How Some Schools Are Improving School Safety

The recent school shootings have sparked a nationwide debate about the need for increased school safety in this country. And while there may be disagreement over what should be done to prevent future tragedies, all parents want to be assured that their children will be safe during the school day.

To that end, some schools are making significant adjustments to their buildings and procedures in hopes of preventing more tragedies.

The Safest School in America

Indiana’s Southwestern High School has been called “the safest school in America,” thanks to a number of innovative safety measures they implemented in 2015 with the help of the Indiana Sheriff’s Association (ISA). The ISA considers this high school to be the “best practice solution” for school safety.

One of the key changes was to connect teachers directly to local police via wearable emergency devices, which also activate a schoolwide alarm. Typically, in moments of crises, it can take several minutes before someone calls 911 to alert the police, yet every second is critical. “In my building, the sheriff’s department is aware of what’s going on within seconds,” Dr. Paula Maurer, superintendent of Southwestern Consolidated Schools, told FOX59 WXIN-TV. The school also installed security cameras and sensors that police can use to track the suspect and even release smoke into the hallways to deter the shooter.

School officials are hopeful that these safety measures will help address how quickly a school shooting can escalate. “Statistically, the events are getting shorter and shorter in duration, but the casualty rate is going up,” says ISA SWAT Team Leader Mike Kersey. “It’s averaging out that every seven to nine seconds someone is getting shot.”

When the alarm is activated at Southwestern High School, the bullet-proof classroom doors lock automatically and teachers and students have been instructed to hide in the corner behind their overturned desks until the threat is resolved.

Bullet-Proof Classroom Shelters

Healdton Public Schools in Oklahoma installed bulletproof shelters in 2015, which also protect against tornadoes, inside some of the classrooms of their elementary and middle schools. Healdton Superintendent Terry Shaw recently spoke about the shelters in a YouTube video, saying it is “very comforting to know that we have something in place for the safety of our students …” The shelters’ manufacturer, Shelter-in-Place, told Newsweek that the cost for an eight-by-eight-foot structure is approximately $25,000 per classroom or roughly $1,000 per student, but Shaw says he made the shelters a priority in their budget. “And if you really want to get to the heart of what’s best for students,” he says, “[it] is their safety.”

Clear Backpacks and Security Officers

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the site of the recent shooting that killed 17 people and wounded 14, announced new school security measures that include increased police and security officers on the premises, mandatory ID badges, locked classrooms, and a new rule that students can only use clear backpacks. They also plan to increase mental health services, upgrade surveillance cameras, and increase “code red” emergency training drills for students and staff. “All students deserve safe schools,” School Superintendent Robert Runcie wrote in a letter to parents that detailed the changes. “We are proud of our students’ determination to effect positive change in this country—and for the incredible support from the Broward community and across the county.”

Monitoring Visitors

Middleton Elementary School, near Chicago, focuses on preventing dangerous intruders from entering the school building. A school employee monitors all visitors via a security camera before allowing them into the vestibule. Once inside, the employee will run a background check on the visitor before he can go through the second set of locked doors. The school also installed security cameras throughout the building and all classrooms can be locked from within. The system cost the school $175,000 to implement, according to ABC News. But parents and teachers interviewed by ABC say they appreciate the extra safety measures. “We’re sending our kids to school to learn, not to worry about whether they’re going to come home or not,” said one Middleton parent.

The Need for Increased School Safety

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 93 percent of public schools already lock or monitor doors during class. And 92 percent include drills for students on what to do in the case of an “active shooter.” But schools are looking at additional safety measures because these efforts alone may not be sufficient. Tragically, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, had a security system installed to monitor visitors, but the 20-year-old gunman shot through the glass window of the locked doors with a semi-automatic rifle to enter the school where he quickly killed 20 young children and 6 adults. Since that shocking incident in December of 2012, there have been another 239 school shootings in which “438 people were shot, 138 of whom were killed,” according to the New York Times.

Impact on Parents and Kids

As school districts across the country continue to add measures to make their buildings more secure, many parents are looking for alternative schooling options to keep their kids safe. Parents who homeschool their children often cite school safety as a reason they teach their children at home. Elizabeth Broadbent writes that “active shooters and active-shooter drills were a big factor” in her decision to homeschool her kids. “Every week seems to bring a new mass shooting,” she writes. “I could hardly breathe through putting my kids on the bus every morning.”

And many parents choose to enroll their children in virtual public schools for the same reason. Meghan enrolled her son in K12’s Hoosier Academies in 2013. “His school had begun practice drills following Sandy Hook for their safety,” she writes, “but it hit home that violence was everywhere and we had no warning for its escalation.” Tara in Oklahoma says the stories “in the news about shootings and guns in school” prompted her and her husband to enroll their kids in a K12 online school. “Just last month one of the elementary schools was on lock-down because a parent had a gun,” she wrote in 2013. “We are so much more at ease with our children with us where we are sure they are not in harms’ way.”

Kevin Chavous, K12’s president of academics, policy, and schools, says that virtual schools are “the way in which more and more of today’s tech-savvy students feel the most comfortable going to school, for a variety of reasons, including physical and emotional safety.”

While many parents may feel powerless to protect their kids from potential dangers at school, the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) says there are steps parents can take to “stop school violence.” The NCPC suggests that parents begin by speaking regularly to teachers, school officials, and their kids about possible issues within their school.

“If students and teachers in any classroom or at any school feel anxious or worried in any way,” says Chavous, “effective learning cannot happen. It’s just that simple.”

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