School security — we’re all focused on it this week. Schools across the country have sent parents e-mails reassuring them and detailing the, sometimes new, procedures in place to try to protect our children from the evil unleashed upon innocent victims in Newtown.
But can “procedures” really prevent such tragedies and, if they are so airtight that they might, what’s the cost?
What chills many of us even more in the Newtown aftermath is that the little Sandy Hook school was about as safe as they come. Entrances were locked every day, visitors had to be buzzed in.
But door locks and buzzers are no match for heavy arms.
“Turning our schools into fortresses is not going to solve the problem,” University of Virginia safety expert Dewey Cornell, told Washington Post reporters Donna St. George and Lyndsey Layton for a story on school safety in Tuesday’s Post.
Monday, I was a guest on Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU radio show focusing on Newtown. One caller proposed that we begin to treat our schools the way we do fortified banks and federal buildings — by protecting, or locking down, the perimeter.
It was a provocative idea, especially as she pointed out that Americans tend to protect their “things” more than their children.
Another guest was Daniel Domenech, the former superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools. Responding to the caller, he recalled that when the sniper attacks were scaring people in the Washington region in 2002, he implemented some draconian procedures.
For about three weeks, every school operated essential lockdown. No outdoor activities, no outdoor sports, no football games.
Eventually, Dominic said, it was the parents who turned on this approach. They wanted their kids to be let outside despite the risk.
Schools, the point is, are very different than other institutions. They need to offer safety, as well as freedom.
If we lean too heavily toward the former, we can quickly lose the latter.
We know, intellectually, there is a minuscule risk of a school attack. The car ride to school is vastly more dangerous statistically.
Emotionally, however, Newtown makes us feel our children are far more vulnerable than they probably are. Our natural reaction is to call for extreme measures.
Michael Dorn, the executive director of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit that advises school officials on safety plans also spoke to the Post about safety upgrades that many schools could make to improve their overall safety. There could be more control if entries had buzzers, protected laminated glass and video cameras.
None of them might have prevented Lanza from blowing his way into Sandy Hook, but such upgrades might deter lesser threats.
As for more on that, Dorn, who offers videos on the Safe Havens Web site to guide school officials on safety, has said we need to be “thoughtful.”
In his latest video, he reminds parents that “We can’t let individuals like this and those in the past take away from our children what the school experience should and can be.”
How are you feeling about school safety? Could your local school do more? Can schools in general do more?