Armed guards, sur­veil­lance to wel­come stu­dents back

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - FRONT PAGE - BY PA­TRI­CIA MAZZEI

PARK­LAND, Fla. — For­ti­fied by fences and pa­trolled by more armed per­son­nel, schools will open their doors to stu­dents for the start of the new year with a height­ened fo­cus on se­cu­rity in­tended to ease fears about deadly cam­pus shoot­ings.

The mas­sacre in Park­land, Florida, one of the most lethal in U.S. his­tory, un­nerved school ad­min­is­tra­tors across the coun­try, who de­voted the sum­mer to re­in­forc­ing build­ings and hir­ing se­cu­rity.

In Florida, armed guards will be posted on al­most ev­ery cam­pus. In In­di­ana, some schools will be get­ting hand-held metal de­tec­tors. In western New York state, some schools plan to up­grade their sur­veil­lance cam­eras to in­clude fa­cial recog­ni­tion.

Six months af­ter the ram­page at Mar­jory Stone­man Douglas High School in Park­land, pub­lic schools have em­braced ex­pen­sive and some­times con­tro­ver­sial safety mea­sures.

“If we can find the re­sources, and if our tax­pay­ers are will­ing to sup­port us, then we will do ev­ery­thing in our power to try to cre­ate a sense of nor­malcy and ease,” said Don­ald E. Fen­noy II, su­per­in­ten­dent of the school

dis­trict in Palm Beach County, Florida, which bor­ders Park­land.

Palm Beach is nearly dou­bling its school po­lice force — and ask­ing vot­ers to sup­port a prop­erty tax in­crease to help pay for it. But, Fen­noy added, “we know that schools are still the safest places for the ma­jor­ity of our kids.”

The wave of ef­forts marks the lat­est es­ca­la­tion of se­cu­rity en­hance­ments prompted by hor­ri­fy­ing and highly pub­li­cized school at­tacks. Af­ter the Columbine High School shoot­ing in 1999, ad­min­is­tra­tors be­gan rou­tinely prac­tic­ing lock­down drills and hir­ing po­lice of­fi­cers. Af­ter the Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School shoot­ing in 2012, dis­tricts in­stalled more buzzer sys­tems and lim­ited points of en­try on cam­puses.

“It’s eerily sim­i­lar, what I’m hear­ing to­day to what we ex­pe­ri­enced in our com­mu­nity,” Guy M. Grace, di­rec­tor of se­cu­rity and emer­gency plan­ning for the school dis­trict in Lit­tle­ton, Colorado, which neigh­bors Columbine, said last week to a Florida com­mis­sion tasked with mak­ing statewide rec­om­men­da­tions on school safety.

Schools opened with metal de­tec­tors last week in Mar­shall County, Ken­tucky, where two stu­dents were killed at a school shoot­ing in Jan­uary. New York City has con­sid­ered ex­pand­ing the use of metal de­tec­tors, though some stu­dents worry they dis­pro­por­tion­ately tar­get schools with stu­dents of color.

No pol­icy has caused more de­bate than al­low­ing teach­ers to carry weapons, a pro­posal pushed for years by the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and sup­ported by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in Fe­bru­ary. Pro­po­nents filed a flurry of bills in state leg­is­la­tures to en­act such pro­grams this year, but only Florida adopted leg­is­la­tion to al­low schools to arm and train “guardians” on cam­pus — school em­ploy­ees who are not full-time teach­ers.

At least 10 states al­low dis­tricts to arm teach­ers and other staff mem­bers. One of the states is Texas, where a shoot­ing at Santa Fe High School in May left 10 peo­ple dead. Gov. Greg Ab­bott re­sponded by propos­ing more spend­ing on po­lice of­fi­cers and armed guards on cam­pus; the Santa Fe school dis­trict ac­cepted do­na­tions of metal de­tec­tors, pro­tec­tive vests and other po­lice equip­ment be­fore the new school year.

In ru­ral south­west­ern Vir­ginia, the Lee County school dis­trict is now al­low­ing teach­ers and staff mem­bers who al­ready hold con­cealed weapon per­mits to opt for more train­ing in or­der to carry guns on cam­pus — the first dis­trict in the state to do so. Brian T. Austin, the su­per­in­ten­dent,

called the pol­icy a fis­cal de­ci­sion: The dis­trict can­not af­ford to hire po­lice of­fi­cers for all of its 11 schools and still pay for new roofs and other needed re­pairs.

“We were try­ing to ad­dress a lo­cal need in the most fis­cally re­spon­si­ble man­ner,” Austin said. “We had no in­ten­tion of be­ing the first in Vir­ginia to do this.”

He likened op­po­si­tion to the pol­icy to crit­i­cism that out­lier dis­tricts faced years ago when they be­gan hir­ing school re­source of­fi­cers to pa­trol their cam­puses. Now, a lot of high schools and mid­dle schools ex­pect to have one. “School cul­ture has changed as the wider cul­ture has changed,” he said.

Still, teach­ers re­main wor­ried about be­ing asked to as­sume se­cu­rity du­ties. A re­cent sur­vey of 1,000 pub­lic school­teach­ers by Ed­u­ca­tors for Ex­cel­lence, an ad­vo­cacy group, found that 52 per­cent of re­spon­dents strongly op­pose arm­ing teach­ers. The same sur­vey found that gun vi­o­lence is ed­u­ca­tors’ top safety con­cern in schools.

Melissa Dorce­mus, a ninth-grade spe­cial-ed­u­ca­tion math teacher in Man­hat­tan, said she wanted po­lice avail­able to re­spond quickly to a shoot­ing. But schools must other­wise re­main safe places for stu­dents to learn, and a place where they can find respite from guns if they live in vi­o­lent com­mu­ni­ties, she said.

“I know that guns have this il­lu­sion of mak­ing peo­ple feel safer, but if a de­pressed kid comes into a school, hav­ing an armed guard with a gun is not go­ing to help that stu­dent,” said Dorce­mus, 30. “I don’t know where the line is of mak­ing peo­ple safe — spend­ing money on a re­source that won’t be uti­lized ev­ery day like an armed guard — ver­sus a coun­selor that would be uti­lized ev­ery day.”


A po­lice of­fi­cer walks past newly in­stalled por­ta­ble class­rooms at Mar­jory Stone­man Douglas High School in Park­land, Fla.

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