Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Securing Our Schools

In the wake of yesterday's tragic school shooting in Pennsylvania, there will be the predictable calls for more metal detectors, and an increased police presence at schools across America. The question is whether such measures would actually make a difference; recent studies--including analysis of recent school shootings--suggest that these steps have little deterrent value in actually preventing gunmen from entering a school, taking hostages and killing them.

And, unfortunately, this sudden spate of school shootings will be noted by more than just the lunatic fringe who might be contemplating their own, murderous rampage. The recent killings at schools in Colorado, Wisconsin and Nickel Mines, PA will almost certainly be scrutinized by terrorist groups, and possibly influence future attack planning. The United States has almost 100,000 schools, representing a potentially lucrative target set for Al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations. The physical and psychological impact of a terrorist strike on a school would be devastating, and disrupt the nation's educational system for years.

The September 2004 siege in Beslan, Russia serves as a grim reminder of what terrorists can do when they attack a school. Chechen terrorists stormed the town's elementary school on the first day of classes, taking hundreds of students, parents and teachers hostage. When Russian commandos stormed the building two days later, the terrorists began shooting their captives and detonated carefully planted bombs, increasing the carnage. More than 300 people--about half of them children--died in the Beslan school tragedy.

Could the same thing happen here? In the wake of the Beslan disaster, the U.S. Department of Education conduced a study (in conjunction with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security), and offered proactive guidance for American schools. Compliance with the letter was not required, and much of the information could be categorized as a series of suggestions, outlining steps schools could take to safeguard facilities, students and staff members from terrorist attacks. It's a bit disturbing that it took the Beslan massacre to spur the Department of Education into action, and more disturbing that anti-terrorism preparations vary greatly from one school system to the other. For every district that has developed a detailed plan and conducts periodic drills (like Montgomery County, Maryland and Fairfax County, Virginia), there are many more (such as Chicago) that have done virtually nothing.

Note: in my own personal experience as a teacher, I've found the Chicago "example" is closer to the national norm. None of the three districts where I worked as a teacher had anything that could be called a terrorism response plan, and our ability to deal with that sort of crisis.

Even among districts with an anti-terrorism plan in place, there is virtually no discussion of another option for increasing school safety: arming teachers and administrators. Israel implemented a similar program in the early 1970s, after a series of bloody Palestinian attacks on Israeli schools. Armed staff members were supplemented by parents who patrolled school grounds with automatic weapons; the attacks quickly stopped and the terrorists began to look for other targets. It's also worth noting that the school shooting in Pearl, Mississippi, was halted by an assistant principal with a gun. When shots rang out, the principal retrieved the weapon from his car and confronted the gunman, who quickly surrendered.

Local police departments, the NEA and the PTA would probably recoil in horror at the prospect of armed staff members and a "parent patrol" providing security on school grounds. But in a war where every town is a potential target, all options should be on the table, particularly if they provide a deterrent presence that could discourage or prevent terrorist attacks. The successive tragedies in Colorado, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania will re-ignite the debate on school safety and gun laws, but the discussion shouldn't end there. It's very likely that these events have attracted the attention of others who wish us harm, and we need to do more to prepare our schools for potential terrorist attacks.

As a first step, Congress and the Administration should mandate compliance with protective measures outlined in that 2004 Education Department letter--and provide the funds required for security upgrades. Beyond that, local school systems need to implement some common-sense steps that improve security, but cost very little. Seven years after the Columbine massacre, ABC News reports that 77% of the nation's schools lack security cameras; half do not have security personnel on campus. Seventy percent lock some, but not all, of their doors, and virtually all leave their front doors unlocked. In today's potential threat environment, that's tantamount to a welcome mat for your local psychopath--or an Al Qaida cell.


Meme chose said...

Every time we seek to tighten up against terror threats we will discover that the Israelis have been there before us (including, unfortunately, having to deal with Moonbats in the teachers' unions and elsewhere who become more rather than less strident as their various 'new age' illusions are exposed and cast aside).

Janet said...

Somehow, I can't see the Amish accepting to tote guns. At least one of them has already said that there isn't much point in tightening security at the Nickel Mines school, because it was a freak accident and too unlikely to happen again.

You know, I think he's right, at least for that school. Larger, urban schools should probably not follow in those footsteps. You'd think that locking the front door would be a reasonable first step.

Adrian said...

I would find it hard to believe that AQ or some other foreign terrorist group would attack an American school. After they hit the Twin Towers, they could use the video of those falling towers as their greatest recruitment tool - "want to hit the oppressor? Join AQ!" What would they show after attacking some elementary school? "Want to attack 8 year old infidels? Join AQ!" I think a high-visibility target is most likely for the next foreign terrorist attack (successful or not).

Arming teachers might help against domestic wacko terrorists and random student violence, but it could also seriously harm the student-teacher trust that's necessary for learning.

Yishai said...

Arming the teachers is not a solution for everyone. Until the U.S. schools are targeted systematically, guns in the classroom will not happen. Israel is different because they were systematically targeted by terrorists (successfully in some tragic cases).

Do not try to understand the terrorist mentality. They want to murder any infidel, whether they are two years old or eighty. They want us all dead. As I witnessed in Israel, there are no limits to their victims, and no boundaries to their targets.

Mike said...

Also, think about it...how best do you hit the U.S. to prove, without a doubt, that you can hit anywhere?

I won't go into details, but you're going to want to focus on soft targets.

RussInSoCal said...

Or maybe just make clear that the price for killing American School Children would be a very high price.

Wry Mouth said...

I now teach in a small private school, after teaching for some years in public school. No doubt, schools are 'soft' targets, but I think it better that the large majority remain that way.

It's a matter of risk assessment. I'd recommend (if security's the way you want to go) pouring the money into harbor security and securing major economic targets. Islamic nutjobs can't destroy America by killing schools, and that's their objective.

As for protecting against the odd crazy who wants to invade the nearest school, I'd suggest (as I do with my students) instituting a policy of "Total Noncompliance" with any invader, armed or not. The second some idiot comes into my classroom, warning shot or no, is the second they are pelted with books, pencils -- whatever the youngsters can throw -- while I pick up the nearest desk and charge.

I've had to prepare myself (husband and father) to take a bullet for my students. They don't pay me enough. But I feel it comes with the territory -- and I also feel that it'll never come to that.

Risk assessment.

Stan said...

Cameras won't stop anyone who wants to do something, guns will. You're halfway right. Roll back the infringements on our 2nd Amendment rights, everyone who can be armed, should be armed. No I'm not talking about AK 47s, more like whoever has a handgun, and is willing to carry should. Now it's currently against the law.

Knowing that evil always exists, in a sense, these laws are the ones that killed many children.

Mike H. said...

The Amish won't tote guns. There's not enough value in their school for a terrorist attack anyway. The schools that have to worry are in Chicago, L.A., Seattle, in other words the places that won't prepare because their allies won't attack them. They're called soft targets for a reason. It's an attitude thing.