Creating Secure Zones at School

How secure is your school? Maybe you worry when your children leave in the morning that they won’t come home filled with knowledge and understanding. Perhaps their security is a question mark.

School security concerns are omnipresent.

It is stunning how Dallas/Fort Worth schools must daily battle security issues of one kind or another. The Dallas Independent School District (DISD) recently made an impressive investment of $4.65 million to boost security at secondary schools, and install the first major safety measures at the district’s elementary schools.

More than 150 DISD campuses will have cameras, buzzers and electronic card readers in the near future under a school security upgrade plan. The upgrades include an eight-camera video recording system, triggered by motion, at each of the 150 elementary schools.

Upgrades also will include a buzzer system at the front door of each elementary school, connected to an intercom, a color camera and require the receptionist to unlock the door. Electronic card readers will be placed at side doors of elementary schools that allow only DISD staff to enter. The district will install one-way peepholes on the 1,200 portable units to allow someone to look outside during a lockdown at all schools.

To me, that is putting your money where your mouth is.

It is not all about DISD. There are numerous districts in the area that are having or have had trouble keeping a lid on security. During the final two weeks of February, Highland Park High School (HPHS), in an upscale neighborhood in the Dallas Metroplex, was threatened by a string of alarming notes left in the high school. At one point, a note with .22 caliber bullets was left in a boys’ restroom.

I wonder, who does this kind of stuff, and why? University Park police and FBI have been called to investigate. This kind of activity isn’t funny.

On the same day as one of the Highland Park emergencies, a bomb threat was called in at the Spring Creek Campus of Collin College in Plano, Texas. Once again, education comes to a standstill as the caller insisted that there were several bombs placed throughout the campus. This was the second time in nine days that a threat was made at this campus.

This isn’t just about schools in the Dallas area. School districts nationwide are being pushed to the limits when handling threats.

Now, four months after the shooting at Sandy Hook, Connecticut lawmakers have moved forward to fortify their schools. The state’s Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Protection and Children’s Safety has recommended refurbishing security infrastructure, plus providing additional mental health resources in schools. They plan to address school infrastructure, staffing, emergency plans and violence prevention.

State Sen. Toni Boucher, (R), co-chair of the task force, said that support for the proposals has been unanimous among subcommittee members, and the group plans to re-establish the School Security Competitive Grant Program, that allows schools to compete for money to update security systems. If additional funds are received, some of the school renovations might include ballistic glass, electronic locks and double- door vestibules at the entrance of a school.

The Newtown shooting has changed how parents see school safety and has led to a renewed interest and focus on security. Parents used to think that when their child was in school, they were safe. That is no longer true. There have been numerous shootings and violent acts on U.S. campuses in recent years.

Following Sandy Hook, the White House jumped into the fray of school security. Its response was heavy on gun control and very short on funding for school safety, security and emergency preparedness. The White House released a 15-page report on Jan. 16 that directly addressed school safety, security and emergency preparedness. Unfortunately, only three of those pages dealt with safety and security. Almost nine pages dealt with gun control; two and a half pages focused on mental health issues.

The failure of Congress and Mr. Obama to immediately address the need for front-line school principals and safety officials to better secure buildings and prepare for emergencies has been an embarrassment. The level of funding—$150 million—is seriously flawed. Local schools should receive the money, rather than it being sent to state education departments, where it will be wasted on administrative costs and a few teleconferences.

If you or I were given $150 million, that would be a lot of money. However, it is merely a drop in the bucket of education funding—on average of $3 million received per state.

The first priority of the federal government should be to protect its people. There is no better place to start than in our schools.

It seems to me the shootings in Sandy Hook have been used to political advantage, eliminating programs that dealt with school violence prevention, security, security equipment and restoration of schoolbased policing.

Congress and the White House can do something meaningful to help principals secure their schools and reduce parental anxiety by opening an honest dialog about school security without mixing in gun control.

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Security Today.

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