Keeping school kids safe

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March 28, 2014 | 10:22 am

School districts looking into installing guards and security equipment in schools may have nothing but good intentions. But they should take a minute to think before spending precious school funding on gear they hope will keep our children safe.

As Sandy Hook reminded us, it’s critical that schools have emergency plans and practice them. But it’s just as critical that we remember that schools already are one of the safest places for children; that violent incidents at school are rare — and have been on the decline for nearly 20 years.

“Schools are a haven,” says journalist Annette Fuentes, who has researched school violence for more than a decade. Her book, “Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse,” should be required reading for every school board member, administrator or parent worried about school safety.

“Unfortunately, whenever something like this happens, people look for a quick fix,” she told me when we talked this week. They call for schools to install panic buttons, armed guards, metal detectors, cameras. Even — in the case of one New Jersey elementary school — retina scanners.

“It helps to make people feel better,” she told me. “Like they’re doing something.”

“That’s completely understandable, but there’s no good evidence-based research to prove that [it works],” she told me. “There is research, however, that shows that adopting these strategies degrades the learning environment and actually contributes to a sense that the school is less safe than it actually is,”

Violent crime in school is shrinking regardless of whether the school has implemented security measures, she told me.

“It’s an illusion,” she said. “And the consequence for kids who have to walk through metal detectors every day — it makes them feel like criminals.”

It’s tempting to look for the perfect product to buy in order to keep kids safe at school. But we have to remember: They almost always already are.

Spending money on unnecessary gear takes precious dollars that could be used for school guidance counselors who could help identify kids at risk for developing anti-social behaviors. On smaller class sizes so teachers can maintain classroom control. On other resources that actually might work.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.net

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