America memorializes the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings today,recalling the heartache of learning that 20 children and six adults were gunned down by an armed intruder in Newtown, Conn.
It was a particularly painful moment for parents who also had to wonder: “If these children were not safe, are mine?”
Those parents will not be comforted to know that a Beacon Journal survey of more than 70 public districts and charter and private schools discovered that security measures at area schools are disturbingly unequal.
When asked whether they have secure vestibules that protect classrooms from people entering the school building, five districts simply responded that they require visitors to press a buzzer. One district’s administrator just said the doors are locked.
Two of the 47 responding districts said they do not have video security cameras.
All districts said they have their security plans on file with the state, but some said they could only assume those records were passed on to police, an indication of a lack of collaboration with local law enforcement.
Some districts consider a police presence in the schools essential, hiring armed police to walk the halls, engaging students to pre-empt security problems. Twelve districts have what they call school resource officers.
Other educators reject the idea of armed officers in their schools and 35 districts do not have them.
Also troubling is that many schools, particularly charter and private, did not respond to the survey. Some explained that they did not want to reveal security details, even when the Beacon Journal promised not to reveal particular security deficiencies.
In all, 47 districts with 201 buildings in the Akron-Canton area participated in the survey. Three public, five charter and 28 private schools did not participate.
Last year’s tragedy accelerated security improvements.
Entrances provide an example.
The Sandy Hook killer shot his way through a single pane of glass to gain access to the classrooms.
In the Akron area, some districts began building secure vestibules so even if a gunman broke through a door or window, he would confront school staff and need to defeat at least one more barrier before reaching children.
Plans for improvement
One district concluded that a building less than 17 years old has an insecure entrance and laid plans to improve it.
In interviews, educators said it is impossible to say how much they have spent on security. There is no single, security, line item in state-required budget-keeping and categories can be vague. A video camera can be a capital improvement on a building and an operating expense on a bus. An expensive, secure vestibule is mixed in with the ordinary cost of a new building.
Educators and politicians all acknowledged that it’s difficult to know what is sufficient security, what is costly overbuilding and what additional measures are needed.
On Sunday, the Beacon Journal will look at how paying for security resurrects painful debates about cost and how poorer districts must face the possibility of less elaborate security just as they must accept lower spending on education.
But Alissa and Robbie Parker, parents of Sandy Hook victim Emilie Parker, a first-grader, said it is important that parents not wait for politicians to act.
“It’s not the policy makers who make a difference in your particular school,” Alissa Parker told Ohio educators at a convention last month. “So we want people to realize that if they want to make a change in the school their children go to they are going to have to be the ones that do it.”
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or email@example.com. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.