By  Jane Weinkrantz


    Last week when I boarded a plane to Fort Lauderdale, I went through the ritual of removing my shoes and placing them in a plastic bin while displaying a Ziploc bag filled with Lilliputian shampoos and cosmetics, the better to maintain safe air travel and keep me from concealing an AK in my sneakers or using a diabolical mix of Goldwell color stay conditioner for dry hair, Coppertone suntan lotion SPF 30 and Body Shop gentle chamomile eye make up remover to further jihad. Or maybe it was just a sham, a series of exercises in creating comfort and the illusion of security. Being secure is a high priority these days---in the air, in business, and now in schools, we all seek the elusive sense of security, the feeling that nothing terrible can happen to us.

    Of course something terrible could happen to anyone at any time. But, hey, if you dwell on that too much, soon you won’t be able to get out of bed and won’t bother going to school. So assuming you’ve managed to transcend a creeping sense of fatalism, what’s all this talk about school security? Recent discussions about teachers wearing photo IDs and possible video cameras to track who enters and exits school buildings may create an illusion of security. But, if you examine the history of school violence, you will find that these measures would have done little to prevent past school tragedies.

    Readers who work in business are no doubt thinking: Hey, I wear an ID badge. Why shouldn’t teachers? I agree that most all of my friends employed in the business world wear badges, but I don’t believe that schools and businesses are threatened by the same types of crime and violence. My husband is an IT consultant who specializes in financial firms. Do his Wall Street clients insist that he wear a photo ID? Of course they do. Businesses have an interest in keeping their data secure and away from the possibility of corporate espionage. Does anyone really think other districts are sending spies to glimpse at our pedagogy? Also, institutions clearly targeted by terrorists and headquartered in an area that has been attacked by terrorists have every right to tighten security. In that context, ID badges make perfect sense.

    So far, there is little evidence to suggest that Osama Bin Laden and his ilk are on their way to your local school. Indeed, the bulk of school violence comes from within and is perpetrated mostly by teen-aged boys. Many of the targets are administrators. According to a 2002 study by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education, administrators and teachers were targeted in nearly half of the school shootings. So far, POBCSD is implementing security by having only the administrators wear badges. Based on statistics, maybe we should be making that group more difficult to spot.

    According to U.S. News and World Report, there have been fewer than 50 shootings in schools in the United States since 1985. ( Of those, all but a small handful were committed by students or former students of the schools where the crimes occurred. All but two of these students were male. In about a dozen of these episodes, teachers and principals were among the wounded and killed. In eleven of the shooting incidents, the final death was the shooter’s.

    How can we identify those students who pose a threat to the safety of a school? The Secret Service/US Department of Education study notes that there is no one profile to look for. Stereotypes of goth make-up or trench coats are just that. Both popular students and loners can become violent. However, students don’t just "snap." Their emotional state progresses until a notion of violence becomes a plan requiring preparations. Most of the time, the student shares the plan with a friend, classmate or sibling. While a student may not have clearly articulated a threat to his intended victims, he may have spoken about violence or weapons and had experience with weapons. According to the study, "Only one third of the attackers had ever been seen by a mental health professional, and only one fifth had been diagnosed with a mental disorder. Substance abuse problems were…not prevalent…Most attackers showed some history of suicidal attempts or thoughts, or a history of feeling extreme depression or desperation. Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures."

    If the majority of school violence comes from troubled students within the school, what can we do to prevent it? Even the most Draconian security measures are no guarantee according to the Secret Service who state, "Metal detectors have not deterred students who were committed to killing themselves and others." Even the arrival of a SWAT team, in most cases, would not have prevented shootings.

    One significant piece of information implies that prevention has more to do with listening and paying attention than badges, metal detectors or cameras. According to MSNBC’s "10 Myths About School Shootings," "Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted or injured by others prior to the attack and said they had tried without success to get someone to intervene. Administrators and teachers were targeted in more than half the incidents."

    In the crimes where the assailants came from outside the school, the victims tended to be females as in the case of an Ohio teacher, Christi Layne, who was murdered when her ex-husband was permitted into the school; he stabbed her in front of her fifth grade class. There was Charles Carl Roberts, the gunman who killed five Amish girls in a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, PA and Duane Morrison, the homeless man who took six girls hostage at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, CO, molested them and fatally wounded a 16-year old before he killed himself.

    Based on this information, neither identification badges for teachers nor security cameras at entrances would have solved much. Instead, we should be protecting the students and staff from intruders by strengthening the security process at the point of entry. In the district where I grew up, the high school has a guard house to check the identities of those who wish to enter the building. In the district where I currently reside, I have to sign my name, show my driver’s license and be issued a visitor’s pass to do something as simple as pick up homework when my son is sick. Once my visit is completed, I have to sign out. The time of my departure is recorded. Since most schools have many in-and-out visitors, these systems make more sense to me than tagging employees who have worked in the same building for 20 or 30 years and can pretty much be counted on to keep predictable hours.

    However, to keep our schools truly safe from within will require something different from ID badges, security cameras, metal detectors or SWAT teams. According to Douglas Kellner, author of Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre, the fact that most school violence is perpetrated by males is not a coincidence. Instead, it is a by-product of our violent culture. Kellner states, "The school shooters and domestic terrorists examined in this book all exhibit male rage, attempt to resolve a crisis of masculinity through violent behavior, demonstrate a fetish for guns or weapons, and represent, in general, a situation of guys and guns amok." Kellner goes on to say that the young men who attempted to solve their problems with gun violence suffered from "problems of socialization, alienation, and the search for identity in a culture that holds up guns and militarism as potent symbols of masculinity."

    To avoid more school tragedies involving young men, Kellner recommends "stricter gun control laws; improved campus and workplace security; better guidance and mental health care on campuses and in communities; a reconstruction of education to promote programs advocating peace and social justice; and projecting new and more constructive images of masculinity."

    Of course, after considering the reality of our ugly, violent culture, administrators, teachers, students and parents cannot be blamed for wanting to do something to make our schools more secure. If God forbid, a tragedy were to occur, we would want to look back and say, "Well, we tried to prevent it. We did do x." Let’s not just do something to prevent school violence. Let’s make sure we do something effective and smart.


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