A 14-year-old South Carolina high school student shoots at a school resource officer (SRO). He has two pipe bombs in his backpack. A search of the student’s home finds a wide array of items including shotgun and handgun shells, multiple cigarette lighters, exploded bomb pieces, 14 carbon dioxide cartridges, and the list goes on. Authorities later find social media messages giving pre-indicators of the incident and anxiety increases in the school community.
Obviously, this is a crisis.
Less obvious to the broader school community is the “crisis after the crisis” educators, parents, and school-community members face in trying to determine the next steps once this immediate threat is resolved.
Crisis After the School Crisis: Demands for Metal Detectors, “Guarantee” It Won’t Happen Again
The conversation after a school crisis increasingly jumps to metal detectors. Parents want some type of “guarantee” an incident of violence will not occur again. To help reassure parents, educators often believe they must provide some type of physical and tangible evidence of increased security.
Parents often look to metal detectors. But as I addressed in my September 2nd article entitled School Security Versus the CSI Effect & TSA Effect, some parents and media falsely believe that because a school uses metal detectors, there is a “guarantee” that no weapons will ever be in the school. This is simply not the case.
Metal Detector Conversations Should Focus on Implementation Questions
The argument for or against metal detectors typically boils down to two philosophical perspectives:
- For metal detectors: Schools should take every possible step to protect child at all expenses. Safety is the number one concern.
- Against metal detectors: We do not want to create a “prison-like” environment and adversely effect school climate.
As a provider of post-crisis consulting services to work with school districts and their school-community after a crisis, my colleagues and I start with a different line of discussion on the issue: Implementation.
Some questions and points to consider:
- If a school decides to use metal detectors, will they do so on a 24/7 basis to be effective? If you run them just during the school day, what prohibits a student from dropping a bag of weapons in his/her locker during after-school and evening times when the building is open and accessible for student activities, athletic practices, etc. — and then coming in the next day, go through the metal detectors clean, and get the weapons from the locker?
- How will you fund not only the metal detectors, but the additional security staffing to secure all doorways when they are in use, to operate the detectors 24/7, etc.?
- Will parents be willing to drop off their students earlier each day in order to get hundreds or thousands of kids screened and in their classes on time?
- Are parents, grandparents, and others willing to cooperate with all screening when they come to school to volunteer, attend athletic events and plays, etc.?
- What will be done to secure all ground level windows of the building so someone cannot go through the metal detector screening and then have someone hand him/her a gun through an open classroom window?
- Do parents and others recognize that even with a 24/7 operation, there will be no weapons screening at bus stops, on school buses, on school sidewalks and parking lots, etc.?
and the list goes on and on.
Most parents and other members of the school-community will realize from these questions that there are significant implication issues beyond the philosophical argument for metal detectors. Metal detectors are an appropriate tool for some school districts, but they do not provide the quick fix some parents believe they will offer.
Perhaps most difficult is for parents to realize that even in an environment with intense metal detector screening, x-ray scanning of visitors, and strip searches — our prisons — we still have weapons, murders, gangs, drugs, sexual assaults, and other violence.
In short, these messages do not provide the real thing that parents are seeking after a crisis: A 100% guarantee it won’t happen again.
And the hard part is for educators to be honest in telling parents that while they truly wish to do so, this is one guarantee that no one can honestly provide.
Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions, Conduct a Rational & Cognitive Assessment
School leaders should debrief every drill and critical school safety incidents. Rational and cognitively performed reviews of prevention, security, and emergency preparedness measures should be conducted after a crisis. It is a reasonable and timely expectation of parents for such reviews to occur.
Oftentimes these reviews point out many positive school safety measures already in place in a district. They can also lead to practical, common-sense, and meaningful improvements in school safety — many of which cost more time than money.
Many times the best improvements in security will not be an additional camera on the wall or metal detectors at the door. Truly good security is often invisible as the first and best line of defense is a well-trained, highly alert staff and student body.
What say you?
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