Katha Blackwell is a columnist with the Lawrenceville Patch. This column, however, is very relevant to all parents in the wake of the Connecticut shooting.
The Connecticut shooting has awakened many parents, especially me. Most teachers and school administrators focus on ways to make sure students are present in class, safely getting to the right bus and safely making it home, but the thought of some random person walking into your school and shooting students is not something that we prepare for. Every school goes through the traditional fire drill and hurricane drill, but what about the “Stranger-Danger” drill? The president said it best that this is becoming all too familiar to our nation. So is your child’s school safe?
Over the last two months, I took the time to visit a few elementary schools within Lawrenceville. My son will be attending kindergarten next year so before we make the move, I wanted to make sure that we were choosing the right school. I won’t list the schools I visited, but what I will tell you is that four of the five schools I visited had no one at the door nor was anyone at the front desk. I simply walked in. No one buzzed me in, no one greeted me. I had to find the main office. Now this is not to say that those schools are in the wrong. They have an open door policy for a reason, like most schools. Parents are welcome to visit their child’s school unannounced, but of course parents would normally visit the main office to obtain a visitor’s pass. A person who is trying to do harm to those children could easily walk down the hallway instead of visiting the office first. This is real.
I have a few ideas on ways to keep our children safe while they are in school. My hope is that somehow these ideas can be implemented within Lawrenceville. Please note that these are ideas, there is never a guarantee that a gunman like in Newtown could have been stopped by these measures. I believe the principal and teachers of that school did their very best to protect those children. I am merely listing ideas that can help us protect our schools.
#1 Bullet Proof Glass/Bullet Proof Doors
I know this may sound a little silly, but the truth of the matter is that the gunman in Connecticut shot off the front door to the school. Had that door been bullet proof the administration may have had more time to contact the police.
#2 On-Site Police Officers
Although the Gwinnett County police will be more present within Gwinnett County schools this week, what happens on January 3? The police need to constantly be present at our schools. A school that has an onsite officer, solely there to protect the students, may appear to be less vulnerable. Most schools are filled with women and children. Where is the protection?
#3 Security Camera Watchers
It’s not enough to have security cameras inside and outside of the school someone needs to be watching these cameras. I am completely impressed with schools that have security cameras, but if no one is assigned to watching those cameras then the purpose is fruitless.
#4 Volunteer Security Workers
There are a lot of stay-at-home parents as well as senior citizens who love to volunteer. A team of parents or senior citizens to volunteer once a week for 4 hours simply to walk the grounds is absolutely doable. They could all have matching shirts, some walkie-talkies, a background check and a bottle of water. In order to cover two 4-hour shifts every day, each school would at least need 10 volunteers to start something like this.
#5 Stranger-Danger Drill
There should be practice drills at each school in order to help teachers and administrators have a plan in the event that something like this happens. If a teacher is walking through the halls with her class and a danger issue is active in the front office, how will this teacher be notified that she needs to seek safety for her students? Is there a code word in place over the intercom? Does she walk with a walkie-talkie as she takes her students to specials? There needs to be a drill for this. As much as we practice for fire drills, something that rarely happens, we need to practice stranger-danger drills as well.
Now is the time to start thinking of more ways to protect our children. Not when it shows up too close to home. These ideas are just a few, but as a parent you should take the time to find out what procedures your child’s school has in place to protect your child. Before we go on Christmas break and the tragedy in Connecticut is yesterday's news, ask yourself this question... Is your child’s school safe?