school safety through “rose”-colored glasses

Our family had a nice Saturday. A work commitment I had mid-day was canceled, allowing us time to go together to the zoo to meet the new calf, Lily. It was a cold, rainy day, so few people had ventured out, which meant we had unlimited time in the indoor area watching Rose and Lily together. In the afternoon, Ian, Elena and I started on some Christmas cookies and they had a blast. Peanut butter blossoms are ready for consumption and the sugar cookie dough is ready for baking and decorating tomorrow. Jeff shared some happy news from work today, and I FINALLY got Ian’s “new” room somewhat organized so that he actually has a bedroom back after several months now. (Even HE thanked me!)

Later, I hopped on the computer and got caught up on the latest news. I saw the names, some photos and learned that all the students were first graders, just like Ian. Sadness came rushing back, and as I told Jeff, I think this the first time since 9/11 that I feel guilty for going about my happy little life when so many others are suffering right now.

And though I certainly might be wrong, I don’t know that since 9/11 has one tragedy sparked so much national conversation – about gun control, about mental illness (please, please read this for a heartbreaking, perhaps new perspective)…about school safety. There are so many places we could start to make change, and I hope that we do.

Regarding the latter, yesterday we received letters via email from the Raleigh Park Elementary School principal and the Beaverton School District superintendent that both had the same message: safety is our priority! Both letters outlined the steps taken at the school and within the district to ensure the safety of students at school.

Here is a copy of the superintendent’s letter:

Dear Beaverton School District Staff and Community,
It is with sadness that we learned today of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. As a father of two young children, I am appalled and saddened by this tragedy, as I know we all are. When events like this occur, I automatically think of my own kids and worry about them as they grow up and experience life.
This tragic event is a terrible reminder of the importance of keeping safety procedures and policies in the forefront of our daily work and intentions. Safety is the number one priority of the Beaverton School District. We will review our current operational practices and will continue to work in close collaboration with the Washington County Sheriff ’s Office (WCSO) and the Beaverton Police Department (BPD) to ensure our school buildings are as safe and secure as we can humanly make them.
Some examples of security measures in Beaverton: we require visitors of our schools to check into the main office, and we have a volunteer background check process for those who volunteer within the District. We are supported by WCSO and BPD with School Resource Officers throughout the District. We have a Threat Assessment Team and work in a proactive manner as a participant in the Safe Schools of Washington County Committee.
The safety of our students while they are in our care is of the utmost importance. Please keep the families of Sandy Hook Elementary in your thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time.
Sincerely,
Jeff Rose Superintendent

I found both of these letters naive and borderline offensive. My biggest beef is regarding the suggestion that because “we require visitors to check in at the main office,” you can be sure your kids are safe.

You are kidding me, right??

At Raleigh Park – this is how it works: Anyone – absolutely anyone – can walk in the front doors of the school. During the school day, they remain unlocked and welcome to all. Shortly after you enter the school, there is an office to the right – inside a separate door – where you are “required” to walk inside and register your presence at the school. Of course, it’s not uncommon for the staff immediately inside to be busy with a student or some other matter.

Are you getting my point? I bet you are. For someone who may not have a real desire for their presence to be noted by administrative staff, as far as I can tell from my personal experience, it would not be very difficult at all to keep walking down the hall toward the classrooms. In fact, if you wanted to head, say, straight into a cafeteria full of students at lunchtime, you don’t even have to go by the office door. It’s right in front of you!

This easy access to my child’s school has bothered me before yesterday, but it’s become even more worrisome when I receive a letter from two administrators who assure me that my son’s school is safe from intruders because of the “safety” procedures they have in place. Now, I’m feeling the need to share my wholehearted disagreement. Do I hit “reply” to the emails? Send a letter back? Bring it up at the next PTO meeting in the context that perhaps parents’ could consider funding some sort of security system? (Lord knows the district doesn’t have money to pay for it.) Did other parents think the same I did when they read those letters? What’s the appropriate response? What’s the appropriate answer? Am I barking up the wrong tree? Am I picking on the wrong people at this time?

I don’t know, but it bothers me.

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One thought on “school safety through “rose”-colored glasses

  1. I’ve seen Ian’s school, of course, and know exactly the situation you are describing. There is no really effective security.

    Last year as a result of a safety inspection at the school where I mentor students, they added two levels of security: (1) all outside doors are locked at all times and you must press a button to be buzzed in the front door (I guess the buzz-in procedure doesn’t start until some short period after students are supposed to be at school and I assume teachers have keys to the other doors leading to the gym, etc.), and (2) when buzzed in you walk into the office directly to the right and leave your driver’s license with them in order to get a visitor’s tag.

    However, there are still several concerns: there is often only one person at the front desk (budgetary savings on staffing); I don’t think the person at the front desk can see who they are buzzing in; the cafeteria is only a few yards past the front office with the door not visible from the front office; if you walk past the office unnoticed (very likely, since there is frequently only one staff member there and sometimes other people taking up their time), you can walk straight down the main hall to the classrooms without being noticed.

    This school in San Antonio has better security than Raleigh Park but it is far from really effective if someone means harm. Sandy Hook Elementary School has a buzz-in system — and their procedures didn’t work in this case.

    What to do? I don’t know. I agree with you that the safety procedures at Ian’s school are inadequate. What to do about it? At a minimum do the things you mentioned: respond to the emails; send a letter; bring it up at the next PTO meeting — in other words, get a conversation going and push to get some better safety measures.

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