SALT LAKE CITY — According to The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and WeatherImagery, your child is more than twice as likely to be struck by lightning than be the victim of a school shooting.
But if the unthinkable should occur, and your child is a victim, the statistics are suddenly irrelevant.
What are the concrete steps that you and your school should take?
The first step is the realization, by all parties, that school security is a partnership between a school and their school community, including first responders. Whatever the measures taken, increased school security will mean increased inconvenience. This inconvenience will generally be for everyone involved, and if any group involved is not ready to accept this then the effort is doomed to failure.
So where is the low-hanging fruit — for parents and schools both — in school security?
Ken Trump, a noted expert in school security said, “Examine access to your school. Are there a reduced number of doors that can be accessed from the outside (while still allowing children to exit from the inside in an emergency)? Do faculty and staff greet visitors, challenge strangers and know who is in their school? Are there sign-in procedures, visitor identification badges, etc.?”
This is not a new concept — the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has noted this is and has been a “best practices” recommendation for a number of years. As far back June 2004, Beverly Vigue for American School & University magazine stated it well: “Locks and keys aren't enough to keep a school secure from unwanted visitors. Controlling access with greater certainty is a school's first line of defense in keeping a facility secure”.
Along with such school-based measures there are a number of questions that parents need to ask themselves: Do I always sign in and wear a visitor’s pass? If I don't get one and someone asks me to do so, do I become annoyed? When leaving, do I check out? Do I follow the parking rules? Or do I believe that such measures are only for others, because “after all, my kids’ school should know me.”
If you fall into that “only for others” category, don’t feel too bad — the greater majority of parents in the U.S. feel similarly. In fact, the most common thought following a school shooting incident “I didn’t think this could happen here.” Denial is one enemy.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman — a school safety expert, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author, West Point psychology professor, and one of the world’s foremost experts on human aggression and violence — presents often on the subject of school shootings and denial.
One of Grossman’s most telling points is that schools need to treat security issues the same way they treat fire safety issues. Schools and their communities have taken the potential of a fire seriously. School fires and associated student deaths early in the last century caused schools to do so.
And because schools have, the systems and procedures to assure student safety in the case of a fire have been implemented, sustained, and enhanced over time. The result: not one student death in the United States in the last fifty years due to a school fire — not one.
If denial is one enemy, complacence is another. As time passes, the horror of Sandy Hook will fade, just as it did for Columbine, and Bailey, and Nickel Mines and so many others. Again as time passes, the inconvenience of the newly implemented security measures begin to grate, for both parents and school personnel — the will to continue will diminish. Complacency and denial will conspire and security could relax. It has happened before.
School security measures are a bit like insurance: You only need it when you need it and when you need it is too late to get it. This makes sustainability the most critical factor in making your child’s school safer and more secure.
As schools and their communities, in the wake of the recent tragedies, implement enhanced security measures, the commitment to sustainability by all parties will ultimately determine how successful the measures will be.
Guy Bliesner is a longtime educator, having taught and coached tennis and swimming. He is school safety and security administrator for the Bonneville School District in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Guy has been married for 26 years and has three children.