Today, Americans live in constant fear of possible school violence, of a possible school shooting at any given time. However, school shooting rates in 2018 have not risen when compared to past decades (Kaste, 2018). In fact, since 1994, the occurrence of violent crimes in U.S. public schools have fallen drastically; over two-thirds as of 2013 (Cornell, 2016). The only growing academic is the increase of media coverage these events get, which is responsible for the constant fear and anxiety in students, parents, and educators. The media, in reaction to these crimes, covers the highest profile cases. As a result, Americans are left with negative impressions of public schools, and incorrect perceptions of the frequency of school shootings (Cornell, 2016).
While school shootings do undoubtedly occur, the frequency of them has not been “on the rise” (Cornell, 2016). Furthermore, a recent study found that, while roughly twenty four school age children were murdered every week in the United States, only about one percent occurred in school facilities (Cornell, 2016). Regardless, American communities have the duty to ensure that every child is safe at school, whether the odds are one percent or one hundred percent. In order to fulfill that civic duty and curb school shootings, steps such as implementing school resource officers and emergency training with technology must be taken immediately, as well as designing future educational buildings to withstand emergencies such as school shootings.
In ensuring that school shootings don’t continue, the first step which should be taken is the implementation of increased school security personnel and armed officers, such as School Resource Officers (SRO’s). An school resource officer is an official police officer, who has been sworn to protect the students of his/her assigned school, as well as uphold the law. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, “Because of their special training, school resource officers are the only professionals who should be armed in a school…” (Rosiak, n.d., pg. 5). In accordance with the National Association of School Psychologists, most of these specially selected police officers are experienced and have served in their local community previous to becoming a SRO (Rosiak, n.d.).
These valuable job positions have proven to influence students in a positive manner. One major responsibly of these specially selected law enforcement officers is to serve as a resource for troubled or difficult students, working to keep them from acting out unlawfully (Rosiak, n.d.). Some examples of possible unlawful actions include: student assaults and school shootings (Rosiak, n.d.). If it were not for these police officers, it is reasonable to conclude that there would be more violence, at varying levels, in America’s public schools. One case-specific example of the positive outcomes brought by school guards is in NYC, where since 1998 over 5,000 unarmed school safety agents, working as a division of the NYPD, have caused violence reports to be lower by twenty percent, and major crimes by thirty-three percent, as of 2016 (Chittom & Maureen, 2016).
Contrary to public belief, student resource officers can be found in elementary schools, as well as middle schools and high schools (Chen, 2018). In mainly all scenarios, a prime reason for an SRO’s employment is to serve as a role model, and to set a good example for the children and young adults they serve. The introduction and inclusion of SRO’s into educational atmospheres can positively influence students and the climate they learn in (Chen, 2018). Children have been observed to learn skills paramount to their future, such as respect for law enforcement and authoritative figures, as well as hard work and leadership responsibilities, when under the protective supervision of an SRO within a school (Chen, 2018).
Those in opposition of student resource officers argue that the presence of SRO’s has a negative impact, both long-term and short-term, on the students they are assigned to protect. These arguments claim that students with SROs are more likely to become part of the juvenile judicial system due to offenses of a minor degree, as found by a 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service (Klein, 2018). However, it should be noted that these offenses, while minor in nature, could be the beginning of a life of crime. Even further, these minor offenses could be a sign for an upcoming, larger offense, such as assault or even a school shooting. For this reason, it is crucial that school resource officers address every form of crime, even down to the lowest violations, every time. This is done in order to ensure events do not escalate build up with time, as a result preventing mass tragedies such as school shootings.
A second measure that can and should be taken on by willing school districts is the implementation and continued practice of armed intruder drills. At Glastonbury High School (CT), these are known as known as “Lock Down”. These drills, while called a variety of names, possess the key element in last resort survival for students and school staff during a “school crisis” (Chittom & Maureen, 2016).
Once the office alerts the school body of what is happening, the procedure typically includes faculty shutting off lights, closing blinds, and locking doors while students hide silently, low to the ground, and out of sight from windows and doors. While still important, this tactic is only effective as a last resort method for student and faculty safety. What schools need, more than ever, are preemptive safety measures to prevent the possibility of a school shooting from even happening (Chittom & Maureen, 2016). While this includes the previously discussed topic of implementing school resource officers, it should not be limited to this one policy.
In fact, the most effective way to combat school shootings in educational facilities is a combination of focuses. One area of focus, vital to the safety of students in the twenty first century, is technology (Auerbach, 2018). Americans everyday implement technology to protect anything from automatic locks in their cars, to cameras at their place of business. American children should receive the same, if not greater, levels of safety through technology. Technology, such as ID cards, palm scanners, and automatic door locks, give school staff control over regulating who enters and exists the school, providing an opportunity for the school to stop and control a situation prior to it becoming a safety issue (Auerbach, 2018).
Similarly, the use of walkie-talkies among high school staff, as well as security camera monitoring, would improve surveillance and communication within schools, in turn improving the overall security and safety of a school (Auerbach, 2018). It seems like a smart investment into the safety of America’s youth to invest into technology, which can also be used in combination with safety drills and school resource officers to maximize the efficiency of keeping students and faculty safe (Auerbach, 2018).
While technology is state-of-the-art in terms of methods when protecting students, an even newer thought process may be the key to helping prevent future school shootings. The answer, cleverly hidden behind seemingly unrelated degrees in architecture and construction, is the complete redesign and planning of safer educational spaces. This new field of school safety planning and preparedness comes in recent years, with the hopes of providing safety in schools, from the buildings themselves. However, this new demand in architecture comes with it’s own challenges as well (Passy, 2018). Designers and architects claim that they could easily turn a school into a very secure prison.
The same architects, however, argue that doing such a thing would disrupt the learning process and educational ability of schools (Passy, 2018). A specific example of some innovative, potentially life-saving ideas being set in place, are at the new Sandy Hook Campus, right here in Connecticut. Features such as raised buildings, intentionally-placed wetlands, and limited paths to the school all help slow down potential shooters, provide extra time for students to react, and create extreme difficulty for any possible criminals attempting to attack the school (Passy, 2018). Another idea, mentioned by Principal Jim Childress, of the Connecticut-based firm Centerbrook Architects, would be to create zones in schools, ensuring that even if a criminal got access into the school, they would be unable to walk throughout the school (Passy, 2018). This limits access to the school, as well as interaction with staff and students of the school.
Furthermore, Childress goes on to state that through his experience designing Jewish schools from terrorist attacks, a beautifully designed wall, staffed by an armed guard, would provide the most efficient and affective level of school security. Ideally, this wall would work best by not becoming an eyesore, a goal accomplished through design and art (Passy, 2018). Schools seeking further protection, as they should, could have shelters installed in classrooms to hold students during natural disasters, including shootings. These shelters are designed to be locked from the inside, stop bullets from heavy weaponry, and can double as alternative learning environments in classrooms (Passy, 2018). Bulletproof glass and emergency alarms, similar to fire alarms, would also contribute to safe learning places (Passy, 2018).
In conclusion, school violence and shootings are a major problem in American society, and have been for decades (Kaste, 2018). As Americans and as parents, the tragic news of a school shooting is never taken lightly after each event. Americans must ensure that children are able to safely attend school and have fun, while learning and playing. School shootings may not be new, but the fear of school shootings is, thanks mainly to news outlets (Kaste, 2018). Each of the above-mentioned methods for ensuring safety ensures protection through design, implementation, education, and/or deterrents. It is this combination of strategies that is essential in ensuring safe students for years to come.
Thanks to new technology, there are new precautionary devices and systems available to help prevent future school mass tragedies (Auerbach, 2018). Furthermore, architectural genius and engineering brainpower have created safer plans for future schools, in order to combat and minimize the likelihood of a mass school shooting from occurring (Passy, 2018). While school resource officers aren’t new to schools in 2018, the importance and need for them is as strong as ever (Rosiak, n.d.). It is the duty of educators, as well as the community, to ensure that children are guaranteed safety each and every day at school, at all times during the day, from any possible threat. Therefore, each of these measures, regardless of cost, must be taken swiftly before the next tragedy strikes at the heart of Americans everywhere.