K-12 Schools Must Make Security Changes Now
The mass shooting at Newtown,Conn., proves we must revise our policies on gun control, mental health, parenting, access control, training and funding for security.
The innocence of an entire generation disappeared in an instant on December 14, 2012.
Immediate change is necessary to reduce the number of mass gun casualties at U.S. malls, shopping centers, movie theaters, places of employment and schools. Of course we can never prevent all such incidents, and other natural occurrences and man made devices take more lives than firearms, such as lightening and motor vehicles. But we can act.
Regulations should be tightened for those who buy and sell guns. An individual’s Second Amendment rights end where an innocent person’s right to be safe begins. Waiting periods, background checks and limiting access to assault weapons with large magazines do not harm the rights of gun collectors, hunters or those wishing to protect their own households.
We must refocus on our mental health system. There are far fewer inpatient beds available for the mentally ill than in the 1970s. Mental illness still carries a stigma while it instead should be treated like the disease it is. We have to be careful not to prematurely label our youth, but we can no longer ignore warning signs and must properly diagnose children with mental illness and intervene before children reach the age of majority.
More affordable and readily available therapists and psychiatrists are needed, as are mental health courts and Crisis Intervention Team members. Family and friends should not have to live in fear of a loved one because they asked for help and received none, their loved on was court committed for 72 hours and released without being stabilized, diagnosed, treated, or counseled, or tazed, injured, arrested, and jailed instead of given help. Mentally ill people living in the community need a support system to help them remain compliant with their medication and to notice and act on negative behaviors before they become a danger to themselves and others.
Parents and guardians have the duty and responsibility to raise their children to believe violence, anger and rage are not appropriate. What do we expect from a generation of children that witness road rage, domestic violence, and our elected and appointed officials bullying each other? Parents have the responsibility to monitor children’s exposure to television, movies, song lyrics, video games and humans who promote violence.
In schools, access control and emergency planning and practice is crucial. Administrators must acknowledge the importance of training teachers, staff, students and parents on locked doors and emergency protocols. It is amazing how many administrators focused on access control and emergency planning and practice on December 17, 2012 after previously discounting their safety directors and law enforcement officers as paranoid.
Teachers and staff need time during the school day to learn, understand and practice their roles. Parents and guardians need to accept the importance of drills and locked doors and learn to wait for the announced off-site reunification location instead of rushing to the school during an emergency. In Indiana, monthly fire drills are required so they become commonplace and second nature. Lockdown drills should be mandatory, too.
Generally, the greatest obstacle to access control systems, emergency planning, and training and practice is funding. For several years the federal Readiness Emergency Management for Schools grants empowered schools to improve safety and security, but REMS funding is now focused on bullying, an equally important issue. School boards and administrators must funnel funding to security and safety and consider the subject as important as athletics, the arts, and academics.
No system is foolproof, but if the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., had not had an access control system in place, emergency plans, and frequent drills to familiarize staff and students on what to do, more lives could have been lost.
Gerald Eugene Summers is a Crisis Intervention Team member, School Safety/Healthy Children Instructor, and an Advanced School Specialist in Indiana. He is President and CEO of Integrity Security Protection LLC, a safety and security consulting and training firm in Evansville Indiana. Contact him at [email protected] or [email protected].
Sue Ann Hartig was Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Evansville Inc. for over 26 years, the first female judicial officer in Vanderburgh County, and City Attorney for the City of Evansville. Hartig is Vice President and CFO of Integrity Security Protection, LLC, a safety and security consulting and training firm in Evansville, Indiana. Contact her at [email protected]
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