The Differing Approaches to School Safety

Will Rantis

As school shootings have become more of a debated issue in America, the safety of schools has been called into question. School students themselves are worried about going to school. Gavin Hoedl, a student in Kansas, says that “Everyday I walk into school thinking this could be the last time I do.” Senators are working on such measures to increase school safety by designing legislation which would create a series of guidelines to help school officials build and manage safer schools. Schools that exist have two main methods of preventative measures: security measures and community building.

Security is built into the design of buildings. The school hallways create a choke point between the entrance of the school and the classrooms. This allows anyone entering the building to be observed by placing security officers on that path. It can be upgraded further with camera monitoring, or the installation of metal detectors, as has been done in some schools. An increasing number of schools use facial recognition technology in addition to their cameras in order to mark out who does and doesn’t belong. These are added in conjunction with increases in school security personnel.

In addition, most schools, 96% according to the New York Times, have lockdown drills. Our own Centreville High School has them. Some school districts go further, enacting live shooter scenarios. In one case, a live shooter drill was performed without the knowledge of teachers or students, prompting outrage from parents whose students thought they were going to die. “They thought someone was in their school attacking them,” said April Sulivan, a mother of one of the students attending Short Pump Middle School. The school district stated that they did not intend to cause any emotional distress.

Such measures have also garnered additional criticism because of the infringements on student privacy. An additional method of detecting school shooters is scanning social media, because many shooters give indications online or in person before they commit a shooting. Companies such as Social Sentinel, work to detect such posts. This system has different viewpoints on its effectiveness, with some claiming that it helps to prevent shootings as well as giving schools better knowledge of mental health regarding their students. Others say that such measures lead to too many false flags and that such measures that watch students outside of school are invasive.
A less expensive, but potentially more difficult to implement system is the creation of a better school culture. People who approve this approach believe that creating a community where people who feel safe to speak up about a potential shooter. This has been done by adding counselors to their staff, as well as staff training about open communication. Others have hotlines or anonymous texting services for students to discuss potential shooters or their own problems.

Notable examples of culture building is seen in the creation of programs such as Athletes as Leaders and Coaching Boys into Men. These programs focus on the teaching of violence prevention among other topics designed to teach youth members positive life skills. These programs are managed by coaches, who have a tie in to the school community. Such programs appear to be effective, as schools who implemented them report reduced bullying.

Their remains limited evidence that any approach will specifically reduce school shootings. Any effects created will take years to definitively show themselves in data, and no correctly controlled study can be done without potential ethical quandaries, including the possibility of creating the possibility for school shootings. Efforts to improve mental health in the school should help regardless if the fix the problem however. Security measures for their part may be less effective than hoped however. Leaving outside doors to the building open or people passing through them at all make entrance searches less useful.

The most important thing for most people to remember is that school shootings are still relatively rare events. Centreville seems to be trying to establish itself as a school with a culture of trust. The school counselor can be found in the corridor between the first floor C and D hallway. Remember that reporting a threat is not the same as snitching on someone. Preventing violence is a group effort.