The February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., that left 14 students and three staff members dead sparked a national debate over school security. (Terry Renna/AP)
Reporter

School districts across the United States are desperately looking for ways to keep students safe after school shootings that have left millions of students, teachers and other staff afraid they could be next.

In Schuylkill County, Pa., classrooms in the Blue Mountain School District have five-gallon buckets of river stone that students can throw if a gunman comes through the door.

The Panama Police Department in Le Flore County, Okla., recently experimented by firing rounds from various guns into textbooks of varying thickness to see if they would stop the bullets. The thinking? Students could pick up their books and protect themselves from an armed intruder.

Parents in several districts are raising money to hire armed security guards. Some school systems are arming teachers or other staff. And they’re adding metal detectors and cameras and bulletproof glass and identification cards and barricades and trauma kits.

In the Central Valley School District in Washington state, an elementary school just opened with a host of security measures, including doors that can be locked from the inside and outside (many schools have only outside locks, according to KREM-TV). And every classroom has a backpack with snacks and bandages as well as big cards that teachers can flash at emergency workers indicating if there are injuries.

Students, even in prekindergarten, undergo drills in the event of a shooter. At a House committee hearing where Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified Tuesday, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) said, “Students today are telling me they walk into a classroom and the first thing they do is look for where they can hide and how they can escape.” And that applies to students across the country, not just in her district.

In New York, the Lockport City School District is spending $1.4 million to install the kind of facial-recognition technology used in casinos and at government agencies in other countries, including Scotland Yard, the Buffalo News reported. That will go along with a new visitor badge system, a new public address system, an emergency communications system and a lockdown system, according to the district’s website.

The newspaper quoted Lockport Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley as saying:

“We always have to be on our guard. We can’t let our guard down. That’s the world that we’re living in. Times have changed. For the Board of Education and the Lockport City School District, this is the No. 1 priority: school security.”

Tony Olivo, a security consultant who helped develop the system, told the News that Lockport will be the “first school district in the world with this technology deployed.”

But there is no evidence that school shootings can be prevented by facial-recognition software, and some parents think the district is wasting its money. The system being installed has no X-ray capability, so a weapon would have to be visible for it to be seen. And there’s this: Some of the gunmen in school shootings have been students who would have a right to be on campus, calling into question the value of a facial-recognition system.

There are also questions about how much money school districts will wind up spending on untested security measures and how much that will affect instructional budgets.