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Six Year Later: The Legacy of Sandy Hook

Six years ago, this December, 20 elementary school children and six teachers in Newtown, CT., died when a gunman opened fire on the campus of Sandy Hook Elementary School.  While the families and the town still grieve at the loss of innocent lives, and the community itself remains conflicted on how to best memorialize the loss, three distinct transformations have taken place on most public school and many private school campuses around the country.  INTELLEO shares the lessons learned and the legacy of Sandy Hook.

Changes to the nation’s school safety concept

Writing last December in a lengthy feature story reflecting on campus changes since Sandy Hook, Washington Post reporters Katie Zezima and Susan Svriuga profile how changes in campus security approaches center around three primary techniques.

  1.  School lockdowns:  Since Sandy Hook, virtually every public and private school system in the U.S. has adopted or refined school lockdowns—the virtual sealing off, of entrances and access to school buildings and facilities with a simultaneous alert to local law enforcement.  Lockdowns include sheltering students in place in classrooms and activity areas, limiting persons entering or leaving school facilities, and stifling movement of students or personnel within buildings when there is an active shooter incident unfolding.
  2. Installation or addition of metal detectors:  A second outlier of Sandy Hook’s legacy has been for many school systems to either install or add metal detectors at customary exit and access points to schools.  The rationale here is to provide an early alert and warning system of potential shooters arriving on campus with weapons and or potential explosive devices.
  3. Active shooter drills:  This article also points to a third strategy undertaken by many school systems across the country—the use and practice of active shooter drills on campus.  This blue- print provides students, teachers and staff a coordinated approach to run/hide/fight back in the event of a shooter on campus.  Active shooter drills are customarily conducted with the coordination, input and participation of local police departments, sheriff’s offices, and other emergency services and public safety agencies.

The Harsh Reality of Campus Security Costs

Many school districts in the U.S. have struggled with the harsh reality of balancing school security expense with the financial reality of those costs.  An Associated Press/Seattle Times in-depth examination of those realities is reflected in safety decision making process.  As this article points out, some school districts have ponied up the additional financial resources to provide each of their elementary, middle schools and high schools with a full-time, armed School Resource Officer (SRO) at considerable expense.  Others, like the state of New Jersey noted in this story, have implemented the use of “school monitors” and specially classified law enforcement personnel, whose sole authority is campus security—at the reduced costs compared to traditional sworn officers.  This article illustrates the struggle between dollars and safety, pointing out that the overall cost of an SRO approaches $90,000 per year all inclusive, while monitors or special classified safety personnel with limited authority, ranges at $30,000-and-up per year per person.  Limited budgets have meant some school districts rotate an SRO to more than one school depending on operational hours so there is at least some presence at some time at all schools. 

The Controversy of Arming Teachers

Some school districts have taken steps to train and arm teachers and school staff, a move that has been met with both applause and controversy.  One example of a system that has taken this measure can be reviewed in an article appearing in the Dayton Daily News, which illustrates that school superintendents in several Ohio districts have implemented armed teacher programs on campus, and they are not exactly advertising that teachers are carrying firearms.

Fox 5 in Falls Church, Va., features a recent July 2018 story in which the Lee County school district voted unanimously to allow some teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons or store them in safes on campus to heighten security and student protective measures.  The teachers selected for the program would undergo extensive weapons and law enforcement training and would likewise be required to undergo rigorous psychiatric background evaluations.

Stories and feature articles about other school districts which have either implemented armed teacher programs or are considering them can be found at UPI, The Denver Post, and NewsOK.

But the practice or arming teachers and staff is not universally accepted and does not come without concern and controversy.  Those concerns and controversies, as well as an examination of the additional responsibility and potential liability for school districts, superintendent and administrators, is highlighted in an overview on the topic published by National School Safety and Security.

While the safety and security of students remains of paramount importance, national statistics indicate there is no “one size fits all” approach that appears to be working for any school district—especially when factoring in costs and available resources.  The disparity in universal campus safety methodology is born out in 2015-2016 statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics.  Outside of a statistical analysis of armed personnel of some type on campus, this data illustrates that measures such as:

*the random use of metal detectors on campus.

*adoption of school uniforms for students.

*student and staff photo ID badges.

*random dog sniffs for drugs and weapons.

*the installation and utilization of security cameras and video

*controlled access to campus, can range from as high as 95 percent practice to as low as 10 percent utilization at school campuses ranging across the board from elementary to middle to high schools.

If the legacy of Sandy Hook illustrates one universal message, it is that the challenge of providing a safe, secure and protective learning environment for our nation’s school children remains just that; an increasingly complex challenge.

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