How Do We Make Schools Safe?

              Our friend Shannon Watts is back in the news again because her parent organization, Everytown, has joined with the two major teachers’ unions – AFT and NEA – to raise concerns about the value of active shooter drills which are now performed in 95% of all public schools. This follows a report on school safety issued by Everytown last year, which outlined some basic strategies endorsed by the unions who represent most of the teachers working in the 132,000 public schools every day.

              School security has become a major issue because some of the worst mass shootings – Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland – have occurred in both elementary and high schools. And while a school building is still a very safe place, our friends in Fairfax and other loony-tunes gun nuts have been pushing the idea of arming teachers and conducting exercises to protect teachers and students from shooters, usually referred to as lockdown drills.

              When I was in the 5th grade, we had to squat down under our desks because the Russians were going to drop an atomic bomb on our city and lying down underneath our desks would protect us from harm.  I enjoyed these drills because it gave me an opportunity to fool around with my seat-mate Brenda, who had been left behind twice and was therefore already somewhat physically endowed.  I had absolutely no idea who the Russians were or what the term ‘atomic bomb’ really meant. I didn’t know and I didn’t care. All I really cared about was trying to cop a quick feel from Brenda without Mrs. Morse interfering in our fun.

              The lockdown drills now being conducted by a security industry are very unlike what I did to keep myself from being immolated by an atomic bomb. The drills require students to simulate a situation in which a shooter is roaming through their school, complete with warnings from teachers, maybe viewing a life-size replica of someone who has been shot, lining up and running out of the building in a minute or less. The companies which provide this service are now raking in more than $3 billion every year. Meanwhile, the kids often suffer from all kinds of psychologically-damaging reactions, and there’s no evidence that these drills make  schools safer or more secure.

              Shannon gave a solid interview on behalf of the new Everytown report. She was speaking on behalf of Everytown, but when it comes to school safety, she knows what she’s talking about because she also runs MOMS. And the MOMS organization must count at least several million mothers whose children attend school. So, when Shannon says that she hears again and again about kids who were terrified because they had to take part in lockdown drills, she isn’t just pushing out some alarmist messaging designed to raise more funds.

              Right after Sandy Hook, the boys from Fairfax rolled out a school safety program called School Shield, which went nowhere fast. The program involved doing safety audits of school sites, training teachers to watch for threats, hardening school premises with better locks, more alarms and stronger doors. Nobody who is seriously concerned about school safety paid attention to this PR stunt because, after all, the NRA has been promoting the elimination of gun-free zones such as schools for years.

              I have no issue with the security measures being promoted by Everytown which are endorsed by the AFT and the NEA. But perhaps as they move forward in this program, they might want to think of one more safety initiative as well.

              Most school systems now have curricular attention being paid to violence, but the violence is usually defined as bullying or other forms of personal, physical abuse. Why not widen the definition of violence to include teaching the kids about the risk of guns? After all, there isn’t a school system anywhere that doesn’t expose its students to the risks of smoking, drugs, obesity and unprotected sex. So why should gun violence remain, as they say, the odd man out?

2 thoughts on “How Do We Make Schools Safe?

  1. Since I don’t think we add URLs here, just a title:

    Active-Shooter Drills Are Tragically Misguided

    There’s scant evidence that they’re effective. They can, however, be psychologically damaging—and they reflect a dismaying view of childhood.
    Erika Christakis
    Atlantic Magazine, March 2019.

    Erika Christakis (née Zuckerman) is an American educator and writer, specializing in early childhood education.

    Some of Everytown’s recommendations ain’t bad. I have serious heartburn over many ERPO laws because they are wanting in basic due process protection, in part because the model laws pushed by Brady, Everytown et all don’t think its needed. I think only Colorado has an ERPO law that guarantees a person the right to counsel and will appoint one if a person cannot afford one. There is one being pushed through NM as we speak. I’ve sent my two cents to the usual suspects suggesting that these laws be written carefully to ensure due process and a decent standard of evidence, i.e., “clear and convincing”. But I don’t have a lobbyist’s checkbook.

    Since we are talking about the Stone Age here, I too did the Duck and Cover Waltz . One of the first movie scenes that still sticks in my mind sixty years later is the intro to the original Orwell based movie, 1984, which opens with atomic bombings. We knew about it but it was somewhat an abstraction. Today’s kids have to deal with ridiculous drills made profitable to industry hucksters and the 24/7 news cycle telling them they are gonna get shot even if that is massively overblown. Of course they are paranoid.

    When I was a kid, guns at schools meant the Rifle Club and Rifle Team (I was a club member, we got the team’s hand me down rifles) or hitting the field on the way home during pheasant season, not school shooters. If kids get taught the risks of guns, it ought to be in the context of all the wrong reasons people resort to guns. We all were trained in how to load and fire those single shot match 22 rifles and learned the Four Rules. We never worried about a deranged kid turning one on a teacher.

    • Compared to the downside, according to Christakis:

      “…the scale of preparedness efforts is out of proportion to the risk. Deaths from shootings on school grounds remain extremely rare compared with those resulting from accidental injury, which is the leading cause of death for children and teenagers. In 2016, there were 787 accidental deaths (a category that includes fatalities due to drowning, fires, falls, and car crashes) among American children ages 5 to 9—a small number, considering that there are more than 20 million children in this group. Cancer was the next-most-common cause of death, followed by congenital anomalies. Homicide of all types came in fourth. To give these numbers yet more context: The Washington Post has identified fewer than 150 people (children and adults) who have been shot to death in America’s schools since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, in Colorado. Not 150 people a year, but 150 in nearly two decades…”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.