The New York Times just ran a piece, "The False Comfort of Securing Schools: The instinct to use law enforcement tactics to make parents feel less anxious about mass shootings is misguided." Its main point: We are all upset and scared by school shootings. But turning schools into fortresses backfires more than it helps.
Here is how one mom is trying to get her school district to think about alternatives to fortressing. Bloomfield, New Jersey, is considering spending over half a million dollars on armed guards at each of its three schools. Ariana Bullard appeared at a Board of Ed meeting to talk about how elusive any "peace of mind" can be, once we decide that our kids are in constant danger:
“Peace of mind.” That's a phrase I've heard over and over again from people in favor of armed "Special Law Enforcement Officers Class III" (SLEO III) and other security measures that turn our schools into fortresses. I've even heard the argument that facts, research and evidence are secondary to the peace of mind that an armed police officer provides. What a sad world we live in, where we are willing to sacrifice common sense, our right to privacy, and commitment to reason just so that we can feel better.
This debate has polarized into a pro-gun vs. anti-gun debate. People either think an armed officer at the school is a “good guy with a gun,” or they are opposed to the presence of firearms in the school. But it's about something else.
Putting “peace of mind” above facts and reason reveals a deep hypocrisy.
Watsessing School recently held its biggest event of the year, International Night. That evening, as I looked around at a packed room of students, staff and families celebrating our diversity and enjoying an evening out together, I was struck by two thoughts:
First, I saw a vibrant example of what happens when we rely on each other as neighbors and partners in our children's education. Parents and teachers who previously just passed each other at pick up and drop off got to know each other better. The children were running around having fun. Events like this bring individuals closer together as a school community, which is the foundation of keeping our kids safe.
Second, there were at least 200 people, entering, leaving, and letting others in through unsecured access points on two different sides of the building. Was safety and security on anyone's mind? No! Was there a police officer or other security professional screening attendees? No! Were the adults wary or suspicious, afraid that something bad could happen? No! And this was an event open to the public. Literally anyone could have come in to make trouble. I wonder if anyone that evening was thinking “it could happen anywhere,” another catchphrase I've been hearing lately.
I can't help but call this hypocrisy. People push for greater and greater security that has the appearance of safety, a soothing effect on fears. But no one gives it a second thought at events like International Night, or every single morning and afternoon, when the same number of children congregate out in the schoolyard, or plenty of other situations in and out of school.
Our worst fears have not come true. I refuse to give power to the an ominous “YET” at the end of that sentence, that a violent event is lurking in the near future. The chances of a violent event happening at our elementary schools is vanishingly rare, despite the feeling of paranoia, the fear that it is happening everywhere.There is no evidence to suggest our elementary schools are at greater risk of violence in general.
I believe in our community. I have deep appreciation for the work our Police Department is already doing in our schools and greater community. I want that to continue. However, spending over half a million dollars to install SLEO IIIs in the elementary schools and adopt other high-tech security measures means we're giving in to the panic, the fear, the mistrust. Today we're debating armed guards, but what comes next? At what expense, both financial and social?
I implore our community to pay attention to the research, the statistics, that tell us our kids, especially in this demonstrably safe town, are already well-taken care of. To do the long-term work of analyzing current security and finding sensible ways to improve upon it that make our schools truly safer, and our community stronger.
If you're a parent, start paying attention to what's going on in your greater school community.
*Join your school's parent association and regularly attend Board of Education meetings. Find like-minded parents and share the cost of a sitter, or alternate sending one parent to the meetings while the other stays home with the kids. Make the time for it.
*Write letters and make phone calls to the members of your Board of Education. Make noise. Vote in your town's local elections. Run for office! Take a leadership role in your parent association, or even bigger, try to get on the town's Board of Education.
*Make your presence known to the leadership of your town, and be critical of the decisions being made on your behalf. Read this article about how parents can influence the Board of Education.
*Band together with other parents and make noise, like we did here in Bloomfield. This fight is a lot stronger, and a lot easier for each of us as individuals, knowing that we each bring vital knowledge and ideas to the table.
*And if you're a Bloomfield, NJ resident please join Bloomfield Families for Sensible Safety.
What is your school doing, if anything, in response to school shooting fears? And how do you feel about it? It is so easy to start adding security measures, and so hard to decide when enough is enough -- or too much. Just ask the TSA, busy grabbing snow globes from 6-year-olds. - L.