Parkland shooting raises safety concerns; students say SCDS needs hiding space, fencing, bulletproof glass
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Since 2013 there have been over 300 school shootings, averaging one per week, according to Everytown Research. (A school shooting is defined by Everytown Research as any time a firearm is discharged on or onto a school ground or campus or inside a school or its buildings.)
These shootings resulted in 59 deaths and 114 injuries. Of the 160 school shootings documented from 2013-2015, 84 occurred at a K-12 school.
So like many schools, Country Day is dealing with a basic question: how safe is the campus?
Because of its large windows and glass doors in seven of 12 high school classrooms and nothing fencing off the entrance to the high school, many students said they have concerns about safety.
In a March 20 Octagon poll of 117 students, 76 said that they think the high school campus is unsafe.
The large glass features are one dangerous aspect, 76 students said.
In fact, talk of the unsafe features of the campus has been brought up on many occasions in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (It has now become one of the world’s deadliest massacres, resulting in 17 people killed and 17 wounded.)
On March 5 (the day it was announced the school would have a lockdown drill the next day) in the Matthews library (which has windows extending to the ceiling at the building’s entrance and exit), a group of juniors and seniors discussed what action they would take in case of a school shooting, junior Nate Jakobs said.
Jakobs said that he thinks the gym or backfield or upstairs section of the lower school are the safest places on campus.
“Ideally I would be on the back field so that I could get off campus,” Jakobs said.
The group also agreed that the high school library would need some changes to make it safer, leading them to suggest bulletproof glass.
“It would be a big project,” Jakobs said. “But bulletproof glass would be the best way to make a difference.”
He said they proceeded to look up the cost of bulletproof glass to see whether it would be a practical step for the school.
Bulletproofing can run from $25 to $100 per square foot depending on the dimensions and type of glass, according to Installations, Inc.
And Jakobs doesn’t think bulletproof glass should be limited to just the library.
“The large windows in each classroom look nice, and I don’t want them to be changed; it would just make the school safer to change (the windows) to bulletproof or reinforced glass,” Jakobs said.
But head of school Lee Thomsen said that he doesn’t think bulletproofing windows would ensure school safety.
“You can take steps to improve security and people’s response to an emergency,” Thomsen said. “But nothing one does can guarantee that you can prevent something from happening.”
Even extreme preventative steps – such as a single entrance with visitors getting buzzed in at staff discretion, as at Sandy Hook Elementary School – don’t guarantee complete security, Thomsen said.
But one school in Indiana prides itself on its complete security.
Southwestern Jr./Sr. School in Shelbyville has been dubbed “the safest school in America.”
The school implemented the unique security program in 2015, at a cost of $400,000, according to a USA Today article (“How an Indiana school protects against mass shootings as the ‘safest school in America,’” Feb. 22).
The Indiana Sheriff’s Association chose the Southwestern school district to be the first to have the security program installed, the article said.
The program allows for local law enforcement to monitor the school and track a threat in real time.
Features include emergency fobs that teachers can press to alert local police of an active shooter, and areas called “hot zones” in hallways where law enforcement dispatchers monitoring the school can emit smoke to impair the vision of the attacker.
Paula Meurer, superintendent of Southwestern Consolidated Schools, declined to be interviewed about the program.
Although Country Day lacks the means to install a security program like Southwestern’s, the school is still taking steps to improve campus safety.
To begin, with the school is bringing in an outside company, Knowledge Saves Lives, to have its safety and lockdown procedures assessed in August.
Knowledge Saves Lives is made up of 21 emergency response professionals, who range from retired police officers to current correctional officers.
Over half of those professionals have survived shootings and many are parents to school-age children, which led them to form the company in hopes of preparing schools for violent events, chief executive officer Paul Llanez said.
The majority (about 75 percent) of the company’s clientele are schools, and they have contracts with over 150 school districts, according to Llanez.
The company uses “repetitive muscle memory training as well as employee- and site-specific information” to provide organizations with safety answers and training for emergency training, according to their website.
In order to use muscle memory training for emergency situations, the team of usually two to four professionals from Knowledge Saves Lives will gather an organization’s staff together on a training day and put them through a lockdown drill over and over, Llanez said.
“Muscle memory is something that we do every single day, but people just don’t realize it,” he said. “You leave your house and lock your house or you lock your car when you park without even thinking about it.
“And that’s what we want the staff to do; we want them to develop this muscle memory so that when a lockdown is called, they don’t even think about it because they know the steps: lock the door, turn off the lights, get the students into a protected area. It becomes something that’s just ingrained into (their memories).”
However, the muscle memory developed for lockdown procedure isn’t usually to defend the school against a threat inside, Llanez said.
Often schools have a lockdown because law enforcement is dealing with a threat outside of the school, and the school wants to keep it outside, according to Llanez.
And just that happened on March 7 when SCDS had a lockdown after school in response to an armed robber in the neighborhood.
But this lockdown didn’t scare junior Brandy Riziki, who said she believes no part of the school’s campus is unsafe.
“Just in general when I come to school I feel safe,” Riziki said. “And because (the campus) is so open, helicopters can look down and see if there is someone.”
Senior Ulises Barajas also said that he thinks the whole school is safe.
“Not many people know about this school, so I just don’t think anything bad could ever happen here,” he said.
Riziki also said that although the buildings look isolated, they actually aren’t because students can easily see what’s going on and all “places are connected somehow.”
In the March 20 poll, 55 students said the middle school campus is unsafe, and only 29 said the lower school campus is unsafe.
But unlike most students, sophomore Max Kemnitz said he thinks every part of the campus is unsafe because of the lack of fencing around the entrance. (Only 29 students said that every part of the school’s campus is unsafe.)
The only fencing blocking off any entrance to the school starts between Geeting Hall and the middle school science buildings and ends at the lower school building. The height of the fence is four feet and eight inches.
Kemnitz, who is part of the high school jazz band, and thus has zero period class three times a week, said that the fences don’t make the campus secure.
“In the morning, I can easily stick my hand in the fence and get in,” Kemnitz said. “And in the high school, anyone can just walk in.”
Thomsen acknowledged that this fence doesn’t deter strangers from coming on campus.
“Anyone that wanted to get over the fences could,” he said. “(But) since it’s a small community, for the most part everyone knows each other and easily recognizes a stranger.
“We’re the kind of folk where if you see a stranger on campus, the first response is to ask ‘Can we help you?’”
Nevertheless, talks about having an actual gate and tall fence around campus are intensifying, Thomsen said.
In fact, a gate and fence that continues beyond the administration building all around campus has been in the master plan for about 15 years, Thomsen said.
It’s now being discussed as a potential project, but funding is an issue, he said.
And like Thomsen, Llanez said he would prioritize a fence over bulletproof windows, because it would limit access.
“If you look at any house, one of the most important things is does it have a fence around it?” Llanez said. “Can it prevent the public from getting in?”
If Country Day were to bulletproof its windows first, it would allow for an armed person to have access to the site but not inside individual buildings, Llanez said.
“(That) would be great if the kids never left the buildings, but they do,” he said.
Students have classes in different buildings and frequently visit their lockers, meaning they have to walk outside all throughout the day.
Beyond the lack of a fence, 51 students said they are fearful of the high school’s limited hiding space.
During the March 6 lockdown drill, the AP Computer Science A class was in Room 3 (with dimensions of 22 feet and 11 inches by 19 feet and 4 inches), where there is very little space to hide, as the glass door and window overlooking the high school quad leave much of the classroom exposed.
Jakobs, who is in that class, had to stand on top of a desk in a corner to get out of view of the window.
And three students were unable to find a hiding place, according to Jakobs.
The scramble to find a hiding place could be avoided with areas in classrooms already marked as a designated hiding space, like at Southwestern.
A solid red line runs down Southwestern classrooms’ floors, marking the safe space for students to sit behind in order to avoid being seen by an intruder looking through the door window.
The Parkland shooting has made many schools reevaluate their security; in fact, Knowledge Saves Lives has received so many more clients after Parkland that an ABC News outlet did a story on their increased clientele (“Spike in business for local shooter training team after mass shooting in Florida,” Feb. 16).
Aside from bringing in Knowledge Saves Lives, the school will be having lockdown drills more often, according to Thomsen.
“Whenever something happens in the country, we as a school of course will think of how we want to react,” Thomsen said. “(Having lockdown drills more often) has been influenced by what’s happening.”
Folsom High School’s more than 2,000 students enjoy a 65-acre campus – but it’s not gated.
FHS principal Howard Cadenhead said that the many entry points and large campus make a gate unlikely to stop threats.
“Our campus is pretty unusual,” Cadenhead said. “There’s an entry point on Prairie City Road, two entry points on Iron Point (Road) and an entry point on the back of the campus from a reservoir that’s city property.”
The 65 acres, which Cadenhead said is double the usual size of other schools, makes it too large a space to gate and monitor.
And the many entry points make accessibility to the public very easy, Cadenhead said.
“It’s really hard for us to stop people from entering our campus,” he said.
But the openness also makes it easier for students to scatter and get off campus, according to Cadenhead, which is why FHS has tailored many of its emergency scenarios toward students emptying classrooms and scattering in all directions.
“If something were to happen or start to happen, our kids would go in a million directions,” Cadenhead said.
The one exception to this, as at many other schools, is the lunchroom, since it’s one of the few “bottleneck of students” places on campus, he said.
Therefore the cafeteria has become the most worrisome section of the campus, according to Cadenhead.
“It’s a space where there’s 500 kids sitting or in line getting lunch, making it so hard to manage in terms of safety,” he said. “But luckily we have a lot of doors that exit that space, and we concentrate our adult presence inside the space during lunches.”
Unlike Country Day, FHS has an outside security presence.
A Student Resource Officer from the Folsom Police Department patrols the campus and stations an office.
Although this officer has other schools that he’s responsible for, he is still on FHS campus often, Cadenhead said.
And the Folsom Police Department is also there for FHS’s lockdown drills, which occur four times a year.
“We’ll have four to five officers help us sweep campus and be responsible for buildings and all the protocols (shutting windows, locking the doors, turning the lights off, and maintaining silence),” Cadenhead said.
But despite all the police assistance, Cadenhead said it’s still hard to practice for the types of situations where an active shooter would open fire during lunch or passing period.
“In that case our students should scatter and run to safety, including running off campus,” he said. “But we really can’t practice situations where students run away off campus!”
—All stories by Katia Dahmani