School security shouldn’t be on the back burner
Published 1:13 am Wednesday, August 10, 2022
With all the excitement and hope of a new school year, it’s easy to forget that less than three months ago, we as a nation were collectively looking for solutions to keep our children safe in the aftermath of the horrific Uvalde shooting.
Does the problem lie with guns, mental health or school security? I think it’s multi-faceted issue that needs to be examined from every angle. As a reporter who has frequented public and private schools across St. John the Baptist Parish for nearly five years, I have concerns over how easy it is to access campus buildings without walking into the front office.
I don’t want to place blame on staff or administration because I think these safety issues are rooted in the design of the campuses themselves. Separate buildings and detached gymnasiums leave plenty of space for someone to slip into school hallways inconspicuously. The issue extends beyond school hours. When covering sports practices and events after school, when there are often many students still moving around campus, I walk straight around the main buildings to access gymnasiums that seem to always be unlocked.
There are a few schools that require visitors to buzz in before entering the building, including but not limited to Fifth Ward Elementary and John L. Ory in LaPlace. St. Joan of Arc Catholic School in LaPlace takes this a step further by incorporating not only a buzzer system, but also a gate surrounding school buildings.
I believe this set up could be further improved by making the main office the only building accessible when someone first enters the gate. It’s far from a perfect solution, but I think fencing could be a simple step toward shielding school campuses from unwanted visitors. This wouldn’t require an exorbitant amount of funding to change the layout of each campus. Security cameras are another tool that can be used to watch for unwanted visitors, as long as they are being continuously monitored.
Another aspect of school security that needs more attention are active shooter drills. My K-12 education ranged from the aftermath of Columbine to the aftermath of Sandy Hook, so I am no stranger to what it’s like to huddle against the wall of a darkened classroom while staff members peek through windows and briefly shake door handles during these drills.
I can only speak from my own experience when I say that we never once had a drill on what to do if a threat occurred during lunch period, class transitions, or any other time students aren’t all neatly tucked into classrooms. After the Parkland shooting in 2018, I attended a safety awareness function at a local school and asked if there was a plan for these situations. At the time, there wasn’t.
Open communication at school and at home becomes critical to identifying potentially harmful situations before they escalate. We should continue to educate children on situational awareness and the all-important mantra, “If you see something, say something.”
Our public school system has communicated threats to school safety in the past, and I have no doubt they will continue to do so moving forward. My hope is that we can take steps to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to the security of our schools.
Brooke R. Cantrelle is news editor for L’OBSERVATEUR. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.