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A lesson in school security.


MURDER, ASSAULT, AND other forms of mayhem have spread to primary learning institutions--elementary, intermediate, and high schools. Schools across the nation have seen indiscriminate shootings by mentally disturbed persons, sexual attacks against students, abductions, and assaults. Internally, schools are plagued with drugs, weapons, and assaults by students against other students or teachers.

Some of these incidents, particularly those concerning student rule violations, are being dealt with through internal monitoring, effective discipline, and education of the student body. But what about the external threats? Can they be stopped? Short of locking down an entire school and bringing all school functions inside, no foolproof solution exists.

Children are the nation's most valuable asset. All people are repulsed when the news reports a child molestation, rape, or murder. What makes these incidents even more disturbing is that they occur in school. Until recently, schools have been considered safe havens--places for children to learn, make friends, and gently assimilate into society.

Increasingly, that environment is shattered by gunshots, screams, and emergency sirens. Urban school districts have been hit the hardest. In many cases, their response has included total lock-down while in session, armed security or police officers, video cameras, and other sophisticated equipment. Are such measures necessary? In some cases, probably so.

What about the impact on children--especially those most vulnerable, those in kindergarten through sixth grade? They are extremely impressionable and are in the process of building their psychological foundations. If security is extreme, will children fear going to school? If they fear school, will they eventually drop out or suffer some type of traumatic side effect? To educate children and keep them safe requires recognition of the threat, tempered with security designed expressly for an academic setting.

Fairfax County, VA, is a suburb of Washington, DC. Approximately 720,000 people reside in the county's 400 square miles. About 130,000 students attend the county's 124 elementary, 19 intermediate, and 23 high schools. In response to incidents at public schools, Division Superintendent Robert Spillane recognized the need for a comprehensive, well-tailored security plan--one, however, that would not overwhelm the student body, school staff, parents, or volunteers. To create such a plan, the Fairfax County School Security Committee was formed.

At its inception, the committee was composed of a deputy superintendent and representatives of principals, teachers, school safety officers, school security officers, and the parent-teacher association. In addition, the Fairfax County police department was asked to provide its expertise in crime prevention and security.

The initial task was to identify the population's vulnerability. Based on the incidents that had occurred, the order of emphasis was, in descending order, elementary schools (kindergarten through sixth grade), intermediate schools (seventh and eighth grades), and then high schools (ninth through 12th grades). Making schools more difficult to enter might have put children at greater risk on the way to and from school, so the first action was to emphasize to students the importance of personal safety and caution toward strangers.

THE COMMITTEE PROCEEDED TO DEsign a comprehensive, county-wide security plan. It made the following recommendations to the school board:

* Principals will develop a school safety and security plan that addresses general security measures and articulates procedures to follow if an incident occurs in or near the school. While certain actions are required for all schools (locking doors, requiring visitors to sign in, etc.), principals should adapt other procedures to fit their school situation.

* All exterior doors, except one main door, will be locked while school is in session. (All doors must be capable of being opened from the inside during an emergency.)

* The main door will be monitored at all times by volunteer parents or office personnel.

* Every employee required to travel from school to school and every staff member assigned to a school will wear an employee badge with a photo. This requirement applies to principals, teachers, and maintenance personnel.

* Any visitor to a school, whether a parent, volunteer, substitute teacher, maintenance worker, or construction worker (for buildings undergoing renovation), will sign in and out. In addition, he or she must wear a visitor's badge. The visitor's badges will be unique for each school (using individual logos).

* In the parking lot and around the school, highly visible signs should instruct visitors to use the main entrance. In addition, the main entrance must be clearly marked. Such marking is most important, as it helps emergency personnel find the entrance without undue delay.

* Signs on the doors will instruct visitors to use the main entrance and report to the office.

* When in the school building or on school grounds, students at the elementary and intermediate levels will not be left alone.

* Training for staff, students, and parents is extremely important. Emphasizing the need for security will change school culture. To settle everyone's fears and concerns, a videotape supported by discussion and written material will be presented to the groups concerned.

* The police department will conduct additional training for all principals. Participants will be told the do's and don'ts of handling a victim and protecting a crime scene. They will also be taught crime prevention, personal safety, and how to handle media questions.

* A school watch program similar to neighborhood watch programs could be instituted. The training and coordination for such a program rests with the police department, which has prepared a special lesson plan for the program.

The committee polled other school districts to determine what had been done elsewhere. Many jurisdictions had no security programs in place, and many of the security programs that did exist were extremely restrictive. The committee concluded that Fairfax County needed a program that accomplished its goals without creating additional problems or burdens.

Students, teachers, administrators, and all others affiliated with the school system must be protected. Security is necessary for their own peace of mind and for the learning process to continue undisturbed. Security is also necessary because of the potential for liability. Public officials must act in good faith to eliminate the potential for incidents to occur and must take corrective measures to avoid a repetition of past incidents.

Robert DelCore, CPP, is a captain with the Fairfax County (VA) police department. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Delcore, Robert
Publication:Security Management
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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