Educators, parents, and the media often look upon a gun or drug confiscation in a school as bad news and a negative mark on a school’s reputation.
In fact many historically believed, and some still believe, the presence of a police car parked outside of a school implies an out-of-control school and an incompetent principal exists inside the school.
Both perceptions are the farthest thing from the truth. Finding a student in possession of a gun or drugs in school, especially before they have been used, means school officials may have prevented a tragic situation. In many cases, it means a student felt comfortable enough to come forward and report the situation to a trusted adult, and the adult responded in a timely and effective manner.
Likewise, the police presence at a school means educators did their job: They reported a crime. They did not cover up a crime or ignore the breaking of the law.
They may have even taught the student offender(s) the most important lesson of their life: There are serious consequences for violating the law and for violating the most serious school rules.
The System Worked
I recently worked with a school district that hired us to help them assess security issues after two students were caught at their 3,600+ student high school with guns in two separate incidents. The school-community was understandably concerned. The discussion quickly focused on a response of metal detectors, but the school board stepped back and called for an independent assessment of school safety in the entire district.
Our team, being an arm’s length away from the emotional aspect of the issue, pointed out that the gun confiscations were really a good thing. In short, the system worked:
- The district promoted the police department’s Crimestoppers anonymous reporting program.
- Someone, presumably students, felt comfortable enough to come forward and report that these students had guns at the school.
- School officials and police took the reports seriously and responded in a timely manner.
- The weapons were confiscated, the student suspects were taken into custody, and the offenders will face consequences for violating the law and school rules.
- No one was injured.
While one gun in the hands of a student in a school is one too many, both incidents were good news in that the system worked, the guns were confiscated, and no one was hurt. The school is a bit safer today as a result of the actions of the reporting persons, and because of the school and public safety officials who acted upon what was reported.
Reframing Security Incidents
Schools reflect our broader society. Many American high schools have several thousand students enrolled, which is the size of some of our small towns in the nation. To believe our high schools are 100 percent free of guns, drugs, or other ills which exist in the broader community is naive, if not foolish.
Most parents know this, but for some reason many parents, as well as many educators, want to pretend that schools are somehow still immune from the same negative behaviors and ills which are present in their broader community.
The first step toward making our schools safer is to acknowledge that some less-than-desirable things will come along with the many good things which occur with our many good students. The second step is to to deal with the bad and the ugly in the same manner we deal with the good: Head-on, honestly, and with full transparency.
This means finding a gun, drugs, or other item in a school must be viewed as a good thing. The time to be alarmed is not when someone reports a problem and it is acted upon.
The time to be alarmed is when there is an “it can’t happen here” mentality, when students and others do not have the trust and confidence to report, and/or when school and safety officials fail to act in a timely and effective manner when a report is made.
What say you?
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