Of course we recognize you! And so does the system.

Welcome to School! No Entry Without Your Fingerprint

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Old school school security irked me because it was so pointless: Write your name on a sheet, show ID, get a sticker. Plain busywork.

But school security has ballooned since Sandy Hook and now in addition to being pro-forma, it is also wildly expensive, diverting funds from anything remotely educational.

So kudos to Sasha Abramsky for this piece in The Nation, The School-Security Industry Is Cashing In Big on Public Fears of Mass Shootings, which begins:

“Security was the number-one factor for me in choosing a school,” explained one of the mothers I met late last winter at a Montessori preschool in an affluent suburb of Salt Lake City….So when the time came to send her child to preschool, she selected one that markets itself not only as creative, caring, and nurturing, but also as particularly security-conscious.

To get the front door of the school to open, visitors had to be positively ID’d by a fingerprint-recognition system. In the foyer, a bank of monitors showed a live feed of the activity in every classroom. After drop-off, many parents would spend 15 minutes to half an hour staring at the screens, making sure their children were being treated well by their teachers and classmates. Many of the moms and dads had requested Internet access to the images, but the school had balked, fearing that online sexual predators would be able to hack into the video stream. All of the classroom doors had state-of-the-art lockdown features, and all of the teachers had access to long-distance bee spray—which, in the case of an emergency, they were instructed to fire off at the eyes of intruders. The playground was surrounded by a high concrete wall, which crimped the kids’ views of the majestic Wasatch Mountains. The imposing front walls, facing out onto a busy road, were similarly designed to stop predators from peering into the classrooms.

Abramsky tries to fight the fear with the facts: That schools actually ARE safe — even before added layers of security:

Despite the excruciating angst suffered by this woman and so many other parents, school violence is a rarity in America…. According to the National Center for Education Statistics,…the average annual figure [of kids murdered at school] was 19.

…Even in the deadliest years, the chance of a student or adult being killed at school is roughly one in a million.

He goes on to describe what’s happening in Shelbyville, Indiana

where school superintendent Paula Maurer recently became so worried about the possibility of a shooting that she installed a $400,000 security system in the town’s high school. The entire campus, located in open countryside just outside of town, is now saturated with cameras linked into the nearest police station. Every teacher wears a panic button around his or her neck, and pressing it sends the entire campus into instant lockdown. For good measure, police officers watching from miles away can set off blinding smoke cannons and ear-splitting sirens at a moment’s notice.

Much as anti-crime advocates convinced government agencies in the 1990s and 2000s to fund an increasing array of punitive programs, today school-security companies and trade associations are lobbying legislators in several states to change building codes so that schools will be mandated to spend more on their security systems.

It turns out that the money that Shelbyville paid for the security system could have paid for eight teachers — in a district that laid off five.

If your school system is considering expensive security measures, bring them Abramsky’s piece. You can save money, teachers and a sense of community. Of you go through the TSA at drop off. – L.

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Every teacher in Shelbyville, IN, must wear a panic button around the neck.

Every teacher in Shelbyville, IN, must wear a panic button around the neck.

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33 Responses to Welcome to School! No Entry Without Your Fingerprint

  1. jessi cardinal September 22, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

    How many times a day would I lean over to do something and inadvertently set off that alarm?

  2. theresa September 22, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

    What I’m wondering is how they handle emergency when everyone has be in system to get in so how in an in emergency when every second counts can they afford to wait even a second.

  3. Jess September 22, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

    “Many of the moms and dads had requested Internet access to the images, but the school had balked, fearing that online sexual predators would be able to hack into the video stream.”

    What are they going to see, children playing with toys and eating paper? While we homeschool, I’m grateful that the schools I’ve been to in the area are designed as schools and not prisons.

  4. Lindsay September 22, 2016 at 1:04 pm #

    Wow, I actually visit prisons, and there is less security to get into those than there is to get into this Montessori school. Yikes. Why do we insist on treating childhood in our incredibly safe first-world country like our kids are in the trenches of war? And how do we expect them to be trusting (and trustworthy) adults when they are taught from birth that everyone is out to get them? Do parents not realize that the biggest concern in getting their kids to Montessori school in the morning is actually driving them to it? I mean, if we used any sort of logic about the whole thing, we would all homeschool in order to avoid the terrors of our car-accident-laden roads…

  5. Brooks September 22, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    In our district in an affluent suburb of Birmingham, we have the mag-lock doors, push button intercom with camera to be let in, driver’s license confiscation (cause all shooters will drop their license off before attacking), etc., and more cameras throughout the school than are at Guantanamo. I know that when something happens, thousands of parents flood the school system with calls. So when I met the superintendent a while back, I politely let her know that there are parents that see other priorities and that I was one who supported less intrusive security. Her response? She rolled her eyes, made a kind of a “humph” sound, turned 180 degrees and walked away from me, mid sentence.

    I would also note that not ONE SINGLE administrator or staff member I’ve spoken to at either of my kids’ schools think the security measures have any meaning. In fact, since I do a lot for the band, the secretary knows me and lets me in without any of those measures (as she does for many other parents).

  6. sexhysteria September 22, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

    Hey, a one in a million chance of being in a mass shooting is nothing to sneeze at.

  7. James Pollock September 22, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

    They’re going to have an interesting ADA problem when they run into a parent with no fingers.

  8. James Pollock September 22, 2016 at 2:15 pm #

    “He goes on to describe what’s happening in Shelbyville, Indiana”

    There’s a reason people would rather live in Springfield than in Shelbyville.

  9. James Pollock September 22, 2016 at 2:22 pm #

    “schools actually ARE safe — even before added layers of security:”

    Some schools are considerably safer than other schools… but the danger comes less from random armed strangers and more from other students in the school.

  10. M September 22, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

    Some questions:

    How is sending your kid to a school that resembles a high-security prison preparing them for real life?

    What happens when conflicting alarms go off? i.e. The school goes into lockdown at the same time the fire alarm goes off? Do you trap the kids inside with the potential fire, or lead them outside into potential gun fire? And why do I see this happening?

    How many years are taken from someone’s life when they work or attend school in a cloud of fear and foreboding?

  11. Beth September 22, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

    For good measure, police officers watching from miles away”……

    I wonder how many officers are assigned to monitor these cameras, rather than, I don’t know, being out on patrol? Responding to calls? Those activities (in which they actually interact with citizens) must have been deemed less important that staring at camera feeds throughout the school day.

  12. Gary September 22, 2016 at 3:28 pm #

    The Boy just started Kindergarten this year and getting into his school is one of the most tedious and difficult things I have ever encountered.

    They make you ring a buzzer outside the door and have the nerve to say “Come on in”…

  13. Backroads September 22, 2016 at 4:03 pm #

    And this is why I will never live in the Salt Lake City area. Crazy people in that vicinity. Utah is a gorgeous state, don’t ruin kids’ views with your dumb security.

  14. Janis September 22, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

    Please tell me this is a joke. No wonder America has such an ugly reputation when it comes to education. Instead of actually investing in our kids’ futures, we are throwing money down the toilet to worthless security systems that would be put to better use inside a prison. Oh, wait..school HAS become a prison, hasn’t it? Keeping the kids in and everyone else out unless they go through the 5-point security check. Just wait till they graduate. There’s no finger-printing system or panic buttons in the real world outside of those glorified daycare centers/juvenile detention centers crawling with “school resource officers” (aka cops) and security cameras that we try to pass off as institutes of learning. This sickens me. Is everyone okay with this? Has this become a norm in schools in America? Meanwhile in….other countries, kids go to school in dirt shacks, happy to learn and here we are, paranoid some freak is going to shoot up our helpless, precious, privileged children because of past incidents/negligence. Sorry if I’m blunt. Why doesn’t anyone complain and tell the BOE how ridiculous it is? Parents do have a say. If enough people banded together and said “we don’t want to send our kids to a prison…”(just reword it) some kind of notice would have to be taken.

  15. lollipoplover September 22, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

    “Every teacher wears a panic button around his or her neck, and pressing it sends the entire campus into instant lockdown.”

    These security measures won’t make anyone feel any safer- if anything, they will only INCREASE ANXIETY.
    How do people on such high alert ever relax and educate our kids? It’s sad how the US with the most spent in educational funding and human resources has such low scores and even more tragic that
    in Western civilization we are among the top 3 countries for underage suicide! Kids feel such stress already and treating their schools like prison institutions instead of community hubs is such a colossal failure by the adults in their lives, parents, government, administrators. We have to do better.

  16. Curious September 22, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

    A great argument for home schooling.

  17. Donald September 22, 2016 at 6:08 pm #

    Children don’t always take the advice from their parents. However they never fail to mimic them.

    Therefore if you’re a parent that has a fear problem, your siblings will inherit this trait.

    I know that standing up to fear isn’t easy. @^$*&!!*%$ DO I KNOW THAT! However if you simply ‘give in’ or follow the path of least resistance, you ensure that the fear gets a stronger hold of you.

  18. Dean September 22, 2016 at 6:29 pm #

    I visited–sort of–my old high school. Guarded by armed school district police at strategically placed guard booths, through the 12-foot fence, topped by rolls of barbed wire, it didn’t look the same. All first-floor windows are bricked in, and most of the landscaping is gone. I’ve seen more inviting prisons. I didn’t bother to seek entry because I knew I didn’t have adequate approved identification,
    Was all this to protrect the students from outsiders, or the neighborhood from the students?

  19. James Pollock September 22, 2016 at 7:10 pm #

    “I visited–sort of–my old high school.”

    I routinely volunteer at a (non-school) event that is held at my old high-school. The school itself is a “California campus”… several different buildings joined by covered sidewalks.

    There is a fence with a gate that surrounds the core campus that wasn’t there when I was a student in the early 80s. Other than that, the security isn’t much different.

    On the other hand, the grade school my daughter attended ALSO now has a fence it did not have before. It closes off the main passage between the parking lot in front of the school and the play areas behind it. (The school consists of two buildings, with a formerly open walkway between them, now fenced off.) However… there is no fence on the side, nor on the two passages from the neighborhoods behind the school to the schoolyard. The fence, if the gate is closed, would slow somebody down approximately 5 minutes, as they would have to walk around the side of one of the buildings instead of just walking between them.

  20. Reziac September 22, 2016 at 7:34 pm #

    Show up. Fanny in seat, eyes front. Do homework, pass tests. We do not care who you are, really, so long as you show up and are a good student. if you’re disruptive, you’ll be expelled.

    There, I like my rules for school security much better.

  21. Anna September 22, 2016 at 7:43 pm #

    “Some schools are considerably safer than other schools… but the danger comes less from random armed strangers and more from other students in the school.”

    Very true – I went to a rather rough elementary school, where there was a significant chance of suffering physical violence at any given recess time, but no, outside predators were not the problem!

  22. Liesbet September 23, 2016 at 2:32 am #

    I wonder if America is sooooo afraid because it is a big country…

    We have had ONE shooting in a daycare a couple of years ago. A few babies and carers died that day. It was a big tragedy, of course, and a lot of daycare facilities installed some security measures after that (which are being forgotten more and more as the years go by). Yes, it was a tragedy, but it was only one in – I don’t know – 40 years at least. So it is looked upon as a thing that happens almost never.

    But then, Belgium is a small country, with only 11 million inhabitants.

    I don’t know the figures of course, but I guess you don’t have SO many more school shootings than we do… on average… considering the US have almost 30 times more inhabitants than Belgium does, and considering a lot of Americans own guns and we don’t…

    So every shooting, every time, feels as if it is a tragedy close to home, although it may be at the other side of the country…

  23. JulieH September 23, 2016 at 7:49 am #

    I was ok with the school securing most doors from the outside so that visitors must come in a main entry. To me, that makes common sense. Having that main entry locked down too does not.

    Having visitors sign in when they enter the building so that, in the event of a fire, it is possible to confirm when the building is empty so that firemen are not put at unneeded risk – again common sense. Having people have to have extensive background checks/turn over ID/etc. to enter does not.

    Unfortunately, we have had to lock down our small business (manufacturing) for the time being. During the work day, one can easily leave through any door, but all are locked for coming in – even the main office. Visitors have to knock or call the main line to be let in. We have a potential disgruntled former employee – things are getting ugly for them fast. Local law enforcement asked us to secure our building as a precaution for now 🙁 A pain, but no one here feels it is unreasonable for the time being until we can make some other arrangements.

  24. Beth September 23, 2016 at 8:29 am #

    It actually doesn’t make that much sense to have to sign in in case of a fire; if it were that logical, why don’t we have to sign in and out at the mall, or the library, or the gym, or anywhere else large numbers of people gather? For one thing, people can just leave, forgetting to sign out. Also, firefighters know to search every part of a building that’s on fire, and conduct several such searches, and they’ll do that with or without a piece of paper telling them who to search for.

  25. lollipoplover September 23, 2016 at 10:03 am #

    What’s lost in these stories about people who are so worried about school shootings are ANY measures that address the actual shooters and preventive measures to minimize people wanting to shoot on a school! With all of these resources, throw a bone to the mental health crisis that causes folks to pick up a gun and shoot at our schools. Let’s start there!

    You can build up fortresses with the latest and greatest (and expensive!) technology in the unlikely instance of a random act of violence. OR you can get to know the people in your community and their families and better spend resources on early interventions to help at-risk families and escalating violence (like contentious divorces and custody battles). Our children are most at risk from people they know. That’s who’s hurting children, not random gunmen. The people who hold grudges and go off on schools (like Adam Lanza) are members of your own community: Identify and help them before their attention-seeking behavior turns violent.

  26. Tim September 23, 2016 at 11:43 am #

    “the school had balked, fearing that online sexual predators would be able to hack into the video stream.”

    So it wasn’t for privacy issues and because they would likely be bombarded with comments and question from parents about every little thing they saw or didn’t see on the video?

  27. Another Katie September 23, 2016 at 11:55 am #

    Our older child’s public school installed a “safety and security” window film on every piece of exterior glazing in the school. It won’t stop bullets, just (allegedly) slows them down enough that they’re less likely to injure people. The building is kept locked at all times and you have to give the name of the child you’re there to pick up before they buzz you in; there’s a delay while they look up the name. Once inside you have to show ID so they can look you up and make sure you’re authorized to pick up your own child. If your kid’s teacher was proactive and sent them down to the office at the appointed time, they keep the student behind the desk until the secretary has checked ID against the pickup list – even if the child happily greets the parent. I get it, there are a lot of kids in the school with messy custody situations but it’s still a pain in the neck.

    Of course the PTO mommies who are in there volunteering several days a week get special treatment, either keycards to let themselves into the building or the secretaries see them on the closed circuit TV and just let them in. Teachers and staff have to wear IDs, visitors other than the PTO mommies have to wear gigantic “VISITOR” badges in neon colors, but the PTO mommies get to just waltz on in. They don’t have to sign their kids out for early pickups, either.

    At the high schools they have a Raptor system for visitors. Before a visitor can even enter the building they have to feed their driver’s license into a scanner that does an “instant sex offender registry check” and checks against some kind of school-maintained ban list. If the person is on the registry, the police are automatically called and they’re denied entry. If the system gives the all-clear, the system prints out an ID sticker and then the visitor is buzzed into the school. I’m not sure how it works if the adult has no driver’s license, or is a parent of a student and is indeed on the registry but is visiting for a parent teacher conference or something like that.

  28. Stephanie September 24, 2016 at 6:36 pm #

    You’re making me glad that my kids’ school isn’t strict about any of this. Visitors have to sign in, but the office staff knows the regulars well enough that they don’t do more than glance at most people. Fences are low enough that some kids climb over them to leave after school – they aren’t supposed to, of course, but I’ve seen teachers just watch to make sure they don’t get stuck or something.

    Then there’s the high school in our area, where kids often do a part of their running for PE outside of the campus. Every here and there, I’ll see a class jogging along the sidewalk together.

    We still get plenty of nervous parents, but it’s usually in other ways. Most parents around here don’t seem to let their kids go out and play. Matter of fact, it’s hard to find someone for mine to play with, because their friends are always busy with activities or something. No one seems to have time to just be a kid around here.

  29. James Pollock September 24, 2016 at 9:24 pm #

    “Fences are low enough that some kids climb over them to leave after school”

    Well, the grade school I went to in the early 70’s had a six-foot tall chain-link fence with three strands of barbed wire along the top of it… but the fence didn’t go all the way around. There were holes in the fence big enough to drive a truck through. I don’t mean a gate. I mean fence, hole, fence.

  30. James Pollock September 24, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

    “Having visitors sign in when they enter the building so that, in the event of a fire, it is possible to confirm when the building is empty so that firemen are not put at unneeded risk – again common sense.”

    Since this is such a common-sense procedure, you follow it in your home, correct? All visitors sign in to a log, in case your house catches fire and the firemen need to know how many people are inside?

    ACTUAL common sense tells us that if there is a fire severe enough to require calling the fire department, then people will leave the building via the nearest available exit at their earliest opportunity to do so… possibly even CREATING such an exit, if one is not otherwise available… and are extremely unlikely to then return inside the building to sign out. Thus leaving the firemen fruitlessly looking for persons who are signed in, but not signed out, who are no longer inside the building.

  31. David (Dhewco) September 24, 2016 at 11:29 pm #

    So, what happens if you have to have that rare time you have to have a friend drop off your kid at school. You know, when you’re taking care of a sibling who’s sick..or if you’re the one who’s sick? Does every possible friend you have have to give a fingerprint to scan into the system?

    The mind boggles.

    David

  32. James Pollock September 25, 2016 at 12:24 am #

    “So, what happens if you have to have that rare time you have to have a friend drop off your kid at school.”

    No problem, the kid’s fingerprint opens the door. The problem is when you have to send someone else to go pick them up.

  33. Warren September 29, 2016 at 9:05 am #

    The whole sign in and out is a very effective emergency response tool. Most places in the event of an emergency will evacuate and the sign in book is supposed to be brought out. This way a head count can identify if someone is left behind and emergency workers can be directed to their last known whereabouts.

    At one place we had a series of small flashes that set off alarms. The third time it happened I had half a dozen or so workers take off to do coffee runs. I was waiting for them when they got back. They were told to stay in their vehicles and go home. All of them suspended without pay for a week.