Greg Vizzini, Peter Boyd
In the wake of recent school shootings, should schools be more fortress-like? Here are the viewpoints of two CTA members.
Greg Vizzini, Moreno Valley Educators Association, Canyon Springs High School.
Why not? Schools can be beautiful fortresses. A fortress does not have to be unattractive. Disneyland has a large fence around it and all of my visits have been safe and pleasant. The fence did not detract from the good experience.
Of course, educators should know that a fortress doesn’t guarantee safety — especially if the threat comes from within.
I think most of us realize that we now live in a different time. Existing school sites should be proactive, making safety changes as they are able. Fences, a controllable entrance, surveillance cameras and even metal detectors could all play a part. And the protection of students should be an even higher priority in the future of campus designs.
I didn’t always worry about safety, but when a shooting was recently averted at my school site, it was a wakeup call. A threat was made against someone in my department. She teaches right next door to me. A student left a threatening note targeting that teacher, and when police searched his home, they found a rife and ammunition. The student was arrested. Everyone was relieved and thankful the threat was resolved without further incident. We have been lucky.
I know our campus is not as safe as it could be. My school’s Safety Committee, which I agreed to chair, expressed serious concerns in 2008-09, only to be disbanded. Currently a 6-foot chain-link fence exists on the back of our school, and the district is committed to extending the fence on the side of the school, while leaving roughly 25 percent of the perimeter open in front.
At other schools in our district, visitors and would-be intruders alike need to check through a supervised entrance or climb over a very tall fence. Anyone familiar with Canyon Springs High School knows that it is a beautiful campus, but the porous design is an added safety challenge other schools in the area do not face.
We have unarmed campus supervisors and an armed police officer dedicated to the site. This is a good balance. But part of the problem is that our administration does not enforce the laws and policies that are already in place, so some teachers don’t bother. By not following and enforcing school policies, we actually create a less safe environment. When students think they can get by without adhering to the rules, they try to get away with more. I worry that at my school site, we are encouraging the very behaviors we all want to change.
Based on my experience as a classroom teacher, the best defensive safety asset is an environment where students are comfortable reporting potential threats to the adults charged with their safety. Creating this kind of environment doesn’t cost money, but it takes a lot of work. I believe a school cannot reach its potential until a safe culture exists.
Peter Boyd, Santa Ana Educators Association, MacArthur Fundamental Intermediate School.
I’m certainly not a Pollyanna and realize that there can be safety issues, but I wouldn’t say I worry about school safety in general. I believe that the majority of schools have already adopted reasonable measures that ensure the safety of staff and students. These measures may include a closed campus, a fence around the perimeter and a single point of entrance.
The level of school safety that’s required depends on the neighborhood. A one-size-fits-all approach for school safety won’t work.
I believe the school where I work is exceptionally safe. My child attends a wide-open campus in a public school — and I feel my child’s school is extremely safe. My wife teaches in a public school, and I feel her school site is very safe. I think most people think the school their child attends is pretty safe.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, schools are among the safest places both adults and children can be. Some neighborhoods where schools are located are very dangerous and violent — yet schools within these neighborhoods are safe havens for children and adults. You are much more likely to die in a car accident than at school.
That being said, I am in no way minimizing the horrific events in Connecticut. Sandy Hook Elementary School, by all reports, was following the recommended protocols.
Instead of turning schools into fortresses, we should be making our schools safer by offering more resources to troubled kids. This might include additional counselors, social workers, school nurses and school psychologists, and making anti-bullying programs part of the curriculum. My school has 1,300 kids and just two counselors.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of school violence is committed by students or former students of that school. So we need to help students who are stressed out, fearful or concerned. We need to find a way to enforce discipline and correct students’ behavior without squashing their spirit. Creating a nurturing environment clearly promotes student learning. It is as simple as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Higher level skills can’t be learned while the lower level needs are unmet.
I believe that instead of being more fortress-like, schools need to be more welcoming — especially in immigrant communities. Immigrant parents may not feel welcome if they feel as though they are entering a fortress. It’s hard enough to get these parents on campus, and you don’t want to intimidate those who may not feel comfortable in the system — sometimes because they are undocumented. You don’t want to expand on their concerns. We need these parents to feel welcome so they become involved with their child’s school and therefore involved in their child’s education.
Again, I am not a Pollyanna. I know that bad things happen to good people. But turning our schools into fortresses is not the answer.