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COLUMN: Harden the targets to secure school safety

By: Scott Weiser
October 12, 2017 Updated: October 12, 2017 at 4:05 am
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Two teenage middle-school students from Sabin Middle School in District 11 have been arrested for allegedly planning an armed attack on the school based on a "kill list" they discussed on social media. Police spokesperson Lt. Howard Black said in a news conference that the suspects "had the ability to control, potentially, some of these weapons."

On April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, two armed high school students walked in through unsecured doors while the School Resource Officer (SRO) was absent and killed 13 people.

Thirteen years after Columbine, on Dec. 14, 2012, a killer shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 children and six adults. While the school kept the front doors locked during the school day to control access, the foyer was not constructed entirely of bulletproof glass, which allowed the killer to shoot out a tempered-glass side panel window and gain entry.

The only person in the school with a gun was the killer, and it took 14 minutes before police entered the building, some five minutes after the shooting stopped with the suicide of the killer.

Failures in security planning, protocols, response and physical hardening all contributed to the deaths in these incidents.

Outrage over such violence is to be expected, but effective solutions are hard to come by.

One of the most effective solutions is the willingness of the public, parents and school kids to report suspicious activities. That's what stopped this potentially deadly attack at Sabin Middle School. Vigilance is the best way to intervene, before a plan can be put into action. This incident is proof positive that a well-planned systematic approach to detecting, evaluating and responding to threats quickly is absolutely necessary and highly effective.

Physical hardening is more difficult but just as necessary. It is expensive to replace regular classroom doors with bulletproof doors that can be secured from the inside. It's expensive to install automatic gates or doors on hallways that can be closed remotely to compartmentalize the school. It's expensive to install systems that monitor entrances to the school to ensure that doors are not propped open. It's expensive to armor the front desk to give employees cover. It's expensive to install a bulletproof foyer that can be locked remotely to prevent entry and trap an intruder until the police arrive.

But these measures could have saved lives at Columbine and Sandy Hook. District 11 has taken these threats seriously, but budget issues have compromised student safety.

Devra Ashby, Public Information Officer for District 11 says, "In District 11 we've installed locked doors with intercom/camera-only access at the front doors of all elementary and middle schools. All exterior doors at elementary and middle schools in the district are locked. At high schools, visitors must enter through the main entrance and receive the appropriate badge."

"Students and staff at each D-11 facility must practice monthly lockdown, shelter in place and evacuation drills," She says, "Also, the District has a partnership with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office called Operation Safety where a plain clothed deputy will try to access the school. If they are able to get in without someone stopping to ask why they are there, actions to strengthen the schools security points are taken. We have updated our security camera systems in all of our schools but seven. The remaining seven will be completed this year."

She goes on to say "All Middle School SRO's were reduced during the 2010-2011 school year. This reduction was a result of the CSPD's budget cuts. District 11 has five SRO's funded from our general fund totaling $310,000. There is a sixth SRO position that is grant funded."

While no teachers or school staff are presently armed, Ashby says, "Currently in District 11, only security personnel are armed, and only on a voluntary basis. They have to take law enforcement's test to carry a weapon, and currently 32 security staff members are armed."

While physical hardening and armed first responders may be expensive, can that possibly be a rational excuse for not making every possible effort to physically secure the safety of our children while they are at school?

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Readers can contact Scott Weiser at scott.weiser@altnews.us.

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