Overdoing school security
Something happened during my recent visit to Los Angeles that bothers me. My wife and I were there to help out during and after the birth of our second grandson. That part went great. What troubles me was the handling of a shooting of a police officer in front of El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills on Jan. 19, the day before the new Mathews, named Tom, was born.
Officer Jeffrey Stenroos, who was posted at the high school, survived the shooting because of his protective vest. The gunman fled. The last time I checked, it was still not known who he was or why he fired at Stenroos in the parking lot. The school was locked down about 11 a.m. Students had to remain where they were. Some were denied a chance to get food or a bathroom break for the next six hours.
That strikes me as a little extreme. The police appear to have searched and secured the school within the first couple of hours. They could have allowed escorted trips to the restrooms. But that wasn’t my principal concern about the way the aftermath of the incident was handled.
The authorities did not lock down just El Camino High. They locked down eight other schools in the vicinity. Nothing happened at the other schools the rest of the day, which is a relief in some ways, and in other ways not.
Nobody wants to fault the police for taking every possible precaution. I have raised in the past the issue of bomb threats, and the standard practice of emptying the school for a couple of hours whenever one is phoned in. Rarely are those threats legitimate, but no one wants to be responsible for children getting hurt the one time a real bomb is discovered.
But the measures taken on Jan. 19 in Los Angeles seemed extraordinary. Has there ever been an occasion when a shooting at one school was followed by related shootings at other schools in the area? If the wounding of Officer Stenroos had been the result of a gang clash, and the same gangs were present in other schools, extending the lockdown would make sense. But that was not the situation at El Camino High.
Sending more police to nearby schools makes sense, but suspending teaching and learning for every child for the rest of the day does not. Many teachers on the other campuses tried to make good use of the time, but the uncertainty and fear that comes with a lock-down likely diminished the chances of much learning.
Such decisions are balancing acts. I suspect some officials considered locking down more than nine schools, and some preferred to disrupt far less. I wish there was more research on the effects of these decisions. I have had trouble finding much written by school security experts on sensible alternatives. Am I wrong to think this would be a useful area for inquiry?
I want my grandsons to be safe when they start school, but I wonder if there are procedures that would keep them from harm at the same time maximizing their opportunities for learning. I think it is worth a look.
| January 28, 2011; 11:20 AM ET
Categories: Trends | Tags: El Camino Real High School, balancing security and learning, lockdown of nine schools in Los Angeles
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