Magazine article Security Management

A Lesson in School Security

Magazine article Security Management

A Lesson in School Security

Article excerpt

A LESSON IN SCHOOL SECURITY

MURDER, ASSAULT, AND other forms of mayhem have spread to primary learning institutions--elementary, intermediate, and high schools. Schools across the nation have seen indiscriminate shootings by mentally disturbed persons, sexual attacks against students, abductions, and assaults. Internally, schools are plagued with drugs, weapons, and assaults by students against other students or teachers.

Some of these incidents, particularly those concerning student rule violations, are being dealt with through internal monitoring, effective discipline, and education of the student body. But what about the external threats? Can they be stopped? Short of locking down an entire school and bringing all school functions inside, no foolproof solution exists.

Children are the nation's most valuable asset. All people are repulsed when the news reports a child molestation, rape, or murder. What makes these incidents even more disturbing is that they occur in school. Until recently, schools have been considered safe havens--places for children to learn, make friends, and gently assimilate into society.

Increasingly, that environment is shattered by gunshots, screams, and emergency sirens. Urban school districts have been hit the hardest. In many cases, their response has included total lock-down while in session, armed security or police officers, video cameras, and other sophisticated equipment. Are such measures necessary? In some cases, probably so.

What about the impact on children--especially those most vulnerable, those in kindergarten through sixth grade? They are extremely impressionable and are in the process of building their psychological foundations. If security is extreme, will children fear going to school? If they fear school, will they eventually drop out or suffer some type of traumatic side effect? To educate children and keep them safe requires recognition of the threat, tempered with security designed expressly for an academic setting.

Fairfax County, VA, is a suburb of Washington, DC. Approximately 720,000 people reside in the county's 400 square miles. About 130,000 students attend the county's 124 elementary, 19 intermediate, and 23 high schools. In response to incidents at public schools, Division Superintendent Robert Spillane recognized the need for a comprehensive, well-tailored security plan--one, however, that would not overwhelm the student body, school staff, parents, or volunteers. To create such a plan, the Fairfax County School Security Committee was formed.

At its inception, the committee was composed of a deputy superintendent and representatives of principals, teachers, school safety officers, school security officers, and the parent-teacher association. In addition, the Fairfax County police department was asked to provide its expertise in crime prevention and security.

The initial task was to identify the population's vulnerability. Based on the incidents that had occurred, the order of emphasis was, in descending order, elementary schools (kindergarten through sixth grade), intermediate schools (seventh and eighth grades), and then high schools (ninth through 12th grades). Making schools more difficult to enter might have put children at greater risk on the way to and from school, so the first action was to emphasize to students the importance of personal safety and caution toward strangers.

THE COMMITTEE PROCEEDED TO DEsign a comprehensive, county-wide security plan. …

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