As a retired teacher, guidance counselor, and school administrator with 32 years experience and 16 of those as an associate principal in the Bridgeport Public School System, I would like to make recommendations for improving school security in every school throughout the country.
The value of children’s lives are no less, or greater, because of their social economic background. I think some people in rural, suburban towns like Newtown, feel that living away from the inner city serves as a buffer from violent crime. Unfortunately, we have all sadly experienced the tragedy in Newtown, and we now know that unsafe schools, as well as safe schools, know no boundaries.
Speaking from personal experience, where I have had numerous students arrested for possession of a weapon on school grounds, with the youngest being a third grader in possession of a 9mm handgun, I would make the following recommendations as they relate to school security.
Central monitoring security room
Every school should have a central monitoring security room with monitoring cameras showing both sides of every entrance and exit door, hallways, and parking lots. Every door should have an electronic locking system with a buzzer alarm system, so that if a door is breached, the alarm would sound directly to the security room.
Depending on the size of the building and student population, a minimum of two security guards would work this system on a rotating basis. One guard would be in the security room monitoring all cameras, screens, entrances, exits, etc., while other security maintains a physical presence walking throughout the building.
School resource officer and presence of a police car
Every school should have a School Resource Officer (SRO) as a member of its faculty. The SRO is a regular police officer, who goes thru training to become an SRO and is an integral part of the entire school community. The SRO is dressed in standard police uniform and does carry a handgun, tazer, etc. I can tell you from experience, that the presence of an armed SRO in the school building and the presence of a police car parked directly in front of the school near the main entrance are a tremendous deterrent in keeping outsiders from coming into the school building to cause trouble. The presence of an SRO also helps maintain discipline inside of the school.
The Bridgeport Public School System began implementing SRO’s in some school buildings in the mid 1990′s. Overall, discipline, threats, assaults, possession of weapons/drugs, gang violence, etc., all decreased once they were brought on board. They are a very special group of professionals who do a highly commendable job and who truly care about the students and staff that they are there to serve and protect. I want to strongly emphasize that the presence of the police car in front of the school lets people know that there is a police officer (SRO) in the building.
The school principals, school secretaries SRO, school security guards, and custodians should all be equipped with walkie-talkies to be able to maintain immediate, constant communication, concerning the possibility of someone having a handgun, overall discipline, threats, intruders, etc. This immediate, constant communication will save minutes, seconds, which in turn would mean the saving of lives, if someone was to enter the building, threatening to shoot someone.
Backup electrical power system
Every school should have a backup, electrical power system. If a school was to lose its electrical power, either from a storm or an individual planning an assault who intentionally disconnects the power to the building, how would the staff be able to notify the rest of the school communiy of this danger.
Main entrance monitoring
Most schools have a buzzer system with a monitoring screen and speakers, both inside and outside of the main entrance. This system is usually located at the main secretary’s desk. This should not be the secretary’s responsibility to decide whether or not someone should be allowed entrance. The school secretaries are already understaffed and overwhelmed with clerical duties.
Therefore, each school should have a separate security guard stationed at the main entrance. This guard would also monitor the full body, walk thru metal detector placed directly between the inside of the front entrance doors and second set of locked entrance doors, which are also controlled by the guard. This would require many schools to have a second set of electronic doors installed.
Periodic unannounced body and bookbag searches should be done with handheld metal detectors by a team of security personnel at different buildings on different school days. Students would then think twice about bringing weapons into school, never knowing when they may be scanned.
Bullet proof glass
All schools should have bullett proof glass installed throughout the first floor of the building. One of the schools that I worked in had the classroom windows shot out by drug dealers because the police were using the classroom for surveilance. Shortly thereafter, the Board of Education approved bullet proof glass to be installed on that side of the building. Any deranged person who wants to shoot up a school does not necessarily have to go inside of the building to massacre students and teachers. They can simply walk by the first floor windows and start shooting. This is why I recommend the bullet proof windows on the first floor level.
Unannounced, random searches of school lockers
School lockers are school property. School security should have the right to periodically do unannounced locker searches at any given time before, during, or after school hours. This sends a clear message to all students and puts them on notice not to have anything in their lockers which violates the Code of Discipline. Also, if by word of mouth it is suspected that a student has a handgun in their bookbag, all students bookbags would then have to be searched because that a student could pass that handgun onto another student.
During my principalship, I have found handguns and other forms of weaponry in lockers and in bookbags. From my experience I know that female students can just as easily carry a gun onto school grounds as a male student. Therefore, every school needs to have at least one female securty guard.
Additional armed school staff
I recommend that in addition to the SRO having a handgun, that at least one individual in the schools main ofice and at least one staff person on each floor or section have a concealed handgun. A substitute list of staff should also be made available to fill in just in case one of the original designees is absent.
These individuals would carry a concealed weapon on their person and remain anonymous to the rest of the school community. They would have to be fully licensed, having taken all of the necessary training and testing involved to get a license to carry. Psychological testing would also be required of these individuals.
All of the necessary planning, practice drills , sequences, etc., would be supervised by the local and state police. Schools must also have additional armed staff just in case the SRO is absent or has to leave the building for an extended period of time.
Some might say that even if schools install all of this modern security technology, that if someone wants to get into a school and shoot someone, they will find a way. Local, state, and federal governments must be proactive and not wait for more carnage.
Whether its one child or adult or twenty-six, it doesn’t make a difference. Some politicians will say that it is too expensive to install all of these security measures. Some will say that its overkill. I would prefer to call it preventive-kill.
As President Obama has said, “we’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past years. As a country, we have been through this too many times and we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics and regardless of the cost.”