At the last school board meeting there were two distinct discussions, both excellent. The first, not surprisingly after the tragedy in Connecticut, dealt with school security and the second dealt with an early exposure world languages program. For the school security discussion there was a wide range of opinions expressed. Some parents wanted armed guards, bullet proof doors, a sure double door entrance system while other parents felt strongly we should not overreact to what was a tragic but still isolated incident. My opinion, which I voiced at the meeting, is that security needs to be both substantial and at the same time unobtrusive. And clearly my opinion is to some extent defined by the very suburban, very middle class area that the schools are located in. But what does substantial and unobtrusive mean. The terms seem in conflict but nevertheless are exactly what we need. One example relates to the windows at our neighborhood schools, which are plentiful, especially at ground level and are often open to some extent especially during the fall and spring months (since the buildings are for the most part not air-conditioned). I would not want bars on any of the windows; a school shouldn’t give the impression of a prison. On the other hand, I am cognizant that with so many windows that are unlocked and even partially open, security revolves around more than a door buzzer and an entrance guard. Screens (that can’t be cut easily) can provide at least somewhat of a deterrent (even though there needs to be a way to open them if necessary from the inside) and should be seriously considered.
I want our kids to be safe but I also don’t want them to feel threatened or anxious. Guns in schools don’t foster a sense of peace and tranquility and should never be more than a last resort. I also recognize that the k through 12th grade populations is very different than the higher education population and that the openness of a college campus is not what would work for our public schools. As we grapple with what more we should do, our school district is likely to bring in a consultant to work with us. Real security that is unobtrusive is what we need; what more do we need to do to make sure that is what we have?
There is an important economic element to this discussion that needs to be recognized going forward. In past years, when school budgets were being discussed, there were often advocates of spending less on security. Five buildings, each with an unarmed door person during school hours, plus cameras and monitoring add up to real dollars that impact a tight budget. I have always been against reducing security but now I think it is clear that even more needs to be done. A person should be at the entrance doors anytime the building is in use which is substantially more than regular school hours. In this era of tax caps and constrained budgets, more spending for security translates into less spending in other areas. There is no choice.
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