Practical Strategies for Protecting Schools

By Dr. Amy Burkman
Program Director, M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision, American Public University System

There has been a movement to arm teachers in the classroom as a knee-jerk reaction to recent violence in schools. There isn’t a worse place for us to put guns! Students have been known to steal money, food, pencils, really anything, from a teacher’s desk. What would make a gun safe from those students?

Advocates for this plan to respond with a simple solution—lock up the guns! Putting a gun in a locked location makes it impractical for teachers to access in the midst of crisis. The lock can’t be keyed—students could find the key. A coded lock would be difficult to access when in a panic. This is simply not the solution. We cannot ensure that students will not have access to the guns in the classroom while still allowing teachers to access them when needed.

Teachers I have spoken to are equally hesitant to carry guns at school, even those that currently have weapons in their homes. Teachers operate under high levels of stress in typical daily activities. Could you imagine the difficulty of recruiting and retaining teachers when they are responsible for protecting their students with a deadly weapon? I know few teachers that would be comfortable with this scenario.

If we require teachers to carry weapons in the classroom, we are resorting to marshal law. Rather than responding to the presence of danger in schools, we should focus on restricting access to schools to keep danger out of our schools. There are a variety of ways to minimalize access to the campus without damaging positive relationships with families and community members:

  1. Staff an armed guard or police officer to monitor the entrance point of each school. In many cases of school violence the perpetrator was known to the campus staff. Not only will the guard be trained to deal with violence, his mere presence will be a deterrent.
  2. Restrict access by requiring that any visitor be “buzzed” in after providing identification and a reason for coming on campus. This may mean a reduction in personal visits to staff members, but that is a minor inconvenience when dealing with the safety of our kids.
  3. Require that all people accessing a school campus walk through a metal detector prior to entering the building. We do this at court houses and banks. Why not at our schools?

If these measures are cost prohibitive, consider only allowing school access during specific times. For example, allow people to come on campus only during lunch. If a student needs to be picked up from school during “closed” periods, the parent can ring a bell and provide a note and identification through a system similar to making deposits at a bank. The student can then be walked to the front.

While I believe we should do everything thing we can to keep our students safe, school access should be the focus of any changes we make in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. By closely managing access to our schools, we can keep violence away from students and teachers.

About the Author:
Amy Burkman is the director of the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership program at APUS. Prior to moving to higher education she was a school administrator, a teacher, and a school librarian. She received her Doctor of Education from Texas Christian University and she holds educator certification in Texas, where she resides with her family.

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