The day after the Parkland school shooting in Florida, my daughter’s Maryland principal sent out a note reminding parents to follow the safety protocol when stopping by: Report to the main office, sign in and state your business.
A week later, that missive was followed up with another, tightening the procedure, which now includes explaining your presence at the buzz-in phase and then presenting identification at the office, where you’ll be issued a pass that must remain visible for the duration of your stay.
And yet on Tuesday, two Sun journalists testing school security in the region were buzzed right in without question.
And I’m not particularly riled up about it.
Security is not really what the office ladies — or any of the staff — are there to do.
Don’t get me wrong; I would far prefer the school follow its own procedures for consistency, simplicity and basic safety — officials should know who’s on site and when as a general rule. But I’m not surprised that this isn’t high on the list of priorities.
Public schools are supposed to teach our kids, not necessarily harbor them. They should be welcoming and nurturing and internally focused. Even school resource officers, if there are any, are chiefly there to keep the peace inside so children can learn without distraction, rather than keep intruders outside.
Of course we all want to keep our children safe, and there is a place for lockdown drills and locked doors. But we don’t want our schools to look or act like prisons when their mission is to educate — and when we can’t even adequately fund that.
That’s among the reasons it was so disheartening to see Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposal this week to harden Maryland schools.
On Wednesday, he announced plans to spend $125 million for “school safety enhancements” — to include metal detectors, security cameras and panic buttons — along with $50 million annually in school safety grants.
Never mind that Baltimore City schools had to beg for a measly $2.5 million from him to perform emergency heating repairs — a sum that doesn’t come close to scratching the surface of the district’s decades-old maintenance and structural needs.
Never mind that class sizes in schools throughout the state are too high, either. Or that resources are lacking and PARCC scores abysmal because of years of underfunding education.
And never mind that Mr. Hogan’s enhancements aren’t guaranteed to save lives. If someone is bent on doing damage at a school, there are myriad ways to go about it even with the tightest of access procedures in place and an armed guard posted at the main entrance. When Adam Lanza ran into a locked door at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, he shot his way in through a window.
There’s also this: The odds of dying in a school shooting in any given year (calculated at 1 in 2,273,000 students by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank) are far lower than being killed crossing the street (1 in 54,538), choking (1 in 100,686) or falling down the stairs (1 in 100,686).
Meanwhile, we’re failing thousands of students every day with certainty, and the consequences of a poor education are dire: extended poverty, minimal opportunities and even early death, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Is there no place that money could be better spent?
Governor Hogan says his initiative is about protecting our state’s most vulnerable.
“Classrooms should never be a place of fear for our children,” he said in a statement. “No mom or dad should ever have to worry when they send their kids off to school whether their son or daughter is going to come home safely.”
But his school measures do nothing practical to allay fears; they stoke them. They exploit the horror we feel each time a child is murdered in this way — the what ifs we run through — so he can appear the hero willing to take action.
But if he really wants to save Maryland’s children and ensure their future, he needs to focus on funding their educations first.
The schools seem to have their priorities straight. Does the governor?
Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @triciabishop.