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Thoughts on School Safety

I’ve written way too many words, but sometimes I have to write to think. Below are some thoughts I’ve had while learning about the Uvalde, TX, school shooting. I’m not interested in debate but share this for anyone interested in a recently retired school principal’s thoughts.

After teaching music ten years (and loving it), I became a school principal (and loved it). I took some pride in the fact that learning was usually at the center of my thinking though school safety did sometimes compete with my thoughts which was reasonable since kids learn better in a safe environment.

During the later years of my career, the focus on safety had to increase. In our district, all staff went through ALICE Intruder Training (excellent, and expensive), and Stop the Bleed (very good, and free to us).

Among many actions taken to improve school safety, our school had a highly qualified police officer on campus, added many surveillance cameras, and locked all entrance doors and classroom doors. When a visitor was identified on camera, office personnel unlocked the door so the visitor could enter.

Some were saddened to see these changes in school security. I was encouraged that such high priority was placed on our children in the Alma Schools. I couldn’t enter a safety deposit box vault in a local bank without passing through security and gaining access with bank personnel. Are our kids less valuable than anything found in a bank?

I used to walk the perimeter of the campus regularly, visit classrooms, and walk the hallways. I often played through scenarios in my mind, rehearsing the actions I might take if an emergency occurred.  This type of thinking was unpleasant but important. On several occasions I walked the campus with parents, students, or law officers, asking them to look for safety concerns.

When I heard about the shooting in Uvalde, TX, I felt a familiar sick feeling in my chest and began familiar patterns of thought, trying to determine how different actions would have avoided loss of life. Even though I’m not a principal anymore, I tried to imagine what we might have done on our campus. Every teacher in the country probably had similar thoughts.

Mistakes were made in Uvalde, but I think most schools would fail in varying degrees in the face of someone with excessive firepower.

For Uvalde to succeed, it appears that a SWAT Team with breaching equipment would have had to be on campus to subdue the well-equipped 18-year-old shooter. It’s going to take a lot of well-equipped SWAT Teams to cover our schools nationwide…

Since this is a complex problem that defies easy solutions, maybe we should come at it from a variety of angles. Maybe we should take many careful actions to reduce risks in our schools. Maybe some of those actions would involve making it at least inconvenient for 17-21 year-olds to purchase lots of ammo and weapons. I got a learner’s permit before I could get a real driver’s license.  My truck is registered and insured, as it should be.

A wise father in Alma purchased a single-shot bolt-action rifle for his son when the young man was old enough to start hunting with his dad. That young man acquired skills and good judgment in using that rifle. His dad said the boy learned to aim carefully because he had a single bullet to take down a deer. Later, when he was older, he was able to shoot other guns safely and accurately.

Some say, “Arm the teachers.” I assume they’re including the principal, secretary, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and maintenance workers. I’ve visited with police officers about the reduction in shooting accuracy when well-trained law officers are in a stressful situation. Imagine an educator with limited training using the gun and a few bullets issued as part of her limited teaching supplies to confront someone with a superior weapon and a backpack full of high-capacity clips. Might make some of us feel better to “arm the teachers” but it would be very expensive and have little if any positive effect.

The SROs and professional crisis trainers I worked with during the last few years all said that in a perfect scenario, students would move quickly away from a threat, leaving the bad guy alone with the SRO as the only two armed humans in the school. I’d bet my life on the well-trained SRO, but the outcome of even the best judgment and actions is unknown.

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