Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sandy Hook's familiar safety steps likely saved many lives, but deaths show 'grim reality' of school safety

"By nearly all accounts, the administrators, teachers, and students at Sandy Hook Elementary did everything right Friday, and long before that day, when a young man armed with powerful weapons blasted his way into the school with gunfire," Nirvi Shah of Education Week reports. They followed safety protocols commonplace in schools since the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999. (Associated Press photo by Jason DeCrow: police officer at checkpoint in Newtown, Conn.)

The 26 deaths at the school illustrated "a grim reality" of what can happen even if schools do "pretty much everything right," Amanda Paulson writes for The Christian Science Monitor. But experts agree that the protocol at Sandy Hook likely saved many lives. The school's security system delayed the shooter; the school secretary flipped on the intercom, alerting teachers to the danger; teachers herded their students into closets and bathrooms, locking doors behind them; and the principal and school psychologist acted as human shields. "At Sandy Hook, a number of things went very well," National School Safety Center director Ronald Stephens said. "The standard of care that schools have at the end of the day ... is whether or not the schools took reasonable steps."

From 1999 to 2010, many more public schools installed safety features such as controlled access to buildings, faculty photo-ID badges, security cameras and telephones in every classroom, according to the Indicators of School Crime and Safety. Former Secret Service agent Dennis McCarthy, who consults on school safety procedures, said that in the wake of Sandy Hook, school administrators, faculty and staff should make sure they and their students are well-trained in lockdown drills, an effort he says likely saved lives in Newtown.

However, overdoing those drills can be counterproductive, especially for young children, said Richard Fry, superintendent of Big Spring School District in Pennsylvania. "If you do more than necessary they're going to internalize it," he told Shah, adding that it's difficult to make children love school and do well academically if they are scared. One school-safety expert cautions schools about increasing security measures after Sandy Hook, even though it's the natural reaction. Those decisions have to be "carefully considered," he told Shah.

"If you're going to rush this week to fix things, you are probably going to make some mistakes," Safe Havens International Inc. Director Michael Dorn said. He's a former school police chief in Georgia. "Districts need to take their time and build something that will work for the next decade." He added that security measures need to consider many different emergency scenarios, not just shooters, which are still rare. (Read more)

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