Not in My School

Back in the day, students were taught how to protect themselves from fire and the unimaginable nuclear attack. I remember, with fondness, the fire drills that would come during class where we would follow the teacher’s lead to a secure place outside, which was a safe distance from the classroom.

We also were taught how to duck and cover beneath our desks, and how to follow single file to a safe room in case of natural disaster.

For today’s students, however, it is a matter of selfpreservation. The attacks come from fellow students, even friends. The new drill is a lockdown. Here’s how it works: At the very thought of a threat, teachers are instructed to turn off the lights in their classrooms, lock the door and usher students into corners or closets. The police are called, while students wait until an “all clear” signal is given.

School administrators nationwide have worked with police departments to create detailed plans to secure schools, an effort that took on increasing meaning after the December 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Of the memories of my schools days, a fire alarm was never taken seriously, although we complied. I remember one fire alarm during an Algebra II class. Yes, we filed outside the classroom, but it seemed to be more of an annoyance than a protective measure.

Even today’s lockdowns are somewhat desensitizing students to the alarm of a shooter or threat. Bombarded with a litany of alarm sounds seems to do that. The lockdowns are part of numerous new security measures that schools have deployed over the last decade, including the use of CCTV, and today, high-definition and megapixel cameras.

Most states have passed legislation that require schools to have safety plans in place, so some schools have doors that lock automatically, with police officers inside the building. At other schools, a security drill may consist of the principal making an announcement whereupon students sit in darkened classrooms. Yet, other schools will act out fake shooting scenarios with the police department stalking through the halls like a gunman and testing doors to see if they are locked.

School violence is not new, though January 2014 seems to have been particularly violent:

  • On Jan. 9, a 17-year-old high school student was wounded when a 16-year-old classmate allegedly shot him outside of Liberty Technology Magnet High School in Jackson, Tenn.
  • On Jan. 13, a 14-year-old freshman at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn., was shot twice after a basketball game at this school. The shooter was not immediately apprehended, but days later a 17-year-old turned himself in.
  • On Jan. 14, two students were shot at a Roswell, New Mexico middle school. The gunman was a 12-year-old male who opened fire in this school gym, until a staff member at the school talked him into putting down his weapon.
  • On Jan. 17, a 17-year-old student at a Philadelphia charter school opened fire and injured two of his classmates. The suspect will be charged as an adult. Two other teens were brought in for questioning in connection to this incident, but were later cleared.
  • Also on Jan. 17, an Albany High School student was shot near campus. This Friday shooting sent the Georgia school into lockdown.

And, there are six other crimes just like these during this month, as well.

Believe it or not, school violence started as long ago as the 1760s. The earliest known U.S. shooting to happen on school property was the Pontiac’s Rebellion school massacre on July 26, 1764, where four Lenape American Indians entered the schoolhouse near present-day Greencastle, Pa., shot and killed schoolmaster Enoch Brown, and killed nine or 10 children. Only three children survived.

Then, on Nov. 2, 1853, in Louisville, Ky., student Matthew Ward bought a pistol that morning, went to school and killed the schoolmaster, Mr. Butler, as revenge for what Ward thought was excessive punishment to his brother the day before. Ward was acquitted.

Neither of these historical examples proves that violence is accepted today, but they do serve to show that security measures should have always been in place.

In December 2013, when an 18-year-old student walked into his high school and fatally shot a fellow student in the head, students huddled in their classrooms behind locked doors, as police swept the hallways searching for the suspect. Classrooms were evacuated one by one, and students were permitted to leave with hands over their heads onto fields outside the school. All of this according to a security plan put in place by school officials.

I suppose it all comes down to budget allocations by school boards and districts to protect students, teachers and staff. When you get right down to it, though, school is the last place violence should ever take place.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Security Today.

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