As the new school year begins, school boards are taking very seriously their responsibilities for ensuring students a safe and productive learning environment by improving school safety, implementing a new mental health curriculum, and optimizing resource equity across all buildings in the school district, according to the New York State School Boards Association.

"In a world that is too often unfair, school board members are determined to protect the rights of every student," said Timothy G. Kremer, New York State School Boards Association executive director.

Kremer said school boards are largely focusing on four areas this year, all of which cut across school district boundaries, racial and ethnic lines, and socio-economic conditions:

School security

School boards know that nothing is more important to parents than the safety of their children, according to the School Boards Association. Many districts throughout the state included funding for enhanced school security measures in their 2018-19 budgets. Much of that funding is for hiring school resource officers, staff training, and installing new security technology such as video surveillance, emergency notification systems and physical access controls.

The Hornell City School District added the new position of peace officer starting this year, in addition to the existing school resource officer. The peace officer will allow the district to station one of its school resource officers in the Hornell High School/Junior High School building at all times, while the other officer will move around from building to building throughout the rest of the district.

Increased security measures locally are not limited to the Hornell district. Jasper-Troupsburg's 2018-19 school budget included money for security and surveillance upgrades and improvements, including installation of new cameras and new security servers with increased hard-drive capacities for longer retention and storage.

In August, the Avoca Central School District Board of Education decided to upgrade safety and security with its allotment from the $2 billion New York State Smart Schools Bond Act. Avoca's allotment from the Smart School Bond Act is $726,321.

Mental health

Starting this school year, New York state is the first in the nation to require all elementary, middle and high schools to include instruction in mental health as part of the health education curriculum.

"Clearly, there has never been a better time to move mental health education out of the shadows and into the classroom, exactly where it belongs," Kremer said.

School boards are quickly becoming well-versed in the new requirement, leveraging partnerships to increase program capacity, and leading the way in destigmatizing the issue of mental illness in their communities.

School climate

A school’s climate affects a student’s sense of safety and acceptance — critical to the task of learning, the school boards association said. New this school year, New York’s federally-approved Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability plan requires every school to survey its students, staff and parents to measure school climate. Feedback from these surveys will reveal strengths and weaknesses. As part of this ESSA process, boards will develop a school climate mission statement, establish a community engagement team, and identify necessary resources to address needs.

Equity

As of Aug. 31, 76 school districts were required to file a new School Funding Transparency report with the New York State Division of the Budget and the State Education Department. School board members are taking a keen interest in how stakeholders react to these reports, which lay out district budget allocations for each school building on a per pupil basis. This analysis includes building-level data on student demographics, teacher experience, and per-pupil funding as well descriptions of unique circumstances that result in building-by-building variations.