10 Years After Columbine, Schools Not Doing the Little Things

By Matthew Harwood

Next Monday will mark the ten-year anniversary of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's massacre that killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

The events unleashed by the two teenaged boys led to a burst in school security spending, but that era has come to an end,  reports The Wall Street Journal, as spending from federal, state, and local sources has largely dried up or has been used for other things.

Federal funds have been cut by a third, or $145 million. States have slashed spending or allowed school districts to buy textbooks with money once reserved for security. Even the Colorado school district that includes Columbine canceled its annual violence prevention convention.

Despite the fears these cutbacks have sparked among educators and security consultants, the WSJ found that an alarming percentage of schools fail at even the most conventional and low-cost security measures.

In a recent survey of 445 educators conducted by the American Association of School Administrators, nearly 80% of respondents called school-safety funds "stretched" or "inadequate." Yet many also said they left quick, inexpensive fixes undone. More than 15% reported that their school entrances are neither locked nor monitored. A third confessed to propping open doors, giving intruders easy access. One in five didn't equip recess and field-trip monitors with walkie-talkies to report suspicious sightings or brewing conflicts.

And 29% either had no safety committee or indicated doubts about its effectiveness. Such committees are intended to bring together parents, teachers and local law enforcement at regular intervals.

The article goes on to describe several low-cost approaches to security that try to increase the amount of interaction between students and teachers as well as other adults. For example, take Tommie McCarter, the principal of poor Westwood High School in Memphis, Tennessee. By having teachers stand in the hallways in-between classes, McCarter has seen the number of fights drop from one every day to only four or five a year.

She credits teachers simply "being visible" as the best approach. "And that's no cost," she told WSJ.


What have we learned?


Research has determined that from the Moment of Commitment (the point when a student pulls their weapon) to the Moment of Completion (when the last round is fired) is only 5 seconds. If it is the intent of a school district to react to this violence, they will do so over the wounded and/or slain bodies of students, teachers and administrators.
Educational institutions clearly want safe and secure schools. Administrators are perennially queried by parents about the safety of their schools. The commonplace answers, intended to reassure anxious parents, focus on the school resource officers and emergency procedures. While useful, these less than adequate efforts do not begin to provide a definitive answer to preventing school violence, nor do they make a school safe and secure.
Traditionally school districts have relied upon the mental health community or local police to keep schools safe, yet one of the key shortcomings has been the lack of a system that involves teachers, administrators, parents and students in the identification and communication process. Recently, colleges, universities and community colleges are forming Behavioral Intervention Teams with representatives from all these constituencies. Higher Education has changed their safety/security policies, procedures, or surveillance systems, yet K-12 have yet to incorporate Behavioral Intervention Teams. K-12 schools continue spending excessive amounts of money to put in place many of the physical security options. Sadly, they are reactionary only and do little to prevent aggression because they are designed exclusively to react to existing conflict, threat and violence. These schools reflect a national blindspot, which prefers hardening targets through enhanced security versus preventing violence with efforts directed at aggressors. Security gets all the focus and money, but this only makes us feel safe, rather than to actually make us safer.
Some law enforcement agencies use profiling as a means to identify an aggressor. According to the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education’s report on Targeted Violence in Schools, there is a significant difference between “profiling” and identifying and measuring emerging aggression; “The use of profiles is not effective either for identifying students who may pose a risk for targeted violence at school or – once a student has been identified – for assessing the risk that a particular student may pose for school-based targeted violence.” It continues; “An inquiry should focus instead on a student’s behaviors and communications to determine if the student appears to be planning or preparing for an attack.” We can and must assess objective, culturally neutral, identifiable criteria of emerging aggression. 
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