Reeling from the shattering events in Newtown, CT, communities nationwide are reevaluating safety protocols, sharing best practices and researching options for the future.
On a Friday morning, one of the last of 2012, an elementary school in Connecticut began another typical day. As students settled in, filing one after the other toward art class or music or gym or unpacking pencils or markers to begin the day’s lessons, a horror would quickly unfold that would change the school, the small town of Newtown, CT, the country and probably the world forever. As the devastating details emerged, our collective hearts broke.
In the wake of that terrible day, many questions have been asked and accusations hurled, but beyond the politics and talking heads, communities nationwide are quietly reevaluating school safety issues with a renewed intensity. Principals, superintendents, and PTAs are reaching out to parents and community leaders in big cities and rural towns, each struggling with similar concerns and often responding in different ways. While others debate the laws, many are sharing best practices already in place and researching options for the future, some that may require volunteering, fundraising, and also an enhanced understanding of the many issues at play.
After the equally tragic events at Columbine High School, many schools beefed up security and today, buzzer entries and camera systems are commonplace throughout much of the country. Today, schools are looking at enhanced safety protocols. At a recent gathering in Connecticut, national school safety experts shared potential measures, including bulletproof windows, card swipe entry systems, screening technologies like Raptor, and panic button installations that would instantly connect administrators and teachers to each other and emergency personnel. Experts recommend an all-hazards approach, one that would protect schools not only from intruders but also from severe weather and other problems.
Though many would agree that safety takes priority over price, there are of course high costs related to the implementation of added protocols. Schools struggle with what to do as much as how to pay for it. Some Texas schools are considering establishing special taxing districts to pay for beefed up security. Schools typically finance school safety features out of their own budgets, but a new plan would allow voters to provide supplementary taxes to fund security measures like cameras or added security personnel.
However, school communities are also proving that much can be done without affecting the bottom line, simply through thoughtful reconsideration of procedures and volunteer support. In the weeks after that awful Friday, many schools began limiting the number of available school entrances and altering the foot traffic patterns around school perimeters. Many were testing visitor management systems and other procedures (including after-school use of school grounds). Many convened meetings between teachers, safety personnel, and guidance counselors to determine the best ways to run lock down drills and other practices without frightening small children or creating unneeded chaos.
Parent volunteers have (and can!) kick up their efforts as well. Experts advise establishing school safety committees, where parents, administrators, and teachers work together to enact protocols best suited to their unique communities. PTAs and PTOs hosted off-schedule gatherings to offer information and provide much-needed support and compassion to nerve-rattled parents, as well as to determine how and if volunteer-based efforts could support safety measures.
“We had a meeting seven days after the event,” says a Massachusetts PTO leader. “Instantly, people were offering their time and money to support or pay for whatever it is the school needs to keep our kids safe.”
Some schools might consider the Watch D.O.G.S. program. Founded in 1989 after a school shooting in Arkansas, the program (D.O.G.S. stands for Dads of Great Students) enlists fathers to serve as male role models and “extra” eyes and ears on school campuses. The goal is not only to enhance security but also to reduce bullying and stress the importance of education and positive school behavior. In addition to fun events, volunteer dads monitor entrances, lunchrooms, and bus loading and unloading. In San Antonio, TX, a city with a large military population, off-duty soldiers are providing similar support at schools.
Perhaps most importantly, parents and school communities across the country are coming together to turn their heartbreak, empathy and concern into positive, progressive action that has the potential to create a lasting and meaningful impact. Not only will American schools emerge as safe havens for learning and fun, but collaborative efforts between all involved will strengthen the ties that truly bond communities.
“And a little child will lead them…”
National School Safety and Security Services Resources for School Safety:
PTA Guide for Parents Advocating for School Safety: