After Parkland and Santa Fe, school security has been a hot topic of debate. Many schools are fortifying their buildings and implementing new measures to keep students safe.
While safety is important, it’s also essential to consider how those new measures will affect students’ feelings about going to school. Using research to inform decisions can help ensure that schools are investing in the right things.
In the wake of recent school shootings, some schools have implemented safe rooms on campus. These rooms are designed to protect occupants from gun violence and other types of emergency threats. Some experts believe that implementing safe rooms could help reduce the number of people killed and injured in a school shooting event. Other safety measures include hard corners, which are designed to provide a space where occupants can hide and remain undiscovered during an attack.
Besides the fortified wall construction, a typical safe room may feature a generator to power essential electrical appliances; a communication system that includes hidden cameras and monitors; sound insulation (to prevent attackers from verbally coercing occupants into leaving); and an air filtration system. Standard items to store in the safe room include bottled water, emergency food, and first aid supplies.
A popular way to build a safe room is to convert an existing interior room into a shelter. Some schools have done this by retrofitting a bathroom, bedroom, closet, or pantry into a safe room. Others have built new rooms that are completely separate from the house framing, so that if the roof is damaged in a storm, the safe room would not be compromised.
While most school districts now partner with local law enforcement for safety measures, this should not be a one-size-fits-all approach to safety. Instead, school administrators should invest in community partnerships and focus on preventative measures that have been proven to be effective in reducing the potential for violence in schools.
As the recent pandemic has brought attention to school culture and student mental health, many states are developing new legislation to address these issues. Some are working to improve the mental health services provided in schools, while others are focusing on improving relationships between staff and students. Cultivating staff-student relationships and supporting children’s emotional needs are vitally important to a safe learning environment.
In fact, researchers like Carleton Brown, who researched school rampage violence for his doctoral dissertation, note that perpetrators of mass shootings and other acts of violent mayhem often feel they have been ignored or unheard by society, which is why he believes the role of school counselors is so crucial. School counseling professionals can connect students with community support systems, help them navigate social and family problems that may impact their performance in school, and provide a safe environment where they can discuss their emotions or concerns with a trusted adult.
Moreover, a safe learning environment also requires that school counselors work with faculty and other staff members to create a culture of respect, inclusion and equity. Providing training for teachers on how to address bullying and other forms of student mistreatment can help reduce the likelihood that these students will be subjected to harsh discipline that can further isolate them from a safe learning environment. This type of training can also help ensure that students, particularly those from marginalized backgrounds, are not being targeted disproportionately for violations of school rules and policies.
School security is a complex matter. As a school district decides to invest in various security mechanisms, administrators need to carefully consider the safety and security guidelines of PASS, as well as their current system costs. This includes the costs of bell scheduling, clock synchronization, intercom systems, and surveillance and access control. Then, they need to take into account future maintenance and service costs when evaluating potential new system solutions.
According to Kenneth Trump, president of PASS, many advocates, activists, and vendors are “bombarding school leaders with various and sometimes ineffective products and services.” Whether these include cameras or metal detectors, some of these technologies are not necessarily appropriate for schools, he says.
Rather than simply investing in cameras and other equipment, school administrators should also focus on education and training. School safety precautions should be integrated into the curriculum and be discussed in a safe and supportive environment. Students should be encouraged to report anything that seems suspicious. This way, they’re more likely to help in the event of a threat and will be more cognizant of their surroundings.
Additionally, students should be encouraged to form trusting relationships with school resource officers. They should know that these officers are not there to punish them and will treat them fairly if they see any suspicious activity. This can help to prevent students from fearing retaliation or being punished for reporting a potential threat. Lastly, school districts should work with local law enforcement to build community partnerships and ensure that police can respond quickly to emergencies. They should also look for technology that enables real-time video verification and can federate with local police, such as license plate recognition and facial recognition.
Metal detectors can help prevent students or staff members from being harmed on campus. They can also deter potential attackers by allowing them to uncover any hidden weapons. However, school officials must keep in mind that violence can happen outside of schools as well as inside the building. Moreover, it would be impractical for them to search every student, teacher and visitor with metal detectors. A mobile panic alert button can also help students be safe by providing immediate response on the law enforcements and officials in the area.
Parents are understandably concerned after high-profile incidents of school violence. They want some type of guarantee that the same thing won’t happen in their school. However, many falsely believe that metal detectors can provide that guarantee.
It’s important for schools to understand that implementing metal detectors can have a negative psychological impact on students. This is because it can make them feel like they are being treated as criminals, which can make them less comfortable in the classroom.
Furthermore, the use of metal detectors in some schools can be racially biased. A recent study found that schools with a higher percentage of black and Latino students are 18 times more likely to have metal detectors than schools with white students. Furthermore, the reasons given by schools for using metal detectors are often mysterious and nonsensical. For example, the Bayard Rustin Educational Campus in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood has metal detectors because of reports of crime in the area, but the NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies across the street has no metal detectors.
School leaders need to think beyond hardening their schools with metal detectors and invest in the community. They can do this by focusing on positive disciplinary policies and integrated wraparound services that allow students to thrive. By moving away from punitive, racist and hardened systems, they can create learning environments where students feel valued and safe.
Door locks are an effective school safety measure to ensure that students, teachers and staff can get out of the building quickly in a crisis. They help to prevent entry from unwanted people by requiring a key or code to open them.
Schools can install a variety of locking mechanisms depending on their needs. Some options include security doors, door locks with a bolt and latch that is locked with a spring clip, and deadbolts that are secured with a hard-to-remove rotating lock mechanism. Other options include gates, drop arm barriers, palisade fencing, and more.
When choosing which school safety measures to implement, districts should consider the broader context of their communities and the needs of their students. For example, focusing on student safety and well-being by supporting mental health, strengthening educator-student relationships and engaging the community can help to prevent school violence before it occurs. These proactive strategies are a much-needed complement to school security upgrades, clear backpack policies and safe rooms.
Regardless of the approach, it’s important that all schools communicate clearly with their students and staff how to respond to a crisis. This includes training on emergency procedures and drills as well as establishing clear communication lines in the event of an incident.
Schools are under constant pressure to provide a secure learning environment, especially in the wake of recent school shootings and heightened awareness of the impact of gun violence on young people. The challenge is determining which school safety methods are most effective and how to make the best use of new funds allocated to school security. While many school leaders are focused on implementing defensive tactics such as new technology and enhanced scenario-based active shooter training, other human-centric investments have been overlooked or have not gained traction.