Dr. Deighan's Weekly Article - June 18, 2021
Safety and Security in Schools
June 18, 2021 by Tom Deighan
This is part of a series of ten summertime articles mapping the common ground upon which parents, educators, and communities can unite regarding one of the most divisive topics in America: public education.
At over 6 feet tall in 7th grade, Jake towered over the other students in the hallway. On this day, however, the double-barrel shotgun crooked over his arm is what caught my eye. A crowded hallway . . . a teenager with a gun . . . every educator’s nightmare! Fortunately, this was twenty-five years ago.
“No shells,” he reassured me, placing two fingers in the barrels. “I had to give a dumb gun safety speech, but I’m running it to the pickup before your class.” Jake was 13 and had no business driving, but I trusted him completely with a gun. That was long ago in a small rural school where we hosted school turkey shoots as fund-raisers. His pickup wouldn’t have been the only one with a firearm or a gun rack. Times certainly have changed!
I have written about the 80/80/80 rule in public education (80% of parents and 80% of educators agree on 80% of the issues), but it may be more of a 95% rule when we consider safety and security. Virtually all parents and educators agree on this issue. As superintendent, I have served in a small rural district with no local police department, which meant we were on our own in an emergency. I have also served in a large urban district that had its own police department. Approaches to safety and security vary depending on the district and community, but all parents and educators agree on some basic principles.
First and foremost, parents demand to know that school staff are not only qualified professionally but that they are also good people. It may sound unfair to label people as good or bad, but there’s really not much gray area on this issue. Adults can afford to interact with each other within broad parameters, but when it comes to children, people are either good or bad. Ask any parent, and I suspect you will find widespread agreement in their definitions. Parents only want good people working in schools. Period.
Beyond just trusting the staff, parents also expect their children to be protected from unwanted intruders. The doors should be locked, the playground fenced, and staff should have reasonable procedures to limit access to the school. In addition to being a security issue, this is also a practical matter because schools are so easily disrupted. The best-intentioned visitors can easily cause chaos by showing up on the playground or in a classroom unannounced. Trust me, I check in at the office every time, even as the boss, because we are ultimately considering the worst-case scenario.
God forbid, if a threat emerges in a school, parents want to know that staff will do whatever is necessary to protect their children from any harm. How schools plan for this varies widely. Evasion, isolation, and evacuation are always options, but any bad person threatening a child should be decisively stopped by whatever means necessary. More and more districts are hiring armed security or arming their staff due to this fear. Threaten a child with a gun, and political differences quickly evaporate, at least for that moment.
Once schools reasonably ensure that children are safe and secure, we can worry about all the normal kid stuff, but things have changed a lot since I saw Jake in the hallway with a shotgun. We didn’t worry as much about guns 25 years ago, but we also did not worry about cyber-bullying or online safety either. Of course, no school is perfectly secure, but statistically speaking, schools are still the safest place for a child. Parents and educators from wildly different backgrounds actually work together every day on this and other critical educational issues. I bet Jake is a parent now, and I bet his 13-year-old can safely handle a shotgun and a pickup truck. I also bet that he would agree with most parents and educators about the importance of safety and security, even regarding double-barrel shotguns.
Duncan Public Schools
Public educators welcome all . . . serve all . . . love all.