Let’s Develop A New Standard For School Security
contributed by Jeff Green
This post has been updated and republished in light of the recent shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida
As a former elementary principal and a father, December 14, 2012 had more than a great impact on me.
While I was in my office on that cold and cloudy day, I learned of the Sandy Hook tragedy that took the lives of 20 students and six staff members. Instantly, I, like most parents, thought of my own kids and worried about their safety. I had that luxury. The families of those who lost their lives did not.
I thought of the law enforcement officers and EMTs and how their lives would forever be changed by what they saw. The shooting was a tragedy far beyond 26 deaths. I sat in my office as the gray sky turned black analyzing our school safety plan. As a principal of my own school, I looked at our amazing building and started to see it differently.
I didn’t see the all of the windows surrounding our cafeteria as a great way to connect to the outside; I saw it as an easy way for someone to shoot into my building.
I didn’t see our entry way that forced visitors into the office before accessing the school as a great safety measure; I saw our entry way as a funnel to make our secretaries the first target and slow down or eliminate our ability to inform staff of the crisis through our intercom.
I didn’t see our colorful hallways as a bright and open connection to student learning; I saw them as an incredibly easy walk way to access all of our students.
For the first time as a father and principal, I felt helpless.
Schools Changed For Fire Safety—Why Not Gun Safety?
I was afraid I couldn’t protect my students. I was left with two choices: do nothing or do something. I chose the latter. I started to research school tragedies. I didn’t just focus on shootings or violent events, I looked at fires, storms, freak accidents – anything I could find. Some things really stood out. Incredibly, there has not been a student death in a school fire since December 1958. Why? Because we changed.
We changed the materials schools were constructed from. We required alarms and suppression systems. We required more exits and fire drills. Lives were saved because we changed. Because of student deaths from heart issues, many schools now have AEDs. We now have the ability to perform incredible medical interventions once only available at hospitals from trained doctors. We changed and now we are saving lives.
Since Columbine, law enforcement has changed. They changed how they respond to a crisis at a school. They no longer wait for a large team to assemble before going in. In many cases, the first officer on the scene goes in with or without backup. They have changed and lives are being saved. School staff are still trying to figure out how and what to change. They are working to keep our kids safe and not lose sight of the purpose of education.
A lot of money is being spent on the perimeter of the building and upgrading camera systems. Useful yes, but not a change that will save lives.
Mental Health Communication
Schools need to coordinate with and be allowed to share information and support mental health services in schools and homes. Schools need to treat the issues before a tragedy, not after. We also need to protect our students where they are most vulnerable, in the school itself.
Aggressively Vetting Threats
Adam Lanza (the teenage shooter at Sandy Hook) was an anomaly. He was not connected to Sandy Hook anymore. That is rare for an active shooter situation. The more likely threat to our children will come from within. Someone who is supposed to be there–someone we let in. That is something new–another factor to adjust for in the ongoing effort to protect our students.
Run, Hide, or Fight
After the shooting, I changed. I left my position as principal at the end of my contract, specifically I left to help find a better way to protect students. My own kids have changed. I teach them to look for exits. I give them scenarios like, “If a bad guy comes through that door what would you do?” My kids know to run, to hide or if no other options exist, to fight.
Let’s Create A New Standard
This isn’t an article about how exactly what should be done, but rather that something has to be done, and that starts not with piecemeal, knee-jerk responses, but rethinking school security altogether.
Lives have certainly been changed from that tragedy that fell on Dec. 14, 2012 and in countless shootings since. I had to learn to accept that, at the time, there was little I could’ve done differently. The tragedy changed changed me, and education as a whole. It would be a huge dishonor to those who died if we, as an industry, did not change in response by becoming more serious about how we protect the students in our care.
This is a call to not simply respond with new policies, but to create a new standard for school security.
Jeff is a former school principal and current Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas, and founder of Safe Defend, a modern protection system for schools; Let’s Develop A New Standard For School Security; image attribution flickr user kateterhaar