Blog post by PTAC Member Jolene Barron
Each day, like most teachers, I use my morning preparation time for some rather specific purposes.
I unload my overloaded teacher bag, which most likely just went for a ride in my car the night before.
Coffee. Must have coffee.
Review the day’s schedule. Make sure all materials are prepped and ready for the day.
Drink more coffee.
Think about and prepare mentally for any potential surprises that could come my way and alter my super organized and well-laid plans.
Sadly, over the years, I have learned that no matter how much I try to prepare for the unknown, I am never fully prepared for what actually ends up happening. The things I worry about typically aren’t even an issue, and the biggest situations are ideas and events that I never even considered.
Lately, I have also found myself wondering if today might be the day that my school is the scene of the next mass shooting.
Columbine. Sandy Hook. Parkland.
The horrific events that happened in each of these schools and others have completely changed the landscape of education. I would be lying if I gave you any indication that they have not affected my daily life as a teacher. In fact, it is something that I think about quite frequently. These days my mind constantly seems to return to thoughts of how I would protect my students.
I think of our school and classroom plans that have been formulated to keep children safe in active shooter situations and wonder in the back of my mind what we missed. I wonder if I’ll be able to keep my students calm and silent enough to avoid attracting attention. Will I really be able to protect them?
Often I wonder how I can keep my students safe if something happens to me. Will they know what to do without me?
The scariest thought that keeps coming back to me is, “What if our school is next?”
School safety means many things to many people. For some, it means increased security measures and screening procedures to protect students and staff. For others, it could refer to early detection systems or security cameras. Some believe that armed guards or staff members is the best line of defense.
I’ll be completely honest here. I don’t know what the right answer is more than anyone else. If someone had an easy answer we wouldn’t see mass school shootings occurring on a regular basis.
I don’t think there is only one solution. No matter how hard we might try, nobody can come up with a lesson plan or a school safety plan that will adequately address all possibilities.
However, there is one thing that I do know for sure.
There is a fundamental problem in our society right now. Children and young adults are being bullied at an alarming rate. Young people are suffering from depression and a host of other mental illnesses. Teenage suicides are on the rise, and pre-teens are now taking their own lives. Social media has made it easier for students to bully each other from “behind the screen” and is causing mental and emotional trauma. Guidance counselors and a variety of additional programs are being cut from schools.
Our children are suffering. Most schools do not have adequate support services or procedures in place to help these students. They are crying out for help, but is anybody listening?
Consider this solution:
"Students need to be trained to know what to look for and to know what to do when they observe a potential threat. This is the foundation of preventing school shootings.... Numerous students have prevented possible attacks because they knew enough to report what they heard to parents or school personnel. Students are not the only people, however, who have prevented school shootings. Anyone who is alert to warning signs can be a hero by coming forward and saving people’s lives." (1)
I am happy to say that Pennsylvania is taking some positive steps in the right direction. Our state will be the first to launch a statewide reporting system in January, called Safe2Say Something, where individuals can anonymously report concerns for a student’s safety or threats of violence. (2)
It has been reported that 80% of school shooters and 70% of individuals who have taken their own lives told someone of their violent plans prior to taking action - yet no interventions were made.
It seems to me that putting a system like Safe2Say Something into place, where students can report potential threats anonymously, has the potential to be an impactful preventative measure. Threat assessment teams work and they don’t have to cost a school district any additional money. The same can’t be said for metal detectors, security systems, armed guards, or staff members with guns.
One fact is undeniable. Nobody who makes an attempt to improve school security is wrong. Whether we implement mental health supports or go so far as to attempt to introduce policies where firearms are carried by school staff members, everyone thinks they are doing what’s best for the children in our schools. Every single person who is trying to protect the safety of our students is doing so with the best intentions. But, I think some are losing sight of one elemental truth.
Schools are supposed to be safe places, but events out of our control have proven that schools aren’t impenetrable. Bad things happen despite any measures that have been put into place. No matter how much preparation has taken place, no matter what safety measures have been implemented, the next target will never be fully prepared for what actually happens.