Beefing Up Security
What we can learn from the responses to Sandy Hook in Texas and elsewhere.
The Monday after the Sandy Hook massacre, as educators and students across the country went back to school in a fundamentally altered landscape, a task force of the Dallas ISD Police Department fanned out to assess security at the city’s 150 elementary schools.
While the department’s staff of 203—more than half of whom are armed—is charged with protecting the district 24/7, the focus had always been on middle and high schools. Police rarely received a call from an elementary school, says Chief Craig Miller. The Newtown shooting changed all that.
Not just in Dallas, of course. Across the country, educators are beefing up security and reviewing lockdown procedures. But which measures offer the best protection at a time of ever-shrinking budgets?
As a result of the Dallas task force’s tour of elementary schools—which found buildings with up to seven unlocked exterior doors—this spring the district will roll out a $4.5 million security upgrade. Besides locking those doors, the district will install peepholes in the doors of portable classrooms, mount camera-and-buzzer systems in main entrances of all district schools, and put in staff card readers for side doors near parking lots.
What the district won’t do is arm teachers or staff. Miller says emergency response should be left to trained professionals. “A teacher could shoot themselves, shoot their kids,” he says. “And where are they going to store the gun?”
Not all Texas districts share Miller’s views. Jonesboro ISD in central Texas recently voted to give emergency response training to teachers who already have concealed handgun licenses, and since 2007, Harrold ISD in northern Texas has allowed teachers to bring concealed weapons to school. Both districts are rural and tiny—Jonesboro has 173 students; Harrold has 103 in a single building—and, they say, they can’t afford to hire armed guards. Texas law allows concealed weapons in schools with district permission. Since Newtown, lawmakers in Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Oregon have said they’ll consider similar bills.
For remote districts, where police might be a half hour away, arming teachers or administrators may make sense, as long as they’re rigorously trained, says security expert Anthony C. Roman.
Roman advises schools to adopt plans that protect as many people as possible for “the golden 10 minutes” until help arrives, and to install security cameras to survey the property.
Whatever changes schools end up making, Miller says, “as a result of Newtown, we’ll be forced to look at ourselves and find where we’re deficient and improve.”