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EDITORIAL: Look to Oklahoma school district for great way to protect students

By: Gazette editorial board
March 7, 2018 Updated: March 7, 2018 at 10:23 am
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Rescuers pull children from wreckage of Oklahoma's Plaza Towers Elementary School, after an EF5 tornado destroyed it in 2013. (AP)

A killer arrived at an elementary school and took the lives of seven kids.

No one talked about stopping the next one with a law. The killer was an EF5 tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., on May 20, 2013. It destroyed the Plaza Towers Elementary School, as walls fell on students. Rescuers were surprised it did not kill more.

Nearly 20 years after human killers shot up Columbine High School near Littleton, American high school students are no safer from rampage shooters than they were that day in 1999. Almost nothing has been done to make our schools less vulnerable to maniacs with guns. That's why a former expelled student, who talked openly of becoming a school shooter, could walk into his old Florida school last month and kill 17 people with an AR-15.

Apparently tornadoes are a less complicated foe. No one fancies public policies that might correct their behavior. No one talks about laws that could weaken their destructive potential. No one pretends there is a zone the tornado will not enter, if properly notified with a sign. No one blames anyone else for the havoc of Mother Nature.

The tornado is a nonpartisan, common enemy of people from every walk of life.

Given the politically agnostic approach to saving lives from tornadoes, big steps are underway in Oklahoma to prevent another school tragedy like the one that devastated Moore.

Similarly, society has taken extensive practical measures to nearly eliminate the threat fires used to pose in schools.

Newsweek reports on Oklahoma public schools in Healdton installing internal classroom bullet-proof shelters that fit 35 students and two teachers to protect them from active shooters or deadly tornadoes. The district has installed them in the town's elementary school middle schools. District Superintendent Terry Shaw told Newsweek of plans for at least two more at the local high school.

Shaw was initially interested in the shelters as a means to protect students from tornadoes, but decided to move more quickly after a troubled student recently told a counselor about ambitions to go on a shooting spree.

Regardless of all well-intentioned plans to improve mental health, or control some of 300 million-plus guns, or reduce bullying, schools need to take immediate actions to improve safety for the children inside. There is no single solution, such as more security guards, armed teachers, or airport-style security at entrances.

Protecting children involves multifaceted approaches, as we use to protect them in traffic. It is not just seat belts, or air bags, crumple zones or car seats. All of the above save children in cars.

Other districts throughout the country should pay attention to Healdton School District, as it takes a nonpoliticized, common sense, practical approach to improving the odds for children when threats to their lives arrive on campus. Protecting kids cannot be seen as opportunity for political achievements. It should be about keeping floods, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, shooters and more from taking the lives of children who are preparing for the rest of their lives.

It should be about practical approaches to making school the safest place for kids to be.

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