27 Dec 2011
On April 16, 2007, an emotionally disturbed student shot and killed over 30 students and teachers on the Virginia Tech campus. Students were murdered in their classrooms, some of them just weeks away from graduation. The fact that this incident occurred in an environment in which young people were trying to better themselves and begin their adult lives makes it all the more outrageous. It is difficult to predict what the effect this event will have on education, higher and otherwise. Will kids stop going to college for fear of their lives? Or will they turn to online course offerings, which are fine for the working adult, but not so great for forming friendships and networking opportunities. Young people need to learn human interaction skills, and these are often polished in a college setting. To prevent the isolation of our youth, schools will need to start advertising their safety procedures in order to entice students. This not only goes for colleges and universities, but for all public and private elementary, middle and high schools.
In the last couple of decades, schools have spent a huge amount of money installing, implementing, and upgrading their technology for the purpose of learning. Now, they are going to have to examine some of their current safety practices and obtain funding to convince the public that they are a place where children can learn without losing their lives. Many schools have metal detectors at the entrances, while others have security cameras on a closed circuit. Still others have a buzzer at the main door, which is locked from the inside, for which visitors must be buzzed in. However, are these devices used properly? For example, do all the entrances have a security guard at them, with no risk of anyone letting someone into an unmanned entrance? Is someone always watching the cameras? And, how do the school personnel know that students, or anyone else, are not letting in strangers through other entrances? The answer is—they don’t.
Now, schools around the world are instituting lockdown procedures in the event of intruders who mean students harm. These procedures may be mandated by government agencies, while others may be at the discretion of the district. Many of these procedures involve teachers barricading themselves in the classroom with the students, locking the intruder out, while administrators inform the authorities that there is a problem.
Schools cannot foresee all emergencies, but clear, consistent procedures are needed, plus state of the art technologies that are used properly to protect students and the aim of education. Security needs to be increased in many cases, either human or electronic. Some of the basic requirements should include a panic button in every classroom that alerts the school administrators to an emergency, doors that can be unlocked from a central location (for example by an administrator), but cannot be opened by students to let anyone in, and airport-type x-ray machines to check book bags and other belongings to prevent weapons from being brought into the building. Although these precautions are not going to make great advertisements, they may help save some young lives one day.