Suzanne Perez Tobias

Think schools are getting safer? Think again

Training school bus drivers to deal with violent intruders

Gary Moore, safety coordinator for the Missouri Center for Education Safety, helped train about 700 Wichita-area school bus drivers in 2015 on how to deal with active shooters and other emergency situations.
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Gary Moore, safety coordinator for the Missouri Center for Education Safety, helped train about 700 Wichita-area school bus drivers in 2015 on how to deal with active shooters and other emergency situations.

It started in Columbine, ramped up with Sandy Hook and continued after Parkland.

School shootings prompt districts to beef up security in an attempt to make students safer from gun violence and prevent the next tragedy.

But a new report says there is no evidence those measures actually work.

Researchers at Ball State University and the University of Toledo conducted a comprehensive review of 18 years of reports on school security measures and found no evidence indicating that they reduced gun violence.

Instead, things like metal detectors, video cameras, bulletproof glass and other measures have created “a false sense of security,” the report says.

“Hardening of schools with visible security measures is an attempt to alleviate parental and student fears . . . and to make the community aware that schools are doing something,” the researchers wrote in their paper, which was published in the journal Violence and Gender.

Over the past two decades, Wichita and surrounding districts have spent millions of dollars on security.

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Wichita police helped evaluate school surveillance and crisis plans, and board members approved $3 million worth of new cameras, controlled-access doors, buzz-in entrances and a centralized dispatch system.

Wichita schools also adopted the “Run, Hide, Fight” response plan for dealing with armed intruders, installed the Hall Pass security system to check visitors against a nationwide database of sex offenders, and trained school bus drivers on how to deal with active shooters and other emergencies.

In Andover, voters approved bond issues to pay for secure entrances, classroom door locks and other security measures. Safety upgrades are part of $108 million in bonds that voters in the Maize school district will decide this week.

In Kansas, as elsewhere, crisis and lockdown drills have become commonplace. And what’s the result?

Federal data show that 2018 was the worst year on record for school shootings and gun-related incidents.

It’s frustrating. When we send our children to school in the morning, we want some assurance they’ll be safe. We fear that the next shooting will happen in our community, at our school, that the witnesses on camera will be people we know, saying, “We never thought it could happen here.”

It’s possible that some security measures would thwart a would-be gunman. But it’s also possible that our focus on school violence could have long-term psychological effects, causing more trauma than it prevents.

Here’s the thing: School shootings are exceptionally rare. More immediate dangers include gun violence off campus and the youth suicide rate, which continues to climb.

Instead of — or in addition to — more security cameras or metal detectors, how about more clinical therapists and social workers in public schools?

Mental health programs may not be as easy to show off or quantify, but they’re our best hope for keeping children truly safe.

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