Schools are safe, but can be made safer

As parents prepare to send their youngsters back to school this fall, shootings in schools may have them wondering if Minnesota

school buildings are safe?

Those in the know say school buildings are very safe, but while there are crisis plans in place in most buildings, there’s no guarantee that all schools will be free of violence.

The April, 1999 shooting deaths of 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado sounded the alarm to school leaders and law enforcement that changes had to be made.

Rick J. Kaufman, executive director of community relations and emergency management for the Bloomington school system, led the crisis response team at Columbine.

Since then, he has become a nationally respected consultant and trainer of school safety and recently led a school-safety audit of Bloomington’s school buildings and developed  recommendations that could be a model for all schools. The Bloomington  School Board has authorized a bond levy election this fall for $6 million to make school buildings safer.

If the levy is approved, upgrades would include: renovating all main entrances to schools, changing locks on all  classroom doors, improving security camera systems and installing manual alarms.

Other school districts planning school safety referendums in the fall and spring include Stillwater, Eastern Carver County, Eden  Prairie and Wayzata.

Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Kaufman has advised school officials to update their crisis management  plans along with involving local law enforcement, fire department and other life safety partners.

The intent is to create barriers in school buildings to thwart intruders and protect students and staff.

Kaufman’s first recommendation is to remodel main entrances of schools so there is a secondary set of secure doors in place, funneling all visitors into the main office before gaining access into the school. Most schools require visitors to come through a front door and sign in. That’s not good enough.

Another recommendation is to install classroom doors that can be locked from the inside by the teachers. Many classroom doors  now can only be locked from the outside.

Kaufman advises that all entry doors to the school should be locked, except the primary front entrance.

Other recommendations are:

•Adopt a visitor management system integrated with the district’s student data base to ensure visitors have legitimate business at the school.

•Install security cameras to serve as a deterrent to detect incidents.

•Put in a silent panic button in school offices to alert staff of an emergency.

•Train all staff to respond to emergency situations, according to the National Incident Management System.

Kaufman advises that all volunteers who work in schools to undergo background checks much like those that all employees are required to undergo.

He also suggests that an intervention system be set up to identify troubled youngsters early so that they can be helped. The   Milaca School District staff meets every other week to identify students K-12 who need special help.

Students need to know the importance of reporting other students threatening violence or wishing to harm themselves.

Kaufman says in all major shootings, the shooter had told someone of  their plans to commit acts of violence in the school building.

Ramona Dohman, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety says schools in Minnesota are very safe. While that’s reassuring, school officials have an obligation to do all they can to create schools where  students feel safe and can learn better.

– An opinion of the ECM Editorial Board.

  • Flambeau

    “Those in the know say school buildings are very safe, but while there are crisis plans in place in most buildings, there’s no guarantee that all schools will be free of violence.”
    While it is no doubt a laudable desire that all schools should be free from violence, I think it is akin to desiring that all roads be free of traffic deaths or all pools, lakes & rivers be free of drowning victims.
    School violence is a terrible and tragic thing when it happens, as are traffic deaths & drownings. In the immediate aftermath of such events we can always look back and see what might have been done differently that might have helped us avoid such tragedies.
    It is good that we do so because no doubt there are some things that could be done differently in the future that may help to avoid such things for some people. However, we also need to realize that regardless of what we do or how much we spend on prevention there will never be a guarantee that all schools will be free of violence or that all roads, pools, lakes & rivers will be free of victims.
    While school related shootings make headlines whenever and wherever they occur due to the sensational nature of the crime, the chances of a given student dying in a school shooting during their school career is relatively small.
    According to the CDC from 1992 to 2009 there were 433 violent student deaths in America’s schools, an average of about 24 per year. The average student enrollment during this same period was about 53 Million. In a given year then a student has a 1 in 2.2 Million chance of dying a violent death at school.
    The chances of them being stuck by lightning in that same year are roughly 8 times as great.
    The chances of them drowning in that same year are roughly 24 times as great.
    The chances of them dying in a car accident that same year are roughly 250 times as great.
    What is being done to protect them from these other seemingly much more imminent threats?
    It is unlikely that a school district that put out a $6MM levy referendum to fund programs to protect students from lightning strikes or to protect them from the schools pool would be successful in their campaign.
    I for one do not think that turning the schools into the educational equivalent of maximum security prisons is the answer to the question of what to do about school violence. If anything that sort of approach is even more dehumanizing than the present system and will not result in schools where students feel safe and learn better.
    Probably the most effective things that can be done are those things that do not cost anything. Fostering a culture of dignity and respect in the schools and relying on your employees to be observant and have normal human concern for the children they teach. No doubt many potentially violent incidents have been avoided in the past by just these sorts of things. Many more than have been deterred by the installation of bars on windows & doors, security cameras and silent alarms.
    If you really want a guarantee that the schools will be violence free, the only real way to accomplish that objective would be to close the schools.
    School districts could no doubt fund high speed internet access and computers for all students to work from the comfort of their own homes if they did not need to fund all the physical assets necessary when students are all brought together in a centralized location.
    With students not under their direct supervision, school personnel would be freed up to focus on improving curriculum and educating students rather than managing behavioral issues. Parents would be responsible for managing student behavior (which is a novel concept) and for providing meals and shelter for their own children.
    Even though this would guarantee violence free schools, I think it unlikely that the ECM Editorial Board would endorse such an approach.
    Is it violence free schools that they are really after then or simply higher taxes in the form of the passage of “Safety Levy’s”?