Current school safety policies not effective as violence deterent – the Southerner Online | #schoolsaftey

Over 1,500 students walk through the doors and hallways of Midtown High School every day. While doing so, students are funneled through metal detectors and past security guards that surround the entrances. The protocols are a new addition to the school this year, and are aimed at making sure Midtown is as safe as possible for students. However, the policies being promoted and enforced aren’t effective, only adding more stress and time to a students day.

For 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, May 24th was the last day they walked into school. Uvalde is the most recent of the 27 school shootings that have occurred so far in 2022, and is the second most deadly school shooting of all time, falling only behind Sandy Hook in 2012. Since 2013, there have been 943 recorded incidents of gunfire on school grounds, resulting in at least 321 deaths. School shootings are rising, occurring at the highest frequency in over 20 years, and the debate about gun and safety policy is rising simultaneously.

As a result, Atlanta Public Schools has adopted a clear bag policy at all sporting events, is currently conducting an audit on school safety and security efforts and all APS schools are now required to have at least one Safety Coordinator who is required to participate in annual training, as well as review and revise the school’s safety plan. Additionally, schools are being encouraged to put in metal detectors at entrances. Additionally, schools are being encouraged to take action and increase security independently. However, the policies suggested and currently used at schools aren’t effective. 

Currently, Howard Middle School is encouraging students to use clear backpacks, and it looks like Midtown and the rest of the cluster will soon do the same. In a recent Board of Education meeting, board members and parents discussed recommending or even requiring clear backpacks for all students, and agreed to follow up on it at the next meeting. Parents, students and security experts are rarely in favor of clear backpacks. Not only are they invasive, they are actually statistically correlated with a rise in school violence. 

In the same spirit, Midtown itself is enforcing a stricter bag check policy, and is forcing students to enter through the cafeteria to ensure that all students get metal detected.  But, metal detectors are costly and time consuming when used correctly, as students have to remove items from their bags and be slowly screened. Bag check policies don’t really do much, as students are easily able to hide weapons in interior pouches or through other get-arounds. Safe Haven International, a non-profit created after the Sandy Hook tragedy, does not recommend bag checks as a security measure in schools as they “take too much time to do correctly, so the majority of bag checks could easily let a weapon through”. In a video on their website, a high school student successfully hides 26 weapons in a clear backpack before sending it through a screening by a School Resource Officer.

Georgia’s government is only making it easier for people to acquire and use weapons. In April, Governor Brian Kemp signed House Bill 218, the Constitutional Carry Act, into law, which allows people to carry a hidden gun without a permit. Gun policy is moving in the wrong direction, making school violence even more likely.

Furthermore, past events can show us how to change our policies for a safer future. According to Everytown Research, in all incidents of targeted school violence there were warning signs that caused others to be concerned. In 77 percent of incidents, other people were aware of the shooter’s plans in advance. And most shooters are not current students: over 56 percent of shooters aren’t current students. And in events where the perpetrator was a student, they came in late 35 percent of the time.  So, checking student backpacks can not prove effective, because students themselves are not usually the perpetrators of the shootings, especially in mass casualty events like Uvalde and Sandy Hook.

Instead of forcing students to comply with safety guidelines and checks, Midtown and other schools need to establish and use a threat assessment program, and stop the risk before it develops. Successful threat assessment programs not only identify at-risk students, they also identify which students have access to guns and other weapons. And these programs don’t only make schools safer, they improve the school atmosphere overall. Schools with comprehensive threat assessment programs see fewer expulsions, suspensions and arrests.

APS’s safety policies are outdated, and it endangers students. As gun policies change for the worse in Georgia, school safety policies need to catch up in order to keep students safe.

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