OUR SCHOOLS ARE SAFE ENOUGH: A Movement to Stop Overreacting to Sandy Hook

Readers — This morning we launch a sweeping movement to embolden parents across the country to say, “Enough!” when it comes to adding excessive and expensive  layers of security (often just security theater) at their children’s schools.

Across the country, schools are locking doors that weren’t locked before, even though, at Sandy Hook, the door WAS locked. They are hiring guards, even though, at Sandy Hook, the gunman blasted anyone who got in his way. They are implementing voodoo-esque defenses, like making parents call 24 hours in advance of a visit to the school, or forcing parents to forfeit their car keys upon entering the school, or even just making everyone start signing in — as if a madman bent on mass murder would reconsider if he had to sign a piece of paper. “Oh, do I have a photo I.D. with me?…I guess, uh…never mind.”

Take a look at this article about the extraordinary security measures being taken at a cost of $175,000 at three schools serving 1,100 students in Skokie, IL (a suburb next to where I grew up):

Security measures at Middleton Elementary School start the moment you set foot on campus, with a camera-equipped doorbell. When you ring the doorbell, school employees inside are immediately able to see you, both through a window and on a security camera.

“They can assess your demeanor,” Kate Donegan, the superintendent of Skokie School District 73 ½, said in an interview with ABC News.

Once the employees let you through the first set of doors, you are only able to go as far as a vestibule. There you hand over your ID so the school can run a quick background check using a visitor management system devised by Raptor Technologies. According to the company’s CEO, Jim Vesterman… In the wake of the Newtown shooting, Vesterman told ABC News his company has been “flooded” with calls to put in place the new system.

Flooded, even though nothing has changed since Sandy Hook except our level of fear. As NPR reported earlier last year:

Research by Cornell and others shows that school-age and college-age kids are not only safer but far more secure on school campuses than anywhere else.

Of course, the tragedy in Newtown shocks and dismays us. But it shouldn’t make us fundamentally change our schools, because nothing else has fundamentally changed — except our fear level.  One mom wrote to me yesterday that her children’s school had scrapped its “Go inside a classroom if you hear gunfire” policy and was now telling students to run outside, or crawl into the drop-down ceiling (how???), or, if they are in the parking lot, to drive away (but not to any particular place) — in effect, endorsing panic. And a few posts below this one, a mom was protesting the $2.4 MILLION her school district is considering spending on school guards.

If you feel your school is over-reacting to Sandy Hook and you’d like to take action, here is a prototype letter for you to use, if you’d like. It was written by my friend Nancy McDermott, a frequent contributor to Spiked Online (and  mentor to me), who lives in Geneva, N.Y. – L.

Dear School Board/Principal/Superintendent/Elected Official:

The desire to increase school security after Newtown is understandable, but short-sighted. As terrible as this event was, it is precisely because it was so shocking and emotional that we be should be especially careful of rushing though extreme security policies that we will have to live with for a very long time.

Right now [your school name here] is the process of implementing the following new security measures: [Insert descriptions here]

But our schools already do [insert descriptions here].

Before we move to turn our schools into fortresses, we should bear in mind that they are already very safe. According to the Department of Education’s figures, rates of violent crimes in school are low, with only 14 incidents per 1000 in 2010, compared to 53 per 1000 back in 1992. Incidents like the one in Newtown are so incredibly rare, it’s difficult to find an adequate comparison. But one criminologist, Gary Kleck estimates that our children are more likely to be hit by lightning than shot in school. In other words, it would be hard to make our children safer than they already are.

Of course, we could transform our schools into maximum-security facilities with guards, alarms and biometric fingerprint scanners — but does anyone really believe these would derail a deranged gunman?

More importantly, this security comes at a terrible price. Schools are where we pass on our collective wisdom and values. By treating parents and other members of the community as suspects, we are effectively saying that safety matters more than everything else.

But safety is not the only value. We should not forget about trust. It may not seem as urgent as thwarting the threat of a theoretical gunman, but when we lose trust we lose the whole basis for community. Excessive security institutionalizes suspicion.

Our children are looking to us to show them the way. Let’s not allow them to believe that the people of [town] are afraid of their own shadows. Let’s show them that we are not the types to let a rare act of violence change our way of life or our belief in people. Let us be a sensible, smart, compassionate community, not one that rushes to  implement new procedures just for the sake of “doing something.” The best “something” to do is to resist the urge to overreact.

Sincerely,

You!

Dear Superintendent: Please take a deep breath before adding any new security measures!

Dear Superintendent: Please take a deep breath before adding any new security measures!

 

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41 Responses to OUR SCHOOLS ARE SAFE ENOUGH: A Movement to Stop Overreacting to Sandy Hook

  1. LRH January 22, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    I’ve been meaning to write the superintendent of our school about this. Now I have no excuses not to.

    Our school seems to have changed very little if any since this & I sure hope it stays that way. They’ve always been the sort of school where I could just come & go as needed whenever I was there and I’ve meant to tell them, beyond just chit-chatting with the front desk person, that I want it to stay that way. I have always disliked it whenever people in such positions act as if a one-time incident is indicative of the need to change everything. I blame such people as much as I do the criminals themselves.

    LRH

  2. Emily January 22, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    Brilliant letter, Lenore. I bet you’d get a lot of people on board if you turned it into an online petition.

  3. Jennifer January 22, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    Our schools ARE safe enough. All of this “extra” safety is making things unsafe. And no one will be able to convince me that the gun was unloaded, that just reeks of a cover up story.
    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/newly-hired-guard-leaves-gun-unattended-school-bathroom-article-1.1243009

  4. Warren January 22, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    Wonderful letter. It gets the point across, very well.

    Unfortunately the safety snowball is already in motion. Administrators are not only making changes, they are announcing the changes to the media. Politicians are getting sound bites, about what they would do, and believe is needed.
    This movement has taken on the momentum of the post 9/11 vigilance movement, that now allows the gov’t to infringe on what once were rights to privacy.
    This move to make our schools prisons has also become a horrible competition. Each school board is going to go a little further, in order to show how much our kids safety means to them.
    It has taken on a life of it’s own, and it is not going to be easy to stop, or even slow down. Everytime someone disagrees with a move, all the politician/admin. has to do is say two words, “Sandy Hook”, and the fearful public will cheer them on blindly.
    God help us all, and more so our kids.

  5. Michael January 22, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    I certainly don’t want to start a gun debate here or endorse one viewpoint over the other but it is interesting to note that the one measure that some people say might have stopped the Sandy Hook shooter, namely an armed teacher or guard, is considered a step too far. All the other security measures certainly will not stop a deranged gunperson (why is it always “gunman”?). What about “even if it saves just one life”?

    They also say they don’t want kids or parents to constantly worry whether their children are safe in school…. well, it appears that that is precisely what they are doing, worrying over the minute chance of something like Sandy Hook happening to this particular school. I would prefer to live life rather than worry myself sick over possible eventualities that I can’t do much to stop anyways.

    Kids should indeed feel safe at school and it is hard to feel safe in a fortified citadel allegedly with the enemy aka deranged gunpeople, lurking just outside the gates, knowing you have to step out at 3:30 pm.

  6. Elizabeth January 22, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    It is ridiculous to me that schools are spending so much money on these security measures when they could be spending money on obtaining and keeping good teachers and staff that will instill good principles in our kids to keep them from becoming shooters. Let’s stop the problem from the beginning by the schools showing our kids how to be good people and citizens – not by throwing money at extra guards.

  7. Glen Parker January 22, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    I echo the sentiment that it’s silly to spend this much money. However, the politicians running local school boards ALSO BELIEVE IT’S SILLY. The problem is the incentive system in place.

    If the school board does nothing, and nothing happens, they get no reward for doing the right thing.

    However, if they do nothing, and something happens, no matter how minor, they all get tossed on their collective asses, possibly sued personally.

    Until we can find a way to flip the incentives so that board members are rewarded for doing the right thing, this system will not improve.

    Please, stop sending emails like the one above, which do nothign to change the incentives, and instead, find a way to change the incentives. Find a way to reward board members for doing nothing, and give them cover if they do nothing and something happens.

    Glen

  8. VJ January 22, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    I am an itinerant teacher working at seven different schools. I wear a photo i.d. badge and sign in at every school upon arrival. Now, after signing in I have to hand over my car keys in order to received a key to the hall doors. When I finally make my way to the classroom door it is also locked. I have to knock, the teacher has to stop teaching and walk to the door and ask who it is. Then I have to state my name and also the secret password before she can open the door. If I lose the hallway key I will be charged $350. There have already been cases of teacher’s car keys getting lost by the office workers. This is in a school district that has never experienced any gun violence on campus.

    My daughter is in second grade and now every time she needs to leave the classroom to use the bathroom she has to sign out and note the time she left and then sign back in and note the time again. She can’t tell time very well so she’s just “holding it” all day.

  9. VJ January 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    This morning I heard on the radio that a private school is getting money from homeland security to install a voice and video recognition system for their front entrance. And they will be holding monthly lock down and evacuation drills.

  10. Captain America January 22, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    I’ve been around Skokie many times. I would have thought they would have more common sense.

    Actually one wonders if all the hype “aids and abetts” future violent actions.

  11. Snow January 22, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    On the plus side, my son, age 11, loves lockdown drills! They break up the boredom of the day! (school bores the crap out of him). He especially enjoys it when he is in the cafeteria when they have the drills because he gets to see a part of the school he doesn’t usually get to see – they send the kids to wear they store all the food. He and his friends think they keep zombies in the freezer because it’s so huge.

  12. Emily January 22, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    @VJ–We had the “sign in/out” system when I was in high school, for when we had to leave class briefly, for whatever reason. However, that wasn’t a “safety” thing, it was to prevent people from leaving school during the day, meeting their friends in the bathroom, etc. Actually, the measures that my school put in place to prevent truancy were a little lax–there was an automated phone system that’d call home, and say, “Your student in grade X, was absent from period Y, on Z date.”

    However, the robo-call system didn’t always work; it sometimes called with “false alarms” (like when I was in grade nine, and it called the house of every grade nine student to report “absences,” when it only meant to inform us of a dollar drive for United Way). Fortunately, my mother believed me when I told her I’d been at school all that day. But, it was also really easy to “cheat” the robo-caller, because it’d often call before my parents got home from work (so I could delete the voicemail message), and since it didn’t use names, it opened up a whole other hassle for parents with more than one kid in the same grade–and, I knew three sets of twins when I was in high school, so I’m sure that that issue came up more than once.

    Anyway, I was a good kid, so I didn’t skip class very often; only when I really needed a “mental health break,” because maintaining an A/B average along with multiple extra-curricular activities can be stressful. However, my main point is, bureaucratic measures to enforce safety, discipline, or just general efficiency, often have a lot of problems that people don’t even think of until they happen. Common sense rarely has that side effect, because it involves looking at each situation on a case-by-case basis.

  13. Puzzled January 22, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    I agree with Glen above. The problem is not that school board members are crazy; it’s that they want to be reelected. There are a few things we can do about that – term limits and non-partisan elections are one. Another is to give them cover in the event of an incident – such as widely publicized letters to the board, with lots of signatures, telling them that we, the public, want the money spent intelligently.

    Also, you can present these things to parents, or the public, honestly. “We have X dollars to spend. Who wants guards, and who wants books?” If guards win, well, at least everyone knows what they’ve signed onto.

  14. Warren January 22, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    Well it happened. A campus shooting in Texas. A campus with security and police patrols.

    This is just going to make things even harder. I am afraid this is the nail in the coffin, and kids are going under permanent lockdown at schools. So glad we are here, in Ontario. Our school never reacted to Sandy Hook. And it will be an easy sell not to do it now.

  15. Donna January 22, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    @VJ – Have you gotten a reason for the teachers leaving keys with the office thing? Because I’ve wracked my brain – for the few seconds it took me to skim the other posts – and I can’t come up with a single safety measure that addresses. Is it so you can’t easily escape after you pull out your hidden AK-47 and kill everyone (because people so often get jobs as itinerant teachers just to have access to schools to shoot them up)?

    People really just can’t accept that a certain percentage of the population is just off and does crazy things. Always has been and always will be. The number of people who are this kind of crazy does seem to be increasing. It could just be that there are many more people in the world to be this kind of crazy. Or maybe we are driving more people crazy with all these lockdowns and prison-like schools and drama surrounding all of this.

    Maybe I’ll just stay on my little island where schools barely have doors to lock forever.

  16. Snow January 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    I attended a public high school school in NY in the 80s. During a study hall one teacher gave me a few dollars and sent me to the local bakery to pick up some canolis. One day some kids in my class skipped school, the principal showed up at the home of one of the kids, found the entire group who had skipped hanging out in the driveway, told them to get in the car and he brought them to school. A few times I caught a ride to my after school job a teacher who happened to be heading that way. Very often I’d get to school in the morning and have a free period. The art room would be locked up because the teacher hadn’t gotten there yet, but the people in the office would give me the keys, I’d let myself in, go grab a cup of coffee from the cafeteria, go back to the art room, put on some music and start my day off with coffee, great music and painting. If I had a doctors appointment I just told them in the office that I had an appointment and off I went. Nobody had to sign me out or pick me up. Can you imagine any of that happening now?

  17. Emily January 22, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    Snow–There was a VP at my high school, who left after I finished grade nine or ten (I forget which one), who would “make the rounds” and wrangle all the kids who’d skipped class, from the arcade or the beach, depending on the season. I don’t know why he left; I think he retired, but that wasn’t that long ago–it was around 1998 or 1999.

  18. Steve January 22, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    It is a fact – psych meds have been linked to 90% of school shootings”

    http://www.wnd.com/2012/12/psych-meds-linked-to-90-of-school-shootings/

    And we know many students and teachers take these drugs on a daily basis, in spite of side effects like: irritability, aggression, suicidal ideation, bizarre and violent planning and acting out….

    Yet….

    VJ, said:

    “… Now, after signing in I have to hand over my car keys in order to received a key to the hall doors.”

    BUT…she did NOT say, “Our school now has a policy banning teachers and students who are presently taking mind-altering psych drugs.”

    She DID say:

    “When I finally make my way to the classroom door it is also locked. I have to knock, the teacher has to stop teaching and walk to the door and ask who it is.”

    She did NOT say, “The teacher has to stop teaching and walk to the door and ask who it is and if the person has been taking any psychotropic medications during the past couple of months.”

    She DID say, ”
    “Then I have to state my name and also the secret password before she can open the door.”

    BUT, she did NOT say, “Many parents have voiced concerns about having their children in classes with students and teachers presently under the influence of mind-altering psych medications.”

    She also did NOT say: “Some parents have yanked their kids out of school because of their fears of teachers or students high on prescription medication.”

  19. Jemma January 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    Speaking of “safety theater” (pardon me if this has come up already) but my parents used to tell us about the air raid drills they were run through when they were in elementary school during WWII. The siren would go off and they were all to get underneath their desks. As if a small metal desk would save you from a bomb. The impulse to create meaningless safety measures is not totally new.

  20. TRS January 22, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    I honestly do not find the extra security to be a nuisance to me. I ring the bell and they let me in – big deal. My daughter’s Middle School has always had an armed police officer. I think he is there to deter crime and to handle issues as they arise. He also directs traffic in the morning and when school lets out. Really our schools have always been secure and I just do it and only takes a second out of my precious life to comply.

    Does it make my kids safer? I don’t know. I feel my kids are safe at school and never really worry about it.

    I do think the armed police officer would be an obstacle and would have either stopped the Sandy Hook shooter or at least slowed him down. The emergency call would have been made faster. All I know is when the guys with the guns showed up – that was when he stopped killing and shot himself.

  21. Donna January 22, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    @TRS – The question isn’t whether the extra security is a nuisance to YOU. The question is what does it do to the psyche of the CHILDREN who are locked up tighter than prisoners (really, my clients have more freedom of movement) 7-8 hours a day, 180 days of the year? What does it do to the psyche of the CHILDREN to have an armed guard roaming their school on the very small outside chance that a gunman might come? What does it do to the psyche of the CHILDREN who are constantly told that they are in mortal danger all the time? What future society are we building?

  22. TRS January 22, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

    I don’t think the kids notice that their parents need to be buzzed in. My daughter’s elementary school has this – we had it at the beginning of the year before the Sandy Hook shooting. I don’t see a change in her psyche one iota.

    The kids at the Middle School like Officer Davis. He is a great guy and knows all the kids by name and they know him. I think it is a great relationship they are developing with law enforcement. My kids don’t think they are in mortal danger. Never have and probably won’t until they are actually in mortal danger. Our officer is not there specifically for the chance a gunman would come and storm the school. He seems to have other duties too. I think you are being a little dramatic because my kids Psyche is just fine. They feel safe going to school and know that the chances are low they would be harmed there.

  23. epu January 22, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    Lenore, I agree with you that enhancing security in schools will do nothing. However, gun violence is more and more prevalent in US, especially in schools. I sincerely believe it’s beyond media sensationalism now.

    School shootings happen on a weekly basis now. I read about the Texas college shooting, and one of the comments was: thank God it’s not another massacre. But it IS a massacre, even 2 people dead are too many! We are so desensitized to gun violence that unless we talk about 15+ people, it doesn’t even phase us.

  24. Donna January 22, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    TRS – I don’t believe for a second that children today are not psychologically impacted by the fact that they are constantly in locked and guarded environments. It is not comparing your child to your child as she has likely always lived in a such a world, or a close approximation, but to previous generations who didn’t attend school under lock-and-key.

  25. VJ January 22, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    Emily, I understand sign out sheets to keep high school kids from skipping class.

    But I’m talking about a 7 year old with a learning disability who has to stop and figure what time it is before she can go to the bathroom. Then after the bathroom she has to knock on the locked classroom door, the teacher has to stop teaching and walk to the door. Then ask who it is, daughter has to state her name, then sign herself back in and note the time again.

  26. Donna January 22, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    Nor is it a matter of her feeling safe or in danger at school. It is a matter of accepting that locked school doors, highly controlled access, armed guards, etc. is perfectly normal and acceptable. The attitude that this is all required to keep them safe, often reinforced by parents. Seriously, I have to jump through less hoops to visit my clients in a maximum security PRISON than VJ has to get to do her JOB every day. There is something wrong with that and it effects how children grow to view the world around them.

  27. VJ January 22, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    Donna — I think teachers have to give up their car keys to ensure that we’ll return their hallway keys.

    Weird thing is, the way the schools are laid out, you can enter the front building and get into the courtyard without a key. But you can’t exit the courtyard or the school without key. So the mythical gunman will be trapped in the courtyard.

  28. Dave B January 22, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    Sign in sheets are not to prevent anyone from entering but to keep track of who is in the building in case of a fire or other emergency to make sure all are accounted for.

    Excess security is a distraction but most schools are implementing state wide requirements in a sensible way. Please keep commenting on excessive procedures but understand them as well.

  29. Dave B January 22, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    One more thing.

    Most procedures are in place to handle much more everyday issues a school faces.

    For example, a disgruntled ex-student or employee who has been disciplined or has threatened a member of the school community. If that were to happen a lockdown would be quite appropriate and I have seen this happen.

    Another major issue schools need to deal with is non-custodial parents and managing their access. This is just a reality. Most of the time, its no issue, but it is something schools need to deal with.

    Schools should be reviewing their security policies and procedures, and make sure, with the community that they are appropriate. In most cases I have seen schools have been quite sensible, and realistic. Again I do recommend everyone get involved and understand what your local schools are doing, and respond if they do see something that just does not make sense.

  30. Donna January 22, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

    @Dave B – The sign in requirement is clearly not always to account for people in a fire or other emergency. Every school my daughter has attended requiring sign in did so on computer, not paper. In the case of an emergency, someone would have to take the time to print out a list prior to exiting the building. In the case of a real emergency – one in which there is a concern that some people didn’t get out – there would be no time to do this.

  31. buffy January 23, 2013 at 1:32 am #

    In theory, I understand the idea of needing a sign-in sheet in case of a fire, sort of (though I can’t really picture the logistics of worrying about a sheet of paper containing handwritten names – messy handwriting anyone? – in a fire situation, much less taking accurate attendance using that sheet.).

    But this begs the question – if being able to account for everyone in a building is SO important in case of fire, why don”t we have to sign in and out everywhere we go? The mall, a concert venue, the grocery store, Best Buy – all may have a whole lot of people inside at any given time and no one has any idea who and where they are!

  32. ebohlman January 23, 2013 at 5:04 am #

    VJ: If you’re in the US, get a 504 accommodation for your daughter (e.g. teacher has to write down time if kid is having trouble telling time); it doesn’t require that she actually be receiving special ed (IDEA) services. Outside the US, there will be similar applicable laws. Holding it all day can lead to urinary tract infections in females.

  33. RanchMommy January 24, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Really? Do they honestly think that someone who has conceived a plot to attack a school couldn’t get a fake ID? Do they think that they can accurately assess the demeanor of every guest? What about the dad who looks extremely tired and irritable because he just got done working his night shift and now has to bring over the science paper his kid forgot? Are they going to peg him as a security threat? Do they think that every deranged individual looks a certain way? This is just so ridiculous.

  34. Stacey January 25, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    not that many kids died in that shooting. true, it would be a lot better if no kids died, but the fact that the gunman only got to two classrooms and the magority of the kids got out safely shows that whatever the school was doing was working. there’s no need to change anything unless you know for sure the change will ensure even less deaths.

  35. Michael April 3, 2013 at 2:06 am #

    i know at my school, and note this is in a town with about 500 people covering 0.2 of a square mile, before sandy hook it was great, you could go to your car almost any time when you weren’t in class, if you needed to use the restroom you just asked the teacher, left, and came back no strings attached. before and after school you could just walk on and off campus as you pleased as the only thing in front of our school was and old rock wall about 2-5 ft high depending on where you were standing and go wherever. parents could just come and pick you up when ever they needed. and everyone was happy, no shooters, no bullying, no violence of almost any kind. but now we have a fence surrounding the school, we aren’t allowed to go to our cars anymore or park behind the school. bathroom breaks require hall passes and sign in sheets, and teachers and visitors both have to wear ID cards. it pretty much just sucks now because me and my friends used to go sit and hang out on the rock wall during breaks but now we can’t even go near it because of the mother FRICKIN FENCE. i think this was a huge overreaction on my schools part

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