to creating a more equitable education system for all children, which includes providing a safe and supportive school environment, access to a well-rounded curriculum, appropriate technology and regular examination of additional unmet needs for all children.

CCSSO’s School Safety Steering Committee will identify, share and explore state-based policies and practices on an array of school safety issues—from the security of facilities to provision of mental health and counseling services to the integration of instruction that addresses students’ social, personal and emotional needs. Resources of this kind will be shared in a repository that will permit the sharing of promising practices among state leaders. In addition, the School Safety Steering Committee will guide CCSSO in developing additional resources on ways in which state education agencies can work with stakeholders and communities to create safer, more supportive school environments for all children.

Throughout its work on school safety, CCSSO is committed to engaging external partner organizations at the national level in different ways to ensure they support and inform the work of the steering committee and CCSSO.

Here are the members of CCSSO’s School Safety Steering Committee:
• Elsie Arntzen, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Montana
• Jillian Balow, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Wyoming
• Brenda Cassellius, Commissioner of Education, Minnesota
• Tony Dearman, Director, Bureau of Indian Education
• Michael Johnson, Commissioner of Education and Early Development, Alaska
• Christina Kishimoto, Superintendent of Education, Hawaii
• Lamont Repollet, Commissioner of Education, New Jersey
• Pedro Rivera, Secretary of Education, Pennsylvania
• Karen Salmon, State Superintendent of Schools, Maryland
• Pam Stewart, Commissioner of Education, Florida
• Dianna Wentzell, Commissioner of Education, Connecticut
• Ryan Wise, Director of Education, Iowa

Alaska Commissioner of Education and Early Development Michael Johnson:
“I am honored to represent Alaska’s students on the CCSSO School Safety Steering Committee. Drawing upon our recent efforts to strengthen school safety and student well-being, I will work with other state leaders to learn best practices and apply them in partnership with Alaska’s families and communities. Parents’ expectation that we provide their children with an excellent education every day is superseded only by their expectation that we will keep their children safe while they are at school.”

Bureau of Indian Education Director Tony L. Dearman:
“I am honored to serve on CCSSO’s School Safety Steering Committee as states look to share best practices and exchange ideas that will work to increase the safety of the students we serve. BIE provides services to nearly 48,000 students in 183 bureau-funded elementary schools, secondary schools, dormitories and two postsecondary institutions. Schools serving Indian Country have unique obstacles, such as geographical isolation that limit access to law enforcement and mental and behavioral health services. As the Steering Committee’s work progresses, I look forward to increasing awareness of our unique challenges and sharing and implementing best practices that can provide the holistic supports our students need to succeed in a safe learning environment.”

Connecticut Commissioner of Education Dianna R. Wentzell:
“As a lifelong educator, I know that we need to take a well-rounded, comprehensive approach to fostering a positive climate in our schools in which students and staff feel ready to learn and teach, and—above all—safe and secure. We can achieve this through a number of measures such as utilizing school-based health and wellness centers that support the social emotional well-being of students and making smart investments in infrastructure upgrades that ensure schools remain welcoming places and not fortresses. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Steering Committee to shift the national focus on school safety to where it belongs: increased social-emotional learning, greater access to mental health services and a commitment to restorative practices.”

Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart:
“I am outraged and grief-stricken by the tragic events taking place in our schools. As Florida and the nation continue to recover from these senseless acts of violence, I am committed to ensuring all students and educators have a safe and positive school environment in which to work and learn. I look forward to working with the School Safety Steering Committee on real solutions to make sure these tragedies never happen again.”

Hawaii Superintendent of Education Christina Kishimoto:
“Creating safe and secure learning environments are top priorities for schools nationwide and this safety committee will bring states together to share best practices. Leaders across states and agencies must work together to address community and family needs that our students are struggling with by providing supportive and responsive learning communities.”

Iowa Director of Education Ryan Wise:
“State chiefs help keep students safe by supporting the schools that serve them. Iowa recently built upon a solid foundation of support and resources with a renewed focus on children’s mental health and by ensuring high-quality emergency plans in every school. I look forward to sharing our state’s approach and learning from others through this important work.”

Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon:
“Student safety is of paramount concern to all of us. The safety of our children is our core value as a society and the foundation for learning in our schools.”

Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius:
“Young people across the country and in Minnesota are speaking out and leading us to greater accountability so our schools are places they don’t fear, but places in which they thrive. I’m eager to join my fellow state chiefs and find common sense solutions to this extremely urgent and important issue.”

Montana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen:
“Our students must feel safe in school. With Montana’s rural nature, we know that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to school safety, however, it is critical that we come together to promote new ideas that could help our communities be better prepared to prevent and respond to tragedies. I am honored to join my fellow chief state school officers in starting this important work.”

New Jersey Commissioner of Education Lamont O. Repollet:
“I am proud to serve on CCSSO’s School Safety Steering Committee. This is a matter of the utmost priority to all schools nationwide. By working collaboratively, we can identify best practices and leverage the necessary resources to provide children with safe and inviting learning environments.”

Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera:
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to ensuring school safety, but as educators and leaders, we need to take a comprehensive look at the measures schools can thoughtfully implement to improve the culture in their hallways, classrooms and athletic fields where everyone feels valued, and every student has their social and emotional needs met.”

Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow:
“School safety and security is a complex issue, and it is my hope that we can shift the national narrative from a debate centered on gun violence to a more comprehensive discussion about preparedness, prevention and student well-being. Keeping students safe and making them feel supported is our number one priority as educators—and when we come together on a national level, we can demand that greater dialogue. We can support education agencies on both the state and local level to make them aware of the resources already available to help meet best practices and expectations on this very pressing issue. There is more to do and I look forward to the important work ahead.”

Visit www.ccsso.org/topics/school-safety to learn more about work currently underway in states.

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The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, the Bureau of Indian Education, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress and the public.


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