Sandy Hook one year later: How much longer do our schools have to wait?

Political gamesmanship in the aftermath of shooting has diverted attention away from addressing school security issues

Editor’s note: There’s still time to register for our upcoming webinar this Thursday at 1 p.m. ET on Lessons Learned from Sandy Hook. Our panel of experts will discuss what school security professionals should take away from the tragedy that can help them better secure their own facilities.  

A year has passed and it’s clear that the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 26 people dead – most of them young children – were still not enough to move us, as a nation, toward implementing comprehensive solutions to truly secure our 55 million K-12 students in more than 130,000 schools.

Instead, we turned another disaster into a political game with our leaders trying to score points with a numbed public. Amid all the rhetoric, we lost focus and now seem willing to sit complacently until the next Sandy Hook happens. And it will. And we’ll likely react the same way. Remember Columbine? Red Lake? Nickel Mines?

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the media bombarded us with so-called experts. Were lax gun control laws the problem or were we not spending enough on mental healthcare? The answer to that question is yes and yes. But the debate shouldn’t revolve around the Second Amendment or building more mental health facilities. Anything coming from those debates represents longer-term fixes. What we need is a serious discussion about the proven solutions that will work today.

Not surprisingly, the National Rifle Association suggested putting thousands more lethal weapons on school campuses by arming lightly trained teachers to act as a barrier against a heavily armed shooter.

The federal government offered no real leadership. Plus, over the past few years, we’ve seen valuable federal programs offering schools grants for security improvements either gutted or entirely eliminated. To their credit, a few states did step up and made available additional funding for security projects. However, most did nothing significant.

And school officials were left wondering what to do. The job of preventing the next Sandy Hook shouldn’t be left to educators. It’s time that we build a national consensus to solve this problem. It’s time that our elected and appointed leaders stand up and lead. It’s time that we stop with these hand-wringing anniversaries and do something, but what?

National Standards

I advocate a plan I call PTP2,which stands for planning, technology, and people and preparation. Let’s start with the federal government setting minimal PTP2 standards for every school campus in every state. Here’s a look at what those standards should include.

Planning – The planning process begins with every school undergoing a thorough risk assessment completed by an experienced and impartial outside provider. That assessment needs to start in the parking lot and work into the classrooms. An assessment will identify each campus’ security strengths and weaknesses. It will review and update policies and procedures for handling an active shooter. It will suggest potential improvements in landscaping, lighting, fencing, signage, security screens and other inexpensive, low-tech solutions.

Technology – Electronic equipment can add extra layers of campus security. Begin with hardening the school entry. If you can walk unchallenged onto your local school campus, it’s unsafe. Historically, shooters have entered schools through the front door. Allow only one public entry. Use signage to direct a visitor to a video intercom, where a school receptionist can see and talk with the person before remotely unlocking the door. Inside the office, lock the passage to classrooms and other parts of the campus until the visitor produces a government-issued photo ID for a visitor management system to check against federal and state databases for known felons and sex offenders. That system can also include local information about fired district employees and expelled students. Require the visitor to wear a temporary ID badge at all times while on campus.

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