Monday, December 17, 2012

School Safety

Following the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the news is an abundance of stories about the tragedy that ensued the traumatic aftermath it left it behind.  But, if there is one thing this tragic event has done, it has got everyone talking.  The news and social media are abuzz with discussions and debates regarding gun control, access to mental health treatment, and school safety throughout our country.

Leaving political agendas aside, if there is ever a time to institute change, that time would be now.  Short of protesting and writing letters to our congressmen, there isn't much that we can do to bring about federal change in regards to gun control and health care.  However, as parents, teachers, and first responders, we have the ability to ensure that the places we work and send our children to are safe.  To do this, parents and first responders need to work hand-in-hand with the administrators of the schools in their districts.  Schools across the country are asking for additional police presence on their campuses.  Lets go a step further, and make sure they are receiving the training that they need as well.

Take for example this interesting fact.  Schools throughout the nation practice two to four mandatory fire drills per school year.  This is done as a training and precautionary measure to ensure that children will be safe in the event there is a school fire.  However, not a single child has died in a school fire for over half a century!

Now look at deaths from school/campus shootings.  In the last twenty years they have claimed the lives of a couple hundred children and faculty.  This was the third school shooting in 2012 alone.  However, safety drills for incidents like school shootings are not mandatory nationwide (my own child informed me she hasn't done a safety drill in almost two years).  Yes, they are inherently different dangers.  A fire involves removing yourself from the school, while a school shooting involves securing yourself in a safe location.  Although we might not be able to expect statistics that will rival the zero-death-toll of school fires, shouldn't we be giving our students and teachers the training and adequate tools to limit these numbers as low as possible?

Police departments across the country have scaled back their manpower due to budget cuts, but this is an area where every department should be able to spare a few man hours to have a meeting with school administrators to set up a plan.  What should that plan entail?

  • Monitor School Access - Most schools have implemented buzzers that are required to allow persons into the building after the school day begins.  In the case of Sandy Hook this did not keep the shooter out; however, it did significantly slow his entry and alerted a great deal of staff to his presence.  An alert that removed several children from the path of the shooter.  
  • Monitoring of At-Risk Kids - School shooters tend to fit the same psychological profile.  Schools should be aware of kids that meet these behaviors, and efforts should be made to ensure their social and psychological health is progressing along a positive route.  Some schools have implemented organizations and newsletters to join together kids that feel as though they are outcasts from their peers.
  • Student Training - School shooters most often go through an extensive planning phase and will often hint at (or outright announce) their upcoming intentions.  With kids so frivolously posting information on social media, everyone needs to be aware of the lives they could save just by speaking up about something they read online or overheard in the hall.  It might be nothing, but better to be safe than sorry.  Just yesterday police in Tennessee arrested a teen who had expressed on Facebook that he wanted to "go on a rampage like Sandy Hook".  Upon receiving a search warrant, police found multiple guns in his possession.  
  • Unadilla Valley Central School Mock Shooter Drill
  • Have Drills - It's not enough to tell students and teachers what to do when an incident like this occurs.  They should have drills and practice.  This gives the opportunity to learn what works, what doesn't work, and what could be done better.  For the most efficient learning results, these drills should involve students, teachers, faculty, and first responders.
It might be a bit much for the budgets of some departments and isn't quite age appropriate for the elementary grades, but every department and school should check out Tahoma Junior High School in Ravensdale, Washington.  They go all out with their mock school shooting drill, to the point that they have a shooter (or shooters), the drama club as wounded students, and a live police/SWAT response.  From these drills they have learned how to provide a safe environment for the students and how to respond to the event with as little loss as possible.