Reflecting on School Security.

December 17, 2012

A Different Mindset.

The Monday morning school drop-off came with an unwanted twinge of apprehension and vulnerability for many parents across the country today in the aftermath of the horrific events that transpired last week in Connecticut.    I know I certainly felt a little bit different as I dropped my kids off at school this morning, after spending much of the weekend watching the news coverage of this unfathomable tragedy.

Our complacent sense of security and invincibility has been shaken a bit, even here in San Carlos.   The long-held mindset of “Something like that would never happen here“, is understandably replaced by “Could something like that happen here?”  for many parents.  And although naysayers will point to the statistical improbability of such an event happening at one of our schools — there are, after all, over 100,000 public and private schools in the United States that serve grades K-12 — the answer to that question is yes, something like that could absolutely happen right here in our back yard, or for that matter anywhere else on the Peninsula.

You only need to look at the wide-open layout of virtually every school throughout the area to realize this.

Designed in Another Era.

The physical vulnerability of our schools is no fault of the school district.  Our schools were designed and built in an era when many residents didn't even lock their own doors at home, let alone worry about a violent act being carried out by the school.  The idea of designing a school to be a bastion of security was an unwarranted concern when these schools were built, and it's a tragedy in itself that we even have to think of our schools this way now.

Just one of the many things that distinguishes the school system in San Carlos from others is by the abundance of parental involvement, whether it's helping out in the classroom, driving on field trips, or volunteering for special events at the school.   It's a wonderful characteristic of our school district that isn't necessarily reflected in the fundraising and bond measures that grab the headlines.  But this relatively unfettered access to our campuses for parents to come and go as needed also poses a undeniable security risk.

Simply requiring people to sign-in at the office does not disguise the unfortunate reality that anyone could literally step off the street and walk the halls of our schools without having to open a single door.    And we're not alone in that respect.  Most schools up and down the Peninsula share this same basic flaw.

Looking Ahead.

The underlying motivation behind Measure H was to increase the capacity and to upgrade the capabilities of our elementary and middle schools.  As the San Carlos School District evaluates how to they are going to allocate this $72M of  funds, enhancing school security probably will hopefully be part of the discussion.  It's unrealistic to think that we can make any institution completely safe from this type of violence – even the security measures that were in place at Sandy Hook Elementary School were breached relatively quickly.  But they did provide valuable notice to the impending disaster, and those few precious seconds of time very likely saved many lives.

It's sad that some of this valuable money needs to be spent in an area that adds zero value to the learning process.  But it's a pretty strong statement about the state of affairs in our society right now.

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  1. Mark Olbert on December 20, 2012 at 5:21 pm


    Your observations about the design of our school sites are correct. However, in making some changes I hope we won’t lose sight of the importance of having open, inviting campuses. Community involvement is critical to educational success. More importantly, kids shouldn’t have to be educated in a climate of fear.

    Turning schools, or anything else for that matter, into fortresses is a losing strategy. If you look at the history of conflict, there’s a reason countries don’t build fortresses anymore. Passive defenses are too easy to evade, overwhelm, or sidestep. The Newtown massacre required the shooter penetrate a security cordon. Doing so apparently didn’t slow him down significantly.

    What I believe we need to do is go after the source of the problem. Simply put, we need to keep firearms out of the hands of crazies.

    That won’t be easy. It involves imposing prior restraint on individuals in an arena involving a basic Constitutional right. But even Antonin Scalia believes the people, acting through their elected representatives, have the authority to regulate firearms.

    We won’t find a perfect solution. Those rarely, if ever, exist. But we could be doing much more than we are today, even within the limits of the existing constitutional framework, than we are.

    As we all respond to this tragedy I hope we’ll keep one thought foremost in our minds. We, as a society, failed the little kids and their teachers who were blown away in Newtown. As well as all the other people who have been slaughtered over the years by crazies with guns. Let’s not fail them again by keeping today’s foolish — and dangerous — status quo.

    – Mark

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