As students head back to school this fall, things may look a little different in some locations. In the aftermath of the Newtown Elementary tragedy, many districts across the country are looking for ways to beef up security procedures to keep students and staff a little safer. In light of those efforts, students may be greeted by new security devices, safety measures, and even armed guards at some schools.
Debates Over Best Security Options
The Courant reports that as schools weighed their options in new security procedures, debate over the best way to protect students and faculty ensued. Armed police guards are often the center of that debate, with some school officials in favor of the action and others opposed. Other issues that have been argued in recent months include arming school administrators and security personnel and allowing teachers to bring guns to school.
This video from ABC News reports on the mounting cries nationwide for better security in our schools.
Carl Sferrazza, police chief for Enfield, Connecticut, is one who agrees armed guards are the best way to keep students safe. Sferrazza told the Courant, “These people are homicidal and suicidal individuals. Their intent and their planning are all geared toward killing as many people as they possibly can.”
However, others liken placing armed guards at the entrances of schools to creating a prison-like atmosphere for students. Nate Quesnel, the superintendent for East Hartford, told the Courant, “We don’t necessarily believe that having an armed guard in front of a school is the most productive way to make a school safer, for a variety of reasons. I don’t want to live in an America where we have to have an armed guard in a school that my children go to.”
The Funding Quandary
Another hurdle schools had to overcome to institute new security measures was funding. NBC News reports that some involved in the task of keeping schools safe are complaining that funding is simply not coming in at the state or federal level to pay for the security devices schools want. Although more than 450 school safety bills have been on the table since the Newtown tragedy last December, 162 have failed to progress and 310 were still pending.
A few states did pass laws giving schools more funding for school resource officers. Other states passed bills to provide schools with additional safety measures, including building renovations and active shooter drills. A handful even passed legislation to authorize some school employees to carry firearms.
There has also been some funding at the federal level. COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) was a Justice Department program that helped local law enforcement agencies hire school resource officers. Although the program ended in 2005, it has been brought back in a new form this year, to provide schools with officers once again. So far, 771 agencies have applied for the $150 million available in this program to employ 1,465 school resource officers across the country.
New Security Measures Introduced
Despite funding shortages, many school districts have found the money to pay for new security measures to ease the minds of students, teachers, and parents. The Courant reports that one Connecticut school district, Bloomfield, spent $110,000 to add new cameras and buzzer systems at school entrances. Planters and other large objects have also been added to block access to glass-enclosed entrances. West Hartford spent $250,000 to install keycard entry systems and panic buttons at district schools. The panic buttons will allow school staff to notify local police of a potential problem. They will also send alerts to schools regarding weather emergencies like tornadoes. In addition, the district is adding “roving” security guards that will move between 11 elementary schools and two middle schools in the district.
This TEDx Talk reimagines security in our public schools.
The Addition of Firearms
Some schools across the country are taking security measures a step further by adding armed guards to the public school presence. The Spokesman-Review reports that Spokane Public Schools may be adding their own armed security force by January 2014. The employees, which are already commissioned peace officers in the schools, may begin carrying weapons next year as an added security precaution.
Although Newtown was the primary trigger for the new policy, the report states there were other reasons for the change as well. Jason Conley, director of safety, security, and transportation for the district, told the Spokesman-Review, “It’s those outside threats that are driving us to this next level of safety. In a criminal’s mind, a school resource officer would be the first target to eliminate to get into the school.”
District officers will receive training at the Spokane Police Academy. While these officers have received training from the police department before, this is the first time that training will include firearms.
A Fort Lauderdale suburb will also be adding armed guards to elementary schools this year. Minnesota Public Radio reports that Pembroke Pines students will be greeted by new armed school resource officers that will be stationed at every elementary school in the community. Each school will have its own, full-time officer, despite the fact that crime in the suburb has been on a steady decline in recent years. Some teachers and parents have expressed relief at having the guards on staff when the new school year begins.
Although some states have passed laws allowing school employees to carry guns as well, the practice does not appear to be as widespread. One reason might be insurance issues for some districts. For example, many schools in Kansas are not changing policy, despite a new state law allowing teachers and staff with permits to bring guns to school. The insurance company that covers the schools in the state, EMC Insurance, has said it won’t renew coverage for schools that allow teachers to bring guns to school.
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