“Schools are becoming a dangerous place to work.”
(Please note that the title of this post is a quote which is further described in the post itself. I implore you to read the post and not just reply solely to the quote/title itself.)
No. They’re not.
The title of this post reflects a text message I received from my wife, as we frantically attempted to confirm the safety of her family living in Connecticut. She’s wrong. Schools will be no more dangerous on Monday than they were on Friday morning, before the tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut took place. I know a lot of folks feel differently. I know this because I work with some of these folks and had dinner with a pair of them Friday evening as we attempted to process what happened.
A colleague of mine teaches 4th grade. She came to me Friday afternoon with a question: “How do we talk to kids about this?” I responded that first and foremost we need to assure them of their safety at school. She asked: “How do we do that if we don’t feel safe?”
We are safe in our schools. Our children are safe in our schools. In spite of what happened in Newtown, our children are safe. Approximately 77 million students attended school of one kind or another on Friday. Approximately 77 million returned home safe. I realize this is of little consolation or solace to the parents and families of the children needlessly killed on Friday. But the reality is that schools are, were, and will be safe places for our children.
Details continue to emerge about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. It appears that the shooter forced his way into the building. Do you know what would have prevented that? Armed guards at every door. Metal detectors wouldn’t have stopped him. Swipe card access wouldn’t have stopped him. Stop-and-frisk wouldn’t have stopped him.
Parents at my school have already begun to ask what steps we are taking to secure the safety of their children, an appropriate and understandable response in the wake of children who looked like theirs being killed. Would we lock all exterior doors and funnel visitors through a single entrance? Would we increase police patrols of the area? Would we add security? I don’t know what we’ll ultimately do, but none of that will make their children noticeably safer.
The reality is that mass school shootings of the type we saw on Friday are exceedingly rare. This does not mean that we should not attempt to determine why and how they happen and what can be done about them. But it also does not mean we should overreact and take a series of steps that are unlikely to do anything but assuage fear and anger. Any steps we take now would likely seem unnecessary long before a similar event happens. When this event leaves our consciousness, as it will for the vast majority of us relatively soon, increased security measures are likely going to be the first things axed when budget crunches hit in schools that don’t face regular threats of violence. And they should be. Because employing armed guards at every door of a school building is a waste of resources when we are talking about a 20-in-77,000,000 event.
Again, I realize this sort of calculus may seem cold and unfeeling in a way. And it is. As a teacher who is not yet a parent, my job requires a sort of cold calculus when working with children. My job is not to emote, but to act, and to act in their best interests, largely independent of my emotion. And I will concede again that this post offers little to nothing to those impacted directly by this tragedy, and I am willing to take criticism from those parts of our audience should they exist.
But the reality is that our schools are safe. Your children are safe in schools. Send them to school on Monday. Hug and kiss them as much as you feel necessary and even more. But send them to school. They need it. You need it. We need it. We need not make victims of the other 76,999,980 students because of the awful, tragic, and needless deaths of 20. Your children are safe. Your children are safe.