How Safe is Your Child’s School?
How Safe is Your Child’s School? If you think your child’s school is safe from the type of carnage that was just perpetrated in Uvalde, TX. Then you should think again. This is not to alarm anyone, but rather to promote an understanding that the best any school can do is to minimize the risk and limit the damage. Admittedly, this sounds terribly cruel, and perhaps it is, but let’s look at some cold hard facts.
If we look at the ideas and believe what comes from the political right, we will think the answer relies on more armed protection. Two of the deadliest school shootings in the last decade took place in schools where there were armed and professionally trained law enforcement officers.
In the Shooting at Marjorie Stoneman High School in Parkland Florida, there was an armed SRO on duty. He has is now facing a variety of criminal charges because, prosecutors allege, he failed to act. Videos surfaced of him standing outside and not going inside to engage the shooter. He has pleaded not guilty, and his case is still pending. There is also a sergeant who responded to that same incident and was fired after an investigation revealed he hid in his car during the deadly rampage. He was subsequently rehired and given back pay because of a technical violation in the firing process. The courts ruled his rights of due process were violated. There was no adjudication on the facts of the case.
In the most recent shooting in Uvalde, TX., law enforcement officials are facing serious question as to why it was about an hour before they entered and confronted the gunman. They are being evasive in their answers with responses like “It is important for our community to know that our officers responded within minutes” alongside school resource officers, Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez said. Notice he does not indicate where “school resource officers” were stationed. He leaves this open to allow people to conclude that there were SROs assigned to the school when there were not. Initially, reports came out that there were two SROs who engaged the gunman prior to his entering. This turned out to be not true. Also, while they responded “ responded within minutes” he does not say what they did.
At least seven officers rushed into Robb Elementary within four minutes of the shooter’s arrival, DPS spokesperson Chris Olivarez told CNN. Three officers went in the same door the shooter used and four used a different entrance, Olivarez told CNN.
Apparently, after they went in, they found a barricaded classroom and it was over an hour before law enforcement breached it and confronted the gunman. The fact that this took an hour is currently the focus of criticism.
These are simple examples that when we rely on the SRO and armed protection, we are, in fact, relying on human beings. There is no way to predict how they will respond in such a situation. Many of these SRO’s are brave souls who are ready, willing, and able to do battle when the alarm sounds. Many, however, are not. The SRO position is one of a specialized nature and usually goes to the more senior officers who are not good fits for patrol duty. It has been my experience in 30 years of education that SROs are wonderful resources and role models for our children but are not courageous fighting machines. The SRO positions are, in many cases, seen as easier assignments because they are day shift, have an office, and they are dealing with children all day and not your typical hardened criminal.
This is not to belittle or insult the professional SRO because the position itself is unique and requires a special set of skills and abilities that the typical patrol office often does not possess. These include a level of professionalism, patience, and understanding when dealing with children.
Ultimately, though, when we rely strictly on SROs and other local law enforcement agencies, we are relying on human beings. We are assuming that an individual is going to act in a certain way and stop such a horrific event from unfolding, but it is simply not possible to make this assumption. In addition, what happens when the SRO is not in his office, out of the building, or is otherwise not available? It happens all of the time. This is the drawback to relying on a human being as the one and only way to protect our schools. A recent picture of a volunteer standing in front of an elementary school went viral. Comments praised this man for his resolve to protect our children. A noble gesture, for sure, but a gesture, nonetheless. How long is this man going to stay there before he has to move on. Will he be there very day during school hours for the rest of his life? Highly doubtful. What happens when he leaves?
If we look at the ideas and believe what comes from the political left, we will think that removing all of the guns from the school building and communities is the answer. While this sounds wonderful on the surface, will it really work? If we were 100% certain that every school building in this country was completely free of all guns, would this make them safe? Individuals who promote this type of thought would also argue that military grade assault weapons should be banned. If this were the case, and no one in the USA was no longer allowed to have an assault weapon, would this make them safe, or would the shooters just choose other weapons?
Those on the left would argue for more background checks and vetting of gun owners. The shooter in the Uvalde, TX. Shooting, as well as many others, would have most likely passed any background check and vetting administered.
Whether we rely on humans or laws, it would not appear that much would change.
Now let’s look at our buildings. The gunman in Texas went through an unlocked door. The gunman in Florida was a student. If you don’t think your child’s school has an unlocked door from time to time, you are kidding yourself. I am certain that for the next week or two they will all be locked, monitored, and secured. But what about after that? How long before they become complacent and leave a door here or there unlocked? How long will it be before the elderly secretary who monitors the door has to step away from her desk? In my many years of being an administrator in public schools, this was one of the most recurring battles I faced with teachers and secretaries. Office personnel would regularly let anyone in who hit the buzzer without questioning them. When I would reprimand them, they would say they did that because parents would complain and argue with them, and the office personnel didn’t want to deal with that. I would assume that this week and for the next few weeks, this type of entry security will be adhered to, but what after that? How long will complacency take over, and office personnel start buzzing in people without questioning them. Keep in mind that in several shootings, the assailant was a student and was already inside and going to classes.
I was in a school once where there was a smaller parking lot on the opposite side of the building from the main parking lot. Teachers who had classes near the smaller parking lot would complain they had to walk all the way to the other side of the building after entering. They would park in the smaller lot, get the custodian to open the door for them, then place a small rock in the door to keep it open so others who had classrooms nearby could enter there. I actually had to have a surveillance video aimed at the door and threaten disciplinary action to stop it. Even then, when I wasn’t there, they would still do it.
Once, I was on duty in the morning and an 18-year-old man who was small in stature showed up at the school in the morning with a backpack dressed as a student. He blended in with the others and went to the cafeteria for breakfast. He walked past me twice and he blended right in. After breakfast, he went in the boy’s bathroom and waited for other students to com in. One did and he attempted to assault him physically and sexually. The student victim yelled out and others, including the SRO, came to his rescue.
These things go on all the time. Complacency develops in all schools. No one expects what happened in Texas to happen at their schools because it is statistically very rare.
All of this is not to scare anyone but to show just how impossible it is to make schools 100% safe from these incidents. They are public buildings with many doors and entrances and there are endless ways for those intending to do harm to beat the systems in place and gain access. That is, of course, if they need access.
The ultimate test to your child’s school is simple. Go to the school, push the buzzer, tell them you are there to pick up your child and provide all of the necessary information and they will let you in.
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The MEN was founded by John Huber in the fall of 2020. It was founded to provide a platform for expert opinion and commentary on current issues that directly or indirectly affect education. All opinions are valued and accepted providing they are expressed in a professional manner. The Maryland Education Network consists of Blogs, Videos, and other interaction among the K-12 community.