The cry from parents and their kids is clear: Make our schools safer.
We have been thumping that kettle for years. There have been people shot and killed in schools in the United States over the ages, the latest being Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Fla.
Attitudes toward school shootings first seemed to change ever so slightly with the Dec. 1, 1997 shooting at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky. when a 14-year-old shot and killed three students and wounded five others.
With the coming of satellite television, more cable news channels and the need to keep fresh coverage filling what had become 24 hours a day, seven days a week news cycle, conditions were primed for coverage of the next mass school shooting to be inescapable.
That next one was Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. less than 18 months later, when two seniors at the school murdered 12 students and a teacher. They also hurt 21 others, not including three injured as they fled the school.
Columbine on April 20, 1999 forever changed the coverage, discussion and scrutiny of school shootings.
That’s about when The Aegis first started calling for schools in Harford County to become more secure. We are approaching 20 years since those first calls, and our Harford schools still aren’t safe in our opinion.
Just because a school shooting hasn’t happened in our community doesn’t mean it can’t, or won’t.
In the past two years, Harford County has been rocked by two shootings of the kind we’ve never had – two police officers were killed in the line of duty and three people were killed in a workplace shooting. If those tragedies can happen in our county, so can the unspeakable tragedy of a mass shooting in our schools. Not doing more to protect the kids and adults while they’re in our schools is no longer acceptable.
A town hall March 1 on school safety called by Harford County Sheriff Jeffery Gahler reinforced what we’ve been saying.
“I believe school resource officers are extremely important and it has to happen in every school, elementary, too, because our babies are important,” Morgan Reip, of Abingdon, said at that meeting.
Putting an armed police officer, from whatever agency has jurisdiction over a building, in each school is a must. The Harford County Council has three uniformed police officers protecting it and the few dozen people who show up at its Tuesday night meetings. Why shouldn’t each school have at least one?
Metal detectors through which students and staff must pass upon entering the school must be installed. Harford County’s courthouses (and airports everywhere) have metal detectors and have figured out how to make them work, so can our schools.
Each school should also have double entrances that allow a suspicious person, if they somehow gain entry through one set of doors, to be locked within a bulletproof area before they are granted entry to the school through the second set.
The most immediate security measure that not only must be implemented, but also is the cheapest and easiest to accomplish, is the staff at each school must change its attitude toward visitors. Locked doors, security cameras and buzzer systems are worthless, if not used effectively, and systemwide directives about admitting outsiders aren’t protecting anybody if not followed without exception.
One parent said at the March 1 town hall that she was easily buzzed into her child’s school where signs said she was to report to the office, but there wasn’t a deterrent to her wreaking tragedy, if that was her intent.
We found the same thing during a recent test of the school system’s security. Cameras, locked doors and buzzers were useless because we were let into every school we tested, with nothing between us and the rest of the building.
We are absolutely against proposals to arm teachers and other school staff. That is neither their area of expertise, nor should it be.
The cost of making our schools safer, according to elected officials, is prohibitive.
Anne Arundel County, however, announced this week it is finding $15 million to implement the exact measures we just advocated.
The cliche – where there’s a will, there’s a way – applies to school security in Harford County. Just as with the parents who send their kids to our schools, our elected officials need to find the same will for safer schools, so they can then find a way to pay for them.