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OPINION EDITORIAL: School Safety Begins Before Armed Guards

With the tragedy that occurred in Parkland, Florida the nation is in a national conversation about school safety .   There have been discussions that have ranged from banning certain types of guns to arming teachers in our schools.   The discussion has reached the local level where, here in Stafford County, the Sheriff’s office, at the urging of the Board of Supervisors and cooperation of the School Board has created a task force to analyze and produce recommendations to improve school safety in Stafford County Public Schools.

Stafford County Public Schools have made a number of safety improvements over the last several years to include controlled entry into schools through AirPhone devices and locked off vestibules.   The Sheriff’s office has a School Resource Officer program that dedicates a Sheriff’s deputy to high schools and middle schools.  There are also school division security guards at several schools.  Stafford County Public Schools and Stafford County have done a good job in being attentive to school security, and with the new attention to school security a good analysis and new resources will only make security in our schools stronger.

The national conversation has taken to the direction of more armed guards, allowing trained teachers to be armed in the schools and more attention to mental health.  Stafford County Forum is encouraged by the discussions, however we do have concerns with some of the proposals.  While there are teachers willing receive training and are fully capable of obtaining concealed carry permits and could certainly provide additional firepower to stop a potential school shooter this should remain a last resort.   Expanding SRO presence to ensure there is at least one dedicated SRO in every high and middle school, advocating the General Assembly to expand the ability to have armed security guards in school buildings and continuous improvement to physical building security should be the first steps taken.

However, physical security is the last step in the process of stopping a school-aged shooter.   The path taken by the Columbine shooters, the Sandy Hook shooter, and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter to get them to the point of picking up a weapon against their peers likely started due to a lack of resources throughout their years in school.

There has been a quite a bit of discussion about the role of family and the fact that many mass shooters come from broken homes with no father present.   While those statistics do reveal truth, we have taken a direction in this country that we rely heavily on the public school system to fill-in where the parent drops off.   If we are going to be successful in this model we need to have the resources to ensure success.

Stafford County and Stafford County Public Schools, like other jurisdictions, have room for improvement in school security; and improvements that should be made.  However, those improvements should not come at the cost of necessary resources to ensure schools can reach every child and ensure none fall through the cracks and head down the path that ends in tragedy.

For example in the School Board’s budget request there is requested funding for Diagnosticians in all of our elementary schools.  Diagnosticians attend to various special education, IEPs and various other needs of students that need additional attention to be successful.   The work of Diagnosticians in many of our elementary schools is currently being done by Assistant Principals.  In addition to supporting the Principal, and doing the other work that Assistant Principals do, one of their important tasks is building relationships with students.  Enabling AP’s to have a few more minutes to build those relationships with all students, including finding that child that eats alone everyday and is just aching for someone to reach out to him, would go a long way to help ensure schools remain a safe location for everyone.

Furthermore, there is additional funding requested to improve a number of items related to mental health and student success that need to be funding.  It can’t go without saying even improving teacher pay is a safety issue.   Enabling teachers to be paid so that they do not have to rely on second jobs can help ensure they have extra time to spend with students after the school day.  Proper funding of everything we demand of our public schools can help ensure no child falls between the cracks.

In short, to improve school security arm the teachers!  That’s right! Arm the teachers, arm them with the resources necessary to ensure our schools are safe.  Arm them with resources to ensure they can have full commitment to the children in their classroom.  Arm them with resources to know no child will fall between the cracks and head down the path that ends with dead children in our school hallways.