Singer, Karen, Curriculum Administrator
Violence prevention should be an ongoing process that includes physical deterrents coupled with peer communication.
High profile school shooting incidents in the past couple of years have generated headlines, heightened public awareness of school violence and been a powerful motivator for schools to beef up--or initiate--preventive measures.
Despite the attention, however, school security experts say they are concerned, especially about the long-term effectiveness of such efforts.
"The problem is time elapses and nothing occurs, but you can't get lulled into a false sense of security because it's going to come back and bite you," warns Peter D. Blauvelt, president of the Slanesville, West Virginia-based National Alliance for Safe Schools.
"Many in the education community consider Columbine as a wake-up call," adds Kenneth Trump, president of School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland. "The question is are they going to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep again? Six months, or six years from now, are they going to be as vigilant as they are the day of or the day after the crisis?"
Blauvelt and Trump are among others working with schools on safety issues who have noticed a disquieting trend recently. Although school administrators proudly show off safety plans devised after the Columbine tragedy, too often there seems to be a wide gap between what's on paper and what's in practice.
"`Oh yes, we have a crisis document,' they say, but then you go down the hall and ask a teacher or custodian, and they'll say, `Yeah, there's something up in the office, but I'm not sure what it is or what's involved,'" says Trump. Or, he'll be told about violence prevention measures in schools "where 30 doors are left open."
Part of the problem has to do with history. Many K-12 schools have traditionally tended to focus on safety with prevention strategies aimed more at conflict resolution and discipline than security.
"Historically, violence has always occurred in areas where you expected it, and perpetrators were always outsiders," Blauvelt says. "Then all of a sudden, violence was occurring in communities that were safe and had good schools, and then one day the kids went to school and they didn't come home.
"That had a tremendous impact."
The recent spate of school shootings spawned profiling efforts by the FBI and Secret Service, among other government agencies, and sent many schools scrambling to address security concerns by installing high tech equipment, including closed circuit cameras and metal detectors.
Security experts and education experts agree these can be helpful tools, depending on school conditions, and if used and maintained properly.
Such tools are particularly well entrenched in the Richmond, Virginia public school system, where physical security measures have accompanied conflict resolution curriculum since the 1970s.
"We have the hardware," says Sharon Scott, assistant chief of safety and security for the school system, which has 29,000 children.
There are door locks, buzzers and closed circuit cameras in the elementary schools. And there are security specialists with police powers at the middle and high schools, who randomly conduct locker and metal detector searches.
"We don't employ those searches every day, but we keep our ears to the ground about what's going on in the neighborhood," Scott says. "We don't have gangs, but the kids are very territorial ... and [we] do search whenever there is activity where we have intelligence that suggests it's going to get into the school."
The metal detectors have turned up some razors and knives but few guns, probably "because the student code of conduct clearly says we will have these types of searches," Scott says.
At least twice a year building principals in each school district take part in a disaster drill, which is coordinated with assistant superintendents of operations, elementary education and secondary education, and cover scenarios such as evacuations or hostage situations. …