My thoughts took me back to the various Indiana schools I attended as a kid. I was educated both in one-room schoolhouses in rural farm country and sprawling campuses in a metropolitan city. And in each and every school, regardless the setting or location, the only threats I remember were the inevitable danger of the seesaw and whether or not I was going to be able to find the right school bus after school. And as best I can remember, the only fences were around the playgrounds, and those only existed, I’m guessing, to keep us in and not strangers out. They were installed to keep us safe from ourselves and our need to wander across busy streets.
In Indiana, we also had the luxury of being protected from outside influence and violence because of the weather. Our schools were all built as large buildings with interior classrooms and hallways. In the course of the school day, we didn’t venture outside unless the weather was cooperative enough for an outdoor PE class. Our cafeteria, gymnasium, band room, classrooms and lockers were all housed inside this one large building.
When I moved to California in the late 1980’s, my high school was quite a shock to this Hoosier. Classrooms that opened to the outside? A school completely surrounded by a locking fence? I quickly discovered that I wasn’t going to be able to easily sneak past the security guard who monitored the only opening to the student parking lot. Thinking back now, I see why the fence was a necessity. But again, was it to keep us in, rather than keep someone else out? It was a high school after all, so I’m guessing the fences were installed to protect us against our rebellious selves, lest an off-campus lunch turn quickly into a ditch day.
So here we are thirty years later, and I am saddened by our need to install fences for safety from others, and our need to conduct more than just earthquake and tornado drills. The drills on my campus now include Threat Levels 1, 2 and 3, procedures designed to protect us from everything from an event happening locally in the community across town to the most serious of on-campus violence -- and I am thankful that my district is working to build these procedures.
In the instant that violence occurs, however, I don’t know that these procedures will fully protect us. The moments are too instantaneous. Too bold. What we need, additionally, are security measures that enable us to prevent, secure and survive.
First and foremost -- prevention. We need to be able to identify outsiders. The only people on any campus should be those who attend and those who teach, all campus staff included. These people need to be identifiable at a glance. All students and staff should wear their student or staff ID’s in plain sight on a brightly colored lanyard. They all have ID’s, let’s put them to use. In one quick glance, anyone without this would raise an eyebrow, providing a first layer of protection. Also, let’s have drills when kids aren’t in a classroom. Schools have a tendency to run perfunctory drills during the same class or at the same time. But what happens when a threat comes during lunch or recess, when most everyone is outside and vulnerable? Let’s run drills during this time, intentionally teaching kids where to go and staff how to direct them. Should the kids run? Stop? Hide? Fight back? Does anyone even know? I imagine chaos. Training could help prevent the panic, potentially protecting all kids.
Second -- secure. I happen to work in a classroom that opens to the interior hallway of a building. Our teachers all have keys that allow us to lock the building’s exterior doors from the inside; however, we have no way to lock our classroom doors from inside. If a threat were already inside the building, we would have to go outside our room to lock the door -- not too safe if you ask me. And the windows in the classroom don’t open. Are they safety glass? Could we break them quickly if necessary to escape? Can they be covered in an instance to prevent someone from seeing inside while everyone is hiding? So I ask, do all our local school’s classrooms have the ability to lock safely from inside?
Third -- survive. Do we have numbers on the top of all buildings to help law enforcement in the sky quickly identify buildings for police on the ground? What is the emergency communication plan to parents and the community? If a shooter is on one of our campuses, I’m guessing the entire community will need to be put on alert. How does that happen? Additionally, should students be on their cell phones? Why or why not?
I know these aren’t our only concerns with regard to terror threats; nevertheless, the more questions we ask, the stronger the emergency plan and the safer our kids.
The safer our kids, the more opportunity they have to worry about only those things that should worry a child -- the seesaw and the bus.