In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, school safety discussions abound.
Communities can do a lot to keep schools safe. Sandy Hook had exemplary practices in place, and I believe those practices saved many lives. No school can prepare for every potential disaster and act of violence, but we can prepare the environment to be one that fosters safety. I believe the following actions can foster safety.
Inclusive Environments: Schools need to be places where everyone counts and everyone's needs are considered. Schools should be places that affirm individuals and respond to their particular interests and needs--a place where people belong and contribute Rather than "one size fits all" institutions, schools should embrace a spirit of diversity and "everyone matters." By creating inclusive, caring environments, schools will create greater potential for peaceful, happy learning and getting along.
Simple Security Systems: I do believe that schools should have simple security systems. Locked doors help to keep the environment controlled which helps teachers and students to do their jobs without interruption. Since our school locked its doors many years ago, we have been able to teach without as much interruption and that has been positive. I also like the movement to room keys and the ability to lock rooms. Not only is that a safety measure, but it is also a measure that can protect all the wonderful equipment we use in schools today. If possible, I also believe that attractive fencing around the school grounds can help teachers monitor students' play and safety too.
Drills and Preparation: Drills are similarly important. When people know what to do in a crisis, they are more likely to act with speed and intent rather than hysteria and chaos. School drills and preparation have the potential of keeping students safe in circumstances outside of school when safety is challenged too. When prepping students for fire drills, I always say that I believe school fire drills helped to save lives during 9-11 since so many people walked those stairwells to safety in an orderly way without pushing and shoving.
Worrisome Signs: Educators and the community at large need to be informed about the signs to look for with regard to impending acts of violence. What are the signs leading up to violent acts, and what does one do when he/she notices those signs in the learning community i.e. signs exhibited by students, family members, staff, community members or visitors.
Police/Firefighter/Educator Collaboration: School administrators should have a working relationship with the police and fire department. Together these departments should create and utilize safety protocols and actions which are responsive to the community needs.
No Arms: Guns do not belong in schools. Just like the potential dangers guns pose in a home situation, guns would pose limitless dangers in a school setting. Educators often remark that they wish they had "more hands," and that's because we're juggling so many tasks at once. The addition of guns would create tremendous potential for error and injury. It would create a complication that hinders our mission of educating children well.
Sadly, from my distant position, it seems like the Newtown tragedy was born out of the mind of an isolated, highly challenged individual who had access to guns. Similar to other situations like this, I always wish someone could have helped that individual before the act. What warning signs were missed, what needs were not met and how could his environment have been changed to prevent this violent act?
The NRA protects its generous gun policies with no regard to the fact that guns and dangerous bullets in the wrong hands turn to violence, violence against innocent individuals like those who lost their lives in Newtown. Let's lobby against easy gun access, and lobby for greater laws and policies to make sure that guns do not end up in the hands of those who will use them to kill innocent children, teens and adults.
As we move forward in this debate, I hope we can use the words of Martin Luther King as a source of inspiration and action, "Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love."