Editorial: Work to secure school buildings

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 26, 2012 - 9:38 PM

There are better solutions than armed guards.

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Schoolchildren look out the window of their bus as they head back to school in Newtown, Conn., Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. Classes resume Tuesday for Newtown schools except those at Sandy Hook. Buses ferrying students to schools were festooned with large green and white ribbons on the front grills, the colors of Sandy Hook. At Newtown High School, students in sweatshirts and jackets, many wearing headphones, betrayed mixed emotions. Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself.

Photo: Charles Krupa, Associated Press

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The school shooting outrage in Connecticut has united Americans in demanding an end to this scourge on our society.

But when it comes to identifying the right solution, the country is as divided as ever.

Some believe it's mostly a mental-health issue, and that more aggressive screening and intervention needs to be pursued.

Many also, or instead, blame easy access to firearms that seem to have only one purpose: mass murder.

Still others, including Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), blame violent video games and the broader media culture.

As with any complex problem, the answer isn't simple. Each nightmare, each perpetrator, is unique.

Certainly, more mental-health resources -- and tighter screening of those seeking to purchase weapons -- are both needed. And while we remain staunch defenders of the First Amendment, like many we recognize that nihilistic, violent video games are hardly beneficial to society.

We continue to call on Congress and the president to act quickly to ban assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition clips and certain kinds of bullets.

But even if Washington defies the gridlock that's gripped it on so many issues, schools will be vulnerable for the foreseeable future. So they need to be more secure.

A defiant LaPierre suggested armed security personnel at every school. This would be expensive -- up to $138 million annually in Minnesota alone. And it would undermine the goal of gun-free schools.

A more sensible objective would be to improve school security, although this, too, would not be easy, cheap or foolproof.

There are three rings of school security -- the perimeter of the campus, the perimeter of the building and the central core of the school, said Steve Wilder, president and chief operating officer of Sorenson, Wilder and Associates, an Illinois-based safety and security consulting group. While all three security rings are critical, the perimeter of the building is paramount, according to Wilder.

He suggests investing in infrastructure security, using the concept of crime prevention through environmental design. An example would be significantly strengthening the structures and procedures at school entrances.

Beyond infrastructure, teachers and other school personnel are also key to keeping children safe. State statute already requires that each school conduct at least five lockdown drills, five fire drills and one tornado drill each year.

Outside of general guidelines, most school security issues are under local control. To what extent they should remain so should be the subject of dialogue among education policymakers in Minnesota, and across the nation. An analysis of best practices in infrastructure and procedures would be of value.

Gov. Mark Dayton has met with the commissioners of public safety and education since the Connecticut tragedy, and is expected to include a set of school safety proposals in the budget he will submit to the Legislature in January, according to press secretary Katherine Tinucci.

This should be an issue that transcends partisanship: Legislators should carefully consider the recommendations and act upon them if they would effectively improve school security.

Ideally, the federal government would respond aggressively to this national problem. But Minnesota should not wait for Washington, where nothing seems to get done quickly, if ever.

  • TIME TO 'GET SERIOUS'


    "When you start talking about innocent 5- and 6-year-olds, you start to say 'this isn't going to happen again.' Schools are going to have to get serious about it, and governments are going to have to get serious about the funding and make sure that schools take away that opportunity [from a gunman]."


    -STEVE WILDER, president and chief operating officer of Sorensen, Wilder and Associates

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