America just witnessed yet another mass shooting in an elementary school. At last count 19 fourth graders (aka 9-year-olds) and two teachers were brutally murdered by an insane 18-year-old who also shot his grandmother before heading to the school for a more heinous act.
Almost instantly, the politicians of our fair land began their usual kabuki dance decrying the murders (they call them tragedies) I call them what they are … murders. The left screams gun control. The right shouts mental illness, and together, as usual, they will get nothing done that will make a difference to anyone.
We definitely do not need any more laws. “Thou shalt not kill,” should pretty much cover it, but we have all kinds of laws to protect our schools and our most precious possessions, our children. None of those laws is working, nor will any new ones. Do we need to work on criminals and crazy people? You bet. Some people do not belong living amongst us.
How will we protect our schools and our kids? As a veteran of more than 40 years as a teacher, coach, athletic director, high school principal and superintendent of schools, I am well versed to speak on the topic of school safety.
School safety will never be attained by political action or laws. It is up to local school boards and administrators to protect the students and staff in every school in the land. If local action is not taken, shootings will continue in our schools as they have since the 1800s. This is not a new phenomenon.
The following steps are non-negotiable when creating a safety plan for a school. These actions should be made public to all and should be posted conspicuously throughout the buildings. These murderers are cowards. They want soft targets not hard ones that are protected.
• Every school should be staffed with school resource officers, armed police personnel. I do not want to hear about the trauma this might cause to some students. A lot of people will be traumatized for life by what they witnessed in that Texas school recently.
• The corridors and classrooms in schools must be monitored by security cameras.
• Students and staff should all be issued identification tags to instantly show they belong in the building.
• Visitors must all report to a single point of entry. They must show identification to the staff at the entry. They must be logged in and escorted by school personnel to and from the area they have been approved to visit. No ID … no entry. Try to get tickets at a will call window of a theater or athletic stadium without ID.
• Students and staff need to be well-versed in the safety procedures of the school. In addition to fire drills, procedures for lockdowns, lockouts, shelter in place, etc. need to be explained to all and understood by all.
• Every student and staff member needs to understand they are part of the school safety team. If you see something that might be a concern, report it. Hundreds of eyes and ears help to make a place safe.
• Every active entry to a school building needs to be monitored by security personnel and metal detectors. Again, cowards will not hit hard targets. If they know they will be scanned and observed, they will not try to enter.
• Visitors should never be given direct access to a building. Bullet proof glass in windows and doors need to be used to create a double entry barrier with buzzers/locks to insure that unwanted individuals will not gain entry.
• School buildings need to be open and available for inspection to police and fire professionals. First responders need to be intimately familiar with the buildings, room numbers, alarm locations, school codes and all safety procedures. Seconds matter when a threat is live within a school building.
• All inactive entries to the building should be locked at all times. They should also be checked regularly by school personnel to be sure that they are secure.
• The security of the building must be maintained 24/7. Most schools have plausible safety plans in place during the school day. However, those plans are shredded as soon as classes are dismissed. For example: at many schools, doors to athletic fields and other venues are wide open and unobserved during practices and games. Visitors who easily gain entry to the school are free to roam around the building and they could be concealing weapons or other items that could be used in the future to hurt students and staff. One let down can spell disaster.
• Last and most importantly, if an armed intruder is in a building, there is only one reason for that intrusion: to kill students and staff. The plan needs to be for that threat to be immediately neutralized by armed police offers who are trained to protect.
Once again, these steps are non-negotiable. Some will say it is too expensive, it is impossible to do, etc. I know a lot of grieving people in Texas today wish they had done these things.
I have visited many schools in the area for various reasons and usually find a way to walk in without being properly challenged and vetted. I also make it a point to bring this to the attention of the administration of the building.
I know some of this is very hard to read. I know many will want to argue with some of the points I have raised. I welcome those arguments. But understand, I am right. If these steps were in place at many of the sites that experienced mass shootings over the years, a lot of loved ones would still be with us.
John Metallo is a retired teacher and administrator. Among the positions he has held are principal of Albany High School and adjunct instructor at UAlbany and SUNY Plattsburgh. He lives in Slingerlands.