Is Your Child’s School Safe?

Keeping students safe is every school's first priority—here's how the way schools respond to a threat is changing

Photography by dcJohn via Flickr (cc)

Photography by dcJohn via Flickr (CC)

When your children return to school this fall, safety drills may look a little different. In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December, school safety experts are asking educators to reconsider the standard lockdown procedure of bolting doors and hiding behind desks.

School Safety Drills Aren’t Just Happening in the States
Amy Klinger, EdD, director of programs for the non-profit Educator’s School Safety Network based in Genoa, Ohio, says there’s been a “fundamental shift” in the U.S. away from relying only on traditional lockdowns. Her organization conducted a series of advisory sessions with the Ontario College of Teachers this year. Promoting an approach that could involve barricading locked doors or evacuating students to get them away from intruders. “There are some situations where traditional lockdowns are not the most effective,” says Dr. Klinger.

For example, if an intruder is in the east wing of a building and a teacher’s class is in the west end next to an exit, evacuating is a sound choice, she says. In fact, both the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in the United States have come out with new recommendations for incidents of school violence in the last year. “They have specifically addressed evacuating when it’s safe to do so, and barricading by moving furniture and tables in front of locked doors to make it more difficult to breach,” says Dr. Klinger.

To critics who say that running from a building could make kids easy targets, Dr. Klinger points out that her group’s research—as well as that of others in the field—has not turned up a single fatality linked to fleeing a school in the presence of an intruder. “If we look historically at school shootings, 98 per cent of the time they’re committed by a single individual, and he can’t be everywhere at once,” she says. “He’s not interested in chasing people across an open field. He’s going to go for the easy sitting ducks—people in a classroom.”

Training Educational Staff is Key
Dr. Klinger also cautioned schools about putting too much faith in metal detectors or security systems. “We see a lot of schools where their reaction is to buy stuff. Those things are great, but we push really hard to get institutions to think about training their people. Buying a piece of hardware is not going to increase the capabilities of people to respond to an event. Training is really critical to the whole discussion.”

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