Friday, January 11, 2013

Are rigidly-secure schools really safer?

It never fails to amaze me just what has become of our school facilities these days.

The layers of security that are in place to ensure that all movement in the building is monitored and that no one who doesn’t have to be there is in there for any longer than necessary creates such an oppressive atmosphere.

IT REALLY MAKES me thankful that I don’t have to go to school any longer (I’m coming up on 30 years since high school come May). Because I wonder how current students manage to cope with the nonsense.

Except that they’re all so young they don’t know anything different. They probably presume that this is the way things are supposed to be. It all makes me wonder what view of life we’re giving them!

Just this week (in my duties for one of the suburban daily newspapers) I had to visit a high school, where I managed to create a minor security scare.

For a school board session that was scheduled to have the doors open at 6 p.m., I arrived at 5:50 p.m. I asked one security officer exactly which building on the campus the session was being held in, and when I went there, I found one unlocked door (out of six).


But it seems that another security guard (it was a private security firm hired by that high school district) wasn’t aware that the one door was unlocked.

So I wound up having to explain myself, and ultimately had to go back outside for a few minutes UNTIL the hour of 6 O’Clock (as they’d say in the Illinois Legislature) actually arrived according to that guard’s watch.

I have been in enough school buildings to know the “check-in” procedures – which usually involve letting the principal’s staff know you’re there. Although sometimes, schools want to make it a little tougher to conduct business with them on their grounds.

I KNOW THE two high schools I attended (I transferred when my family moved after my first year) have all these checkpoints for outside visitors. One literally has to keep following the path of security people in order to get to where one needs to go.

It’s almost enough to make me detest school buildings in a way that I never did when I was actually a student. Perhaps all this is meant to make me more thankful that portion of my life is complete.

Now I know some people are going to argue with me that all this is somehow essential – and perhaps should have been in place when I was a student some four decades ago – in order to ensure safety.

They’re going to cite the sporadic incidents where someone manages to get a weapon (or a few) into a school building and manages to inflict significant amounts of bodily harm.

ALTHOUGH THOSE INCIDENTS usually turn into events where flaws in other laws manage to come out into the open. Whether it is too-easy access to the firearms or too-loose monitoring of people with potential mental health problems, the idea of a school building as a fortress is usually a secondary (if not irrelevant) factor.

It would almost be like saying that the Chicago White Sox failed as an organization on the field because the quality of the pizza they serve at concessions stands is mediocre-to-lousy. True enough, but not the reason they played so badly the last month of the season.

Although having stated that, I must recall one moment from when I was in high school.

It was my final year and I was in the “newsroom” of the student newspaper along with other “staffers” when an adult male showed up, sat down at a desk and refused to say much of anything – except to tell us to mind our own business.

SOMEONE MANAGED TO call for security, and a guard did come to take him away – only for him to return shortly with a pass from the principal allowing him to be with us. The image I have of a guy with hair in a mullet and disco-like clothes – about six years after they were stylish – ought to be enough to give anybody the creeps.

It took about an hour for us to find out what he wanted – to place advertising in the paper for his “product,” a hollowed-out tube meant to look like a pen. The theory was that you could hide your “crib notes” in the tube while cheating on tests.

When we wouldn’t take his money (if I recall correctly, the ad would have cost about $10), he got huffy, but left without further incident.

An awkward moment, to be sure. But I’m really not sure that having all the modern-day checkpoints would have prevented it from happening, or made me any safer on a daily basis back then.


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