The unspeakable attack on children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 shocked the nation. When reality hit, parents and guardians wondered whether their children were safe at school.
School building security has always been included in Davenport Community School’s long-range facility plan. Until late 2012, building security measures were scheduled as small, routine projects completed a few every year. On Dec. 14, 2012, the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack punctuated the vulnerability of our students. Davenport District’s response was to immediately accelerate our security projects. Since that time, security measures have been a priority, and include the capability for teachers to lockdown their rooms, the installation of over 1,000 cameras both inside and outside of schools, controlled access for school entries, police school resource officers in schools and placement of school security personnel in intermediate and high schools.
In 2013, the district adopted the A.L.I.C.E. (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Escape) model, which describes generally how students and staff should respond to an active shooter. Age-appropriate A.L.I.C.E. drills are conducted twice a year in all our schools.
I know that parents, students and staff would like assurances that schools are impenetrable. Even with all the implemented security measures, a determined perpetrator can still mount an attack in our schools. The stark reality is that since schools are not armed fortresses, there will always be ways for an individual who wants to die in the effort to get in schools. I consider the students of this district to be my children, and I have to protect them. The best way to do that is to identify and deal with potential killers before they get to a school.
The school layer of defense
School personnel work hard to identify and serve at-risk students. Students know who needs help and they have an uncanny network of intelligence and a sense for when trouble is brewing. We have to convince students that reporting troubled students, disturbing incidents and threatening social media posts can save lives. Loyalty to a code of silence can risk the safety of schools.
The law enforcement layer of defense
The police and juvenile court system are in touch with troubled youth who have already crossed the line. The district works closely with police and juvenile courts to address the needs of at-risk students and establish a warning system. Not all school shooters are students; therefore, our close liaison with police is important to identify this level of threat.
The family layer of defense
It is important for students and families to know that police work with the district to investigate all threats coming from students. Parents and guardians must be proactive, forceful and unrelenting in discovering who their children are hanging with, and how they are using social media. The view from my superintendent vantage point is that out-of-control use of social media is the source of most student misbehavior, ugly drama, fights and outright violence.
Students need to know that the district and Police Department are in perfect agreement that social media or other forms of verbal or written threats will not be tolerated. “I was kidding,” will not protect a student from school or police action.
The community layer of defense
The final layer of defense is the community. We need and appreciate support agencies and programs, which help students and adults find alternatives to violence. All citizens, businesses and organizations can help defend our schools from the acts of violent people by reporting erratic behavior.
My bottom line: Although the district will do everything possible to make it difficult for a shooter to attack our students, the layers of defense can keep shooters from ever getting to the schoolhouse door.