Tuesday, February 12, 2013

School safety balancing act

I went to the panel on school safety last night. I was pleased that the overwhelming message from all the panelists was balance between safety and a positive learning environment.

Topics discussed included doing safety drills, having teams on staff at every building who are safety leaders, including custodial staff who are there in the evening, and communication.

Communication, communication, communication. That was the thing most talked about. As it should be.

I read the article in our local newspaper this morning, which I think reflected the tone of the evening well. Then I read the article on WISH-TV 8's website and watched their coverage. While the tv coverage wasn't bad, I thought it focused too much on security measures and not enough on the balance the schools are trying to achieve.

One parent even told WISH-TV that it wouldn't make a difference until there were armed guards at the schools. I was very glad that Mike Diekoff, our local police chief (and someone I actually know), was able to rebut that. Because the best defense is not letting it get to that point.

Here are a few facts and numbers to think about:

In 2009, a mass shooting occurred on a military base, Fort Hood, where A LOT of people were armed and trained in weapons use. Thirteen people were killed. Just last year, in June 2012, a soldier shot and killed his superior officer at Fort Bragg. Armed guards are no guarantee.

Violent deaths at schools are very rare. From the CDC Youth Violence Fact Sheet:

  • During the 2009-2010 school year, 17 homicides of school-age youth ages 5 to 18 years occurred at school.
  • Approximately 1% of all youth homicides in 2008-2009 occurred at school, and the percentage of all youth homicides occurring at school has been less than 2% since the 1992-1993 school year.
  •  There was approximately one homicide or suicide of a school-age youth at school per 2.7 million students enrolled during the 2009-2010 school year.
Compare that to the 20.1% of high school kids who reported being victims of bullying on school grounds in 2011. Or 4,828 homicide victims aged 10 to 24 in 2010. Or the 2,136 fatalities of kids age 0-14 in traffic accidents (in 2003).

Wanna know the top 10 causes of death by age group? The CDC can help you out with that data.
Did you know crime rates are actually lower than they were in the 80s and 90s? 
Want some information on those mass killings that keep making the news? 
  • Mother Jones put together a nice guide to mass shootings 1982-2012
  • Then there's this article from the Associated Press which points out that the chances of of being killed in a mass shooting are approximately the same as the chances of being struck by lightning. 
  • And this article, that, despite the sensational title "Mass Murder Rate Still Rising, Experts Say", mentions that the average number of deaths per year, 2006-2008, from mass killings was 163, only 2 higher than the rate in the 1980s. I'd say an increase of 2/year is statistically insignificant, especially considering the population increase in that time (thus indicating that the rate is actually decreasing!).
  • And here are "Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States"
So is MCCSC doing a good job with school security? I think so. They do reasonable things like lock school doors during the day. They practice safety drills (fire, tornado, lock down). They have well-trained staff and a good relationship with local law enforcement. They stress communication. 

Does this mean something couldn't happen in one of our schools? No. Nothing is 100% secure. I don't expect that. 

I feel comfortable with my kids attending our schools. As Dr. DeMuth said when I spoke to her after the panel, the only one who should be worried during the day is her. Parents, students, faculty and staff should all feel safe and prepared. They shouldn't feel fearful. That's no way to create a good learning environment. And that's what our schools are really about.

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