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Leaders eye school safety plans after Connecticut attack

“We don’t want our schools to be fortresses, but we want them to be safe,” said Steve Hegarty, a spokesman for Hillsborough County School District in Florida, where counselors were available to talk to students and offer parents advice on how to help children cope with the news.

In rural Vermont, where a man shot and killed two teachers in Essex six years ago, there are cameras inside or outside some buildings, Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca said.

Most districts have specific plans to respond to a dangerous intruder.

North Carolina’s largest school district holds drills for such a threat. An intercom announcement triggers teachers to lock classroom doors, close blinds, turn off room lights, barricade the door with desks, and move students away from windows and doors and into a closet, Wake County Public School spokeswoman Cris Mulder said.

In Omaha, Neb., trying to “take out” the intruder is permitted as a last resort. One adult would distract the intruder while another moves in to restrain him.

“Whatever you need to do instead of lying there and being a victim,” Safety Administrator Roddie Miller said.

Lockdown drills have become routine across the country and can serve a dual purpose: Prepare and reassure.

See also:

After unspeakable tragedy, a search for answers

How to talk to children about the Sandy Hook shooting

Could Sandy Hook shooting be a gun-control tipping point?

School safety resources from the eSN archives

“We continue to practice because, though we never anticipate a problem, we want to give our students the comfort of knowing our emergency procedures,” said Laurel Fretz, principal of Santa Monica High in California. She sent an eMail and recorded phone message to parents after the Connecticut shooting to assure them the school has clear plans.

Following a shooting outside Cleveland that killed three students earlier this year, Ohio now requires districts to file their plans with the attorney general and local law enforcement.

But for all the preparation, experts say, there are no guarantees.

“Schools can’t utilize a paramilitary type response,” said Joseph LaSorsa, a former Secret Service agent who consults on security. “You’re not going to be lining your corridors with armed guards.”

“Anybody with enough firepower can come into a school and do what that guy did,” said Jon Akers, executive director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety. “That’s the reality of it that people don’t want to hear, but that’s the truth.”

The heightened vigilance was evident in one New York City school on Dec. 14.

LaGuardia High School sent a mass eMail notifying families of a lockdown following student reports “that a non-LaGuardia adult was seen in the building.” It was lifted about 45 minutes later after police and school officers investigated. Principal Kim Bruno said the intruder turned out to be a man servicing a copy machine.

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  1. keytriad

    December 18, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    This conversation is too important for any overstated comment that detracts from the real problem. I contacted Joe LaSorsa for comment because his quote in the above article left me a bit confused as he seemed to support the status quo by saying:

    “Schools can’t utilize a paramilitary type response, ” said Joseoph LaSorsa, a former Secret Service agent who consults on security, “You’re not going to be lining your corridors with armed guards.”

    After such pain and loss, I felt these comments were out of place because over simplified answers are equal to no answers. How can anyone support the status quo where principals are defenseless
    and left with no other choice but to run into the spray of fire to unarm a mentally ill school shooter bent on destruction? The means with which the mentally ill person uses to carry out his destruction is not the issue — evil will always find a way to unleash itself. The issue is how can anyone abide ,after the fact, any principal that isn’t given the support (armed guard at the door) to further protect him/herself and their students today anymore than they were protected on last Friday? The principal at Sandy Hook Elementary in CT showed us all more is needed.

    This is what Joseph LaSorsa had to say:

    “This tragedy is one of the hardest of all of the past incidents to deal with because of who it affected and how it affected them. We should keep in mind, however, this is not one of the traditional school violence incidents. This perpetrator was an individual who was an unknown to the school administration and an outsider. There’s a clear common element in most mass shootings – the perpetrator was mentally ill or completely went off the deep end when committing this heinous act and the perpetrator was focused on Targeted Violence and intent on inflicting mass harm in the effort.

    In the Newtown incident, it seems the shooter’s mental condition deteriorated rapidly and/or too quickly to be noticed and to have had any positive intervention.

    What can we do? Should school districts conduct Security Audits and Assessments to evaluate their current security policies, protocols and security systems? Of course. Should security policy dictate more stringent access control measures be put in place? Absolutely. Should the school administrators request to have their physical security systems upgraded? Of course. Should school security policy dictate the use of security guards on their premises during and after school hours? Yes.

    Individuals and media pose and throw out questions like: Should schools have metal detectors? Should they employ armed guards? How much security is enough? These are questions and issues which can be considered by consultants and administrators on a case by case basis, however, the answer is not in militarizing our society and it’s institutions.

    We need to enhance security countermeasures across the board and understand the main cause of the problem we are facing in our society today, which is the lack of institutionalization and proper treatment of the severely mentally ill.

    Let’s step back and consider a fact. Very few of us know of anyone or their relative or friend that is institutionalized. The asylums don’t exist in the numbers they existed years ago. Because of the current mental treatment trends, the mentally ill and criminally insane live among us and in our neighborhoods.

    We have had mall, movie theatre and school mass shootings. We have to ask ourselves: why are these individuals killing people? What is/was the root cause of their actions?

    In addition to the above, the government and society watchdogs should monitor and control the sale of violent video games kids are allowed to watch instead of healthy diversions like sports and homework.

    Erosion of traditional family values; doing away with God and Faith; society and the media sponsoring and selling violent video games; lack of institutionalization of the criminally insane – all combine to give us a lethal, explosive combination of nasty, violent ingredients!

    Do we need to further implement stricter policies and procedures for the acquisition of assault weapons? Yes. Do we need to be more security aware and vigilant? Yes. Guns, like alcohol during Prohibition and illegal drugs – will still be available to the criminals and those who are willing to pay the black market prices. In order for our society to realize any serious positive outcomes of gun control legislation or enhanced security measures across the board, we will also at the same time need to address the very serious issue of the limited number of mental institutions available capable of incarceration of the severely mentally ill and the criminally insane and society’s attitudes toward the treatment of the severely mentally ill.”