School districts across America have implemented an array of security changes since the Newtown massacre last year to try to make classrooms safer.
Video cameras. Electronic card-key access. Metal detectors. Panic buttons. Lockdown drills. Bulletproof whiteboards.
When students return to classrooms this fall, they'll be greeted by an array of security measures schools have crafted in response to the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn., where a 20-year-old intruder killed 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"Students and parents can expect to see tighter access control and perhaps some new security equipment at many schools across the country. Fewer schools will see new police officers and security personnel. The majority of schools may very well see few visible changes in security, but things such as training and behind-the-scenes emergency planning may be going on that are invisible to students and parents but very important in making schools safer," school safety consultant Ken Trump told MSN News.
While many of the changes will make it harder for intruders to get into schools, experts say keeping children safe in the classroom involves more than installing security cameras and fortified doors.
"The focus also needs to be on psychological safety measures. How are we meeting the social, emotional and mental health needs of students so they do not escalate to violence?" said Melissa A. Louvar Reeves, a school psychologist and lecturer at Winthrop University.
BACKPACKS AND WHITEBOARDS
Among some of the school-security developments that have made national headlines since Newtown:
• Parents rushed to buy bulletproof backpacks and armored vests for their kids in the weeks and months after the Sandy Hook shootings.
"We have a steady demand for the kids' backpacks, and we have had sufficient requests for college/adult backpacks that the manufacturer is now designing them. We had a backlog back in May-June, but that has been addressed," R. Gregory Starr, general manager of bullet-resistant clothing distributor Elite Sterling Security, told MSN News. "We have also had requests for protective vests to be stored in schools and 'ballistic curtains' for over doorways."
• A Maryland company, Hardwire LLC, introduced bulletproof whiteboards and clipboards in January for use by teachers and staff as a "last line of defense" against school shooters. A company official told MSN the whiteboards are being used in school districts and universities in Maryland, North Dakota and Minnesota, and districts in Alabama, Alaska, Delaware and Pennsylvania are considering implementing them over the coming school year.
• A panel sponsored by the National Rifle Association in April proposed putting armed security officers in every school.
NRA task force unveils school safety ideas
• In May, the Polk County School District in Florida scrapped a pilot project to scan the irises of kids as young as 6 getting on and off school buses after parents raised privacy concerns.
• In Ohio, a school safety plan drawn up by a task force in June instructs teachers to do whatever it takes to subdue a gunman, including attacking him. "If an intruder enters and begins shooting, any and all actions to stop the shooter are justified.This includes moving about the room to lessen accuracy, throwing items (books, computers, phones, book bags) to create confusion, exiting out windows, and confronting (assault, subdue, choke) to stop the intruder," the report recommended.
• A small Arkansas school district wanted to arm 20 teachers and staff with 9 mm handguns but the plan was nixed earlier this month after state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel questioned its legality.
According to Education Week, more than 450 bills related to school safety were filed by state lawmakers in the aftermath of Newtown. Proposals included arming teachers, adding guards or police officers and shoring up the security of school buildings. In the end, most schools opted for physical upgrades like installing security cameras and fortifying entrances.
At least four states — Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and North Carolina — gave local districts the authority to decide if they want to allow trained school employees or volunteers to be armed guards on school grounds, Stateline reported.
Experts say physical changes and armed guards by themselves aren't sufficient to stop school violence.
The American Association of School Administrators says schools remain the safest place for children, and are considerably safer than they were 20 years ago. But, the association noted, each year 3,000 children and teens are killed by guns, and America’s children are 16 times more likely to be murdered through gun violence than children in any other of the world’s top 25 industrialized countries. "Thus, a solution to preventing the killing of innocent youth cannot be the sole responsibility of the school community," the association says.
PREVENTION AND INTERVENTION
The National Association of School Psychologists says there is no clear evidence that the use of metal detectors, security cameras or guards in schools is effective in preventing school violence.
"In some school districts there is too much of a focus on physical safety efforts at the expense of psychological safety," school psychologist Reeves told MSN News via email. "It frustrates me how some districts will pay thousands of dollars on bulletproof whiteboards or training for their staff to subdue an intruder, but we cannot get districts to spend even a few dollars in prevention programming (i.e. bullying prevention, suicide prevention, violence prevention) so students do not develop into violent perpetrators. Prevention is an intervention!"
Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based school security consulting firm, said school leaders need to invest as much in their people and dedication of time to school security and preparedness as they are investing in security equipment.
"It is easier to create the appearance of increased security by throwing up some cameras and locking down some entranceways, but the best school safety is often invisible with a focus on staff training, emergency planning with first responders and strengthening prevention and mental health resources," he said.
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