Making Schools Safe

Making Schools Safe

Something has to be done about making children safe from mass shooters in schools. That is widely agreed upon.

Texas governor Greg Abbott, presiding over the state where nineteen children and two teachers were just murdered, thinks the answer is to arm more teachers, a program the state started previously but now seeks to accelerate.

South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham has another idea, asking former members of the military to go through special training for school security, and then stationing these people in schools across the country.

Graham said, “It’s time to mobilize our retired and former service members who are willing to help secure our schools. Our schools are soft targets. They contain our most valuable possession — our children, the future of our country — and must be protected.”

Axon, the company behind the Taser, had still another idea, drones equipped with stun-guns, which in the words of Rick Smith, company CEO would, “play the same role that sprinklers and other fire suppression tools do for firefighters: preventing a catastrophic event, or at least minimizing its worst effects.”

Not to be harsh, but these are all terrible ideas. 

When it comes to the truly bonkers flying tasers idea, the Axon ethics board apparently agrees with me, as nine of its members resigned after Smith’s announcement. Rick Smith has since said that the project of mounting tasers on drones is on hold.

When it comes to arming teachers, we should remember that the vast majority of teachers do not wish to be armed while in school, and the mere presence of more guns leads to greater potential for accidental harm. In fact, there are dozens of reports of adults mishandling guns in school, including a substitute teacher having his gun fall from his waistband while doing a cartwheel at a Florida grade school, a teacher in California licensed as a reserve police officer injuring students when he accidentally fired his gun during a safety demonstration, and numerous examples of adults leaving their guns in places accessible to students, where fortunately no one was harmed.

Perhaps Senator Graham’s proposal seems to make more sense, but it too introduces more guns into schools, leaving greater potential for harm.

But there is another aspect to Graham’s proposal that we must also consider, what schools are for, and — as I discussed in a previous post on this issue — what is the atmosphere most conducive to achieving the goals of schooling?

As part of his announced proposal Graham said, “Schools should be treated like courthouses, banks, capital buildings when it comes to security.”

The analogy Graham is working from is that schools, like those other spaces, have something valuable worth protecting inside, which is true enough, but the idea that students should be kept sealed in a vault, guarded by people with guns like the money and valuables is not consistent with creating an atmosphere conducive to learning. 

It is important that students be safe in their schools, but they must also feel safe, a condition much less likely to be achieved with armed personnel roaming the grounds. 

The current impact of resource officers in schools is decidedly mixed. In many cases, they are used to discipline and intimidate students, as opposed to protect them. A recent story produced by the Garrison Project resurfaced evidence that the resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL had spent his morning harassing a sophomore about $200 cash in his backpack the student had saved to take his girlfriend out for Valentine’s Day dinner.

The officer routinely searched student bags, believing that his role was “the prevention of juvenile delinquency.” 

Hours later a gunman entered the school, killing seventeen, and then ditching his weapon and leaving without being confronted by the officer.

This is not to say that all officers are likely to be derelict in their duties, but it does suggest that the presence of more police is no guarantee of safety, and may even lead students to feel unsafe on a daily basis.

If we are going to solve this sort of problem, we can’t allow the unthinkable — turning schools into fortresses — to become normalized. There’s already worrying trends on that front as government inaction seems to be the inevitable response to the latest tragedy. 

A survey from CBS News/YouGov found that almost three-quarters of Americans believe that “mass shootings could be prevented if we really tried,” which sounds reassuring, but that also means a quarter (including 44-percent of self-identified Republicans) believe these tragedies are inevitable. 

More weaponry in schools is not the route to making students safe. 

As Heidi Stevens writes at the Chicago Tribune, “A constant state of vigilance is a failure. It’s a failure of imagination, a failure of priorities, and a failure to value children more than we value bloodlust.”