“Schools are becoming a dangerous place to work.”


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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33 Responses

  1. What you write is something we all need to keep in mind.Report

  2. James K says:

    There is an important defect in the way people evaluate risk by default – availability bias. People judge the likelihood of something occurring based on how easily they can think of examples of it happening.

    The danger of course, is that it leads people to overestimates the probability of rare but easily-remembered events occurring. It’s something more people should be aware of, because it distorts the way we demand governments manage risk in a way than can be harmful in a lot of ways.Report

    • Rose in reply to James K says:

      I think there’s something else going on here besides availability. There are some things we do knowing we are taking a risk, however small, e.g., driving or eating too many cookies. What is scary about school or mall or movie shootings is that it feels like a risk-free scenario. Or at the very least, one that we can’t do something differently without becoming totally withdrawn.

      I think the other thing that freaks people out is the fact that it was intentional. If a fire broke out in a school and a similar number of people died – well, that’s just as imaginable. It would have been memorable. But it wouldn’t terrify people. Malevolence is extra terrifying.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Rose says:

        I think the other thing that freaks people out is the fact that it was intentional. If a fire broke out in a school and a similar number of people died – well, that’s just as imaginable. It would have been memorable. But it wouldn’t terrify people. Malevolence is extra terrifying.

        You just explained the answer to something that’s always mystified me – why we focus so heavily, and spend such a large portion of government money, on things like crime and terrorism when disease and natural disasters kill far more people.Report

      • Kim in reply to Rose says:

        I’ve been to malls staffed by people with AK-47’s. It doesn’t feel safer.Report

    • Matty in reply to James K says:

      I’d add to this that a common (and understandable) reaction to a problem is often “something must be done”. While this is as I say an understandable attitude it can lead people to support solutions that don’t work just because they are seen as doing something.Report

  3. Miss Mary says:

    Alright, you’ve got a point, but I don’t like it. I would still feel better following 10 feet behind my kid all day making sure he’s safe.Report

  4. zic says:

    How many schools have locked doors? Buzzer entries? Metal detectors?

    How many schools don’t have the old lady down the street, the one who used to teach kids how to knit, come help with the after school program? Or the old man who taught bird carving?

    How many schools, in the desire to keep their students safe as they prepare them for the world, lock the world out?

    No, schools are not safer; not if they’re shutting the bonds that hold us together out as they try to shut the monsters out, too. It’s even possible that shuttering opens the path to fostering new monsters, because they see and respond to the power of fear.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to zic says:


      Lenore Skenazy can be a bit extreme but her underlying message is a sorely needed one.Report

      • zic in reply to Kazzy says:


        We used to live in the Boston area while our kids were small. Every weekend, we’d pile in the car and drive to the White Mountains to hike, camp, etc.

        One day, a bunch of the other moms cornered me, concerned about this; about taking our kids out miles and miles into the woods, all seasons of the year, far from a road, and, even worse, far from a teaching hospital. (That’s Boston for ya.)

        Funny thing, parents. Now, with cell-phone texting and curated face book pages, children have no privacy, little chance to range free. Every minute scheduled.Report

        • Kim in reply to zic says:

          Yeah. I remember hearing stories about kids getting snakebit, with their parents drawing lines on their arms, saying “if the swelling gets above here, we go to the hospital.”

          Among the thousand and one things that parents ought to know about:
          “if you panic, it doesn’t help.”
          “head wounds bleed. a lot. doesn’t mean they’re serious”

          I don’t go out into the woods without knowing enough first aid to get me home (including carrying a 200 lb. man home, if necessary). But I don’t imagine you do either. 😉Report

  5. Joe McCauley says:

    I am a retired high-school science and math teacher (35 years). I always joked that I wanted to be better armed than the kids. After Columbine I told my students that we would do the best we could to avoid trouble, but in our school we were trapped like rats, so we would have to be prepared to fight. We had lots of weapons in my room: lab equipment, lumber, noxious chemicals and tools…enough for everyone. When the school had security drills, we passed out our weapons, set up our barricades and waited to kill whoever came through the door. I believe the kids felt safer. I even hid two machetes in the drop ceiling that the kids never knew about.
    For the last 4 years of my career I was in a classroom trailer while the main building was being refurbished. Now we had escape routes to go along with our weapons. Again, our drills made the kids feel they had some control over whatever crazy situations might come up. We did not talk about who might threaten us, we just got ready.
    It sounds like the teachers in Newtown were ready to protect their kids, and several paid with their lives. I hope I would be as brave.Report

    • Major Zed in reply to Joe McCauley says:

      Reminds me of a news program yesterday, interviewing a fellow from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy. He was deriding the idea that more guns at school would make people safer. He might be right (not opining on that here), but the interesting thing was a verbal corner he got himself into. Something like (I don’t have the exact quote): “People think that if they had guns handy they could….” Then he struggled to complete the sentence. In my mind I heard “…defend themselves.” He ended up with “… take down the bad guy.”Report

      • M.A. in reply to Major Zed says:

        This guy was going down the hall with gun drawn.

        By the time he was in the door, the teacher was dead.

        All her having a gun would have done is given him an opportunity to take her gun and be that much more armed.Report

        • Kim in reply to M.A. says:

          Did she hear a shot? If so, any decent combat training would get her down, and safe. And get the kids down and (mostly) safe (time to death doubled or tripled, I’d say).Report

    • Kim in reply to Joe McCauley says:

      “Be prepared”
      …. umm… yeah.
      Am I the only person who knows someone who’s hurt someone else during a “safety drill”?

      Teenager is pouring sulphuric acid into a bit of water (two test tubes).
      T.A. comes up behind him, and covers his eyes.
      Teenager splashes both vials into T.A.’s face.

      (T.A. wanted to check to see if he could navigate to the eyewash station while being “blind”).Report

  6. Rufus F. says:

    Well, the other thing is that even having security guards at the doors wouldn’t have stopped Brenda Ann Spencer from doing it. She wasn’t even on campus. Only if you never let the students leave the building and what child would be happy with that?Report

  7. anonymous says:

    “How do we talk to kids about this?”

    It is a valid question. Students will ask questions about last Friday’s event. It isn’t so much that we are unsafe in schools as educators, as much as alleviating the fears of innocent school-age children who may have fears about their safety in light of what has happened to peers in CT.

    School-age children are subject to monthly “lock-down” drills, as safety precautions. How do educators explain to their charges what went wrong? Can what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, happen to them?

    lock all exterior doors

    All exterior doors are locked. At all times. All day. There is protocol. Parents and visitors must report to the office, sign-in.

    It remains uncertain, exactly how did Adam Lanza force his way into the building. And, of course why.Report

  8. Damon says:

    “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.”

    I don’t think armed guards would have been a deterrent. Sure, it might have deterred someone not 100% committed, but the old saw about not being able to stop someone willing to give up their life to take another’s is true. I’d expect the shooter would have shot the armed guard. There wouldn’t be more than one armed guard to a door. Budgetary issues you know. MAYBE the shots would have given folks more advanced warning, but not much. MAYBE the guard could have returned fire and discourage the shooter or possibly killed him, but a determined shooter is going to get in.Report

    • Chris in reply to Damon says:

      I’m not sure how armed guards at every door would have prevented it, because if you know there are armed guards, you just shoot first, right? Maybe what the school needed was a bulletproof door with armed guards behind it, through which any potential shooter would have to enter? Or maybe gun detecting lasers that instantly vaporize anyone who has an assault rifle who tries to enter the school without a security badge?

      Seriously, prevention of these sorts of things can only happen well before someone shows up to the school, or the mall, or the movie theater with a bunch of guns and enough rounds to take out everyone.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        That’s sort of my point. A lot of people wanted to talk about increased safety measures in school. Nothing is going to stop someone as committed as this individual was one he sets events in motion.Report

        • Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

          And let’s be clear here. “Nothing is going to stop someone as committed as this individual was one he sets events in motion.” NOTHING. Not a law on magazine sizes, not a law banning AR-15s, not a law banning anything.

          Those weapons still exist and will be available. Even if, magically, they were removed off the face of the earth, the cops still would have them. Someone truly intent to cause mayhem knows he can find anything he needs in the trunk of a cop car.Report

  9. Chris says:

    I remember in the 80s and early 90s, when “Schools are not safe for teachers” was a common refrain, with the fear being that attacks on teachers by students were becoming more and more common. I think this is something we’re going to hear at least once a generation.Report

  10. Rose says:

    After VA Tech there was some serious concern about how to handle problem students. It revived a bit after the discovery that the Aurora guy was a grad student. But there was no serious change that came down to my level. No locked doors, no red buttons, no nothing. There is some protocol to follow, and a team of people who now monitor mental health of students. But nothing serious ever happened. I wonder if that will be true for elementary schools.

    This semester, a student made some vaguely menacing comments to me. I reported it to my department chair, who took it very seriously, and to the mental health team, who thought it sounded like no big deal – like a slightly nutty but non-violent student.

    But really, no change occurred.Report

    • Chris in reply to Rose says:

      I have seen changes after the VT shooting. The most obvious one is the notification system. There was a shooter in the main UT library a couple years ago, and within minutes, everyone associated with the university had received emails and text messages notifying them of the shooter and giving them instructions (stay where you are, basically, and if you’re not off campus, don’t come on campus). The same happened during a bomb threat this semester. And though the alert system clearly has a hair trigger, because the university will always be looking to cover its ass, I actually think it’s a good thing.Report