Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What We Can Do RIGHT NOW To Prevent Another School Shooting

Well, let me start by saying that I am heartbroken for the Parkland, Florida parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who were senselessly murdered on Wednesday by the coward Nikolaus Cruz. I can hardly fathom the anguish a parent feels as he or she mourns and tries to make sense of the death of a child. The only consolation I can offer to the parents, families, and friends of the victims in the context of this incomprehensible tragedy is, “I’m so very sorry.”

A popular image on Facebook and Instagram recently.
Immediately after the Parkland, Florida massacre on Valentine’s Day, the hand-wringing, finger pointing, and politicization of the tragedy began in earnest. Social media has made every damned moron in the world a political spin doctor. Supporters of gun control point fingers at supporters of gun rights directing culpability to President Trump, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and Congress. Some claim gun rights supporters care more about guns than children. On the other hand, gun rights supporters assert that the anti-gunners would take away the rights of responsible citizens to own firearms for protection and sport and leave guns in the hands of only those who would do us harm including criminals, the mentally ill, and a hypothetically tyrannical government.

Social media has made every damned moron in the world a political spin doctor.

Reasonable people, and many unreasonable people as well, continue to debate meaning of Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Short of a Constitutional Convention, during which the efficacy and legitimacy of the United States Constitution would be debated and, perhaps, changed, the Second Amendment remains and continues to be debated in the context of gun laws in the United States.

Nathan G weighs in.
While that debate continues, little has changed and school shootings continue. Even as those opponents spar over the value of existing laws, Congress is frequently blamed for the snarl of new gun control legislation. It seems when it comes creating legislation, the more disputed an issue is, the less effective the compromise. The House passes a bill, the Senate changes it to satisfy enough senators to get a majority, and thereby dilutes the original intention. So, it is with our bicameral legislature.

Frankly, I don't think any sane person wants these sorts of tragedies to happen ever again. Considering the strong, opposing views relating to firearms and the current bearing of the United State Congress and Senate, however, what can realistically be achieved to keep our schools and our children safe?

Perhaps, an answer lies within our local school districts rather than with Congress.

A community elects a school board to represent the preferences of a community as they relate to how its children are educated. Board members are our neighbors and, often, our friends. Those elected board members establish education guidelines in the context of federal and state mandates and the collective bargaining agreement with the teacher’s union. While education is a school district’s principal charter, support services like administration, custodial services, student transportation and, yes, even security are within the purview of the school board. It turns out, a school board has many options at its disposal to help insure the security and safety of its students and employees.

An option that has been bandied is the use of armed security. “Some school districts are already moving in that direction. In September, a state board in Arkansas voted to allow 13 school districts to train their teachers and staff as armed guards, and at least seven states – including Ohio, Colorado, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Washington – have armed guards in schools.[i]” School districts in New Jersey “ . . . will now be allowed to hire a retired police officer under the age of 65 who has the training as a police officer, has had a career as a police officer. They will be able to hire them to be an officer in the school. He will be allowed to carry a gun as long as he continues with the requirements for the permit.[ii]” However, the use of armed guards is not permitted in many states and some school administrators may express concern about the vetting process for privately contracted armed guards.

Both sides of the debate have statistics to support their position.
Some school districts have created the position of “Student Resource Officer (SRO)” and have partnered with local police departments to fill those positions. The SRO is a law-enforcement officer employed by the municipality’s police department. The SRO’s job description involves student character education. The SRO may almost be an extension of the school guidance department as he or she forms constructive relationships with students. The SRO potentially identifies at-risk situations among students and follows up with the school or even a student’s family. An SRO may also act as a deterrent of drug use/dealing, cyber-bullying, and even technology threats. Of course, as a member of the local police department, an SRO carries a side-arm, which both may discourage a school shooting or stop an active shooter.

Both the option of a third-party armed guard and an SRO is an expense. For example, the annual cost of each SRO to a school district including salary, benefits, and mandatory pension contribution may be $125,000 or more. It would be up to the constituents in a district to approve a school budget which includes such positions.

Reasonable people, and many unreasonable people as well, continue to debate meaning of Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Another and, likely, less costly option is for a school district to develop a partnership with local law enforcement agencies. Such a partnership may require the leadership of a school district including a superintendent and board members to identify opportunities to develop that relationship. Perhaps, a superintendent of schools invites a police chief to attend and participate in or hold a non-voting position at school board meetings. A superintendent of schools may join and participate in a local chamber of commerce or attend Police Benevolent Association meetings to foster those professional relationships.

No citation for this meme found on Facebook.
Using those relationships as a foundation, school district leadership can brainstorm with law enforcement ways to improve safety and security at the schools. Some ideas that may come from the partnership include random visits, assemblies, or even linking police vehicles and/or police dispatch to school cameras. Such a partnership would probably not be difficult to develop. After all, not only is it in the police department’s best interest to prevent potential criminal activity in its jurisdiction, many police officers themselves have children in school.

Still another effective control is a monitored secure vestibule for school visitors. A secure vestibule for visitors when they enter a school can provide time to check identification and, for a potentially dangerous person, contain that person in that secure space and prevent him or her from entering the student area. Many school already employ a greeter, although a capital expenditure approval would have to be granted, again, by voters to construct or modify a building for the secure vestibule.

Other ways our school districts have to help insure the safety of students and faculty at our schools include:

• Eliminate building master keys in favor of key cards or biometric verification access issued only to background-checked, authorized school district staff;

• Use exterior surveillance cameras at automobile entrances for license plate verification and checks;

• Require regular parent and other non-faculty volunteers to complete background checks;

• Install contact alarms on all non-monitored doors.

Clearly, not all solutions that a school district can undertake are appropriate for all school districts. Moreover, these and other safety and security practices and tools are small pieces that create a much larger safety and security tapestry. Some of what may work in St. Louis, Missouri, for example, may not work in Brooklyn, New York. On the other hand, the same tools that work in Baltimore, Maryland may also work in San Antonio, Texas. Factors including finances, building limitations, and voter preferences will determine the protocols a school district will undertake.

Until a Constitutional Convention is convened to resolve, once and for all, what the Second Amendment of the Constitution means, we have a better chance to agree about ways to protect our children from gun violence within our own school districts than Congressional members from St. Louis, Missouri, Brooklyn, New York, Baltimore, Maryland, and San Antonio, Texas have on agreeing on gun legislation.

Of course, no solution will be completely effective. However, hand-wringing and special-interest social media debate is, clearly, accomplishing nothing. By proactively tailoring a safety and security plan to a school district and, more specifically, to each school that includes a combination of these and other tools and practices, we can reduce, possibly to nearly zero, the chance that another tragedy like the one in Parkland, or Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or . . . will ever happen again.

[i] “How Schools Are Working to Prevent School Shootings.” Allie Bidwell. U.S. News & World Report. January 15, 2014.
[ii] “NJ Schools Can Hire Retired Police Officers for Security.” Briana Vannozzi. NJTV News. December 2, 2016.

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