Recently I read a news report where a well know national presenter was interviewed as a “school safety expert.” This law enforcement trainer was quoted as saying there are two steps all schools should take for school security: Training and “laminate” film to cover classroom windows.
The training recommendation is certainly on-target, although we are increasingly advising schools to exercise caution when selecting school safety speakers to make sure that they actually have credentials, credibility and trust that comes from firsthand work experience in preK-12 school settings. A growing number of well-intended, but not necessarily well-experienced in preK-12, school safety trainers come from law enforcement tactical or military backgrounds. Their ideas may work on the battlefields of war zones or on city streets, but their suggestions are often increasingly questionable for child-centered, school settings.
Laminate window film is no quick-fix for school security
The second suggestion by this “school safety expert” was to install laminate film to cover windows in school classrooms. This speaker’s reported belief is that this huge investment would have a substantial impact on reducing or managing school shooters.
We have actually heard mixed results and opinions on laminate film for windows. While film vendors have ramped up their marketing to schools after the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Ken Trump was on a workshop panel in New York last year where a state trooper had put the film to the test and was not impressed with results.
Ken also often notes that many media and educators mistakenly believe the Sandy Hook shooter shot through the glass of the actual front entranceway. Yet Ken’s work in Newtown and the police investigation confirmed that it was actually the front building glass next to the entranceway, not the entranceway itself. Following the logic of those pushing laminate film for front entranceways because of Sandy Hook, a school district would have to laminate at least all of the entire ground floor windows in every school to get the desired “guarantee” being sought by those advocating for applying this film.
The cost of putting laminate on every window in a school is also typically very prohibitive. There are legitimate questions as to whether this tactic is the best use of limited resources for school safety. Putting limited resources into best practices such as student mental health support, staffing School Resource Officers (SROs), training school staff on school threat assessment and management, etc. may prove much more beneficial than throwing laminate film on every window in a school district.
A military or police expert is not automatically a preK-12 school security expert
Th recommendation by this “expert” told me that he does not know the implications of recommending certain physical security measures for preK-12 schools and shows a lack of real life experience working in a school district. By making such a definitive statement about laminate film, a speaker could cause school leaders a problem when they are asked why they have not followed the “expert’s” advice. It forces the school leader to explain the realities of school funding and the need to prioritize limited resources, while pitting the public statements of the “expert” with little preK-12 experience against the educators who know that their limited resources can be used for more appropriate safety measures.
While a speaker may be a decorated veteran of law enforcement tactical or military ranks, his or her firsthand experience and functional knowledge of how schools really work may be limited-to-non-existent. School leaders should select someone to perform the critical aspects of helping them who at least has some “boots on the ground” experience in school safety and understands their environment. Simply because a person is a trainer with military or SWAT team boots does not necessarily make that person your best partner in preK-12 school safety.
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