Are our children safe at school?

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19 2012 5:45 p.m. MST

In the wake of last week's shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, U.S. school districts are reviewing their security policies and equipment and reaching out to parents with assurances that their children will be safe at school.

The message on the website of Rhode Island's North Smithfield School Department is typical:

"Please be aware that we have crisis plans and teams in place at all schools that are actively practiced, reviewed and revised in order to be as prepared as we can for a crisis like this or others. ... Teams and administrators consistently review and revise their practices as necessary. This is a tragedy that will naturally result in yet another precautionary review."

Meanwhile, evidence is emerging to suggest that security policies already in place at Sandy Hook helped avert an even deadlier tragedy. Education Week reports that the school's security system included a locked school door with buzzer and camera that delayed the shooter long enough for the school secretary to switch on the public address system as shots rang out, and the school staff responded as they had been trained.

"Teachers and other school employees quickly herded students into closets, kept them quiet and locked their doors while the principal and school psychologist tried to act as human shields," according to Education Week.

The shooter gained access to two classrooms but was prevented from entering many others by teachers who followed lockdown procedures.

Since the 1999 massacre at Colorado's Columbine High School, many schools have redesigned security systems and procedures. A National Center for Education Statistics report shows that between 1999 and 2010, there was an increase in the percentage of public schools using the following safety and security measures: controlled building access (from 75 percent to 92 percent), use of one or more security cameras (from 19 percent to 61 percent) and telephones in most classrooms (from 45 percent to 74 percent). Approximately 68 percent of students reported the presence of security guards or assigned police officers, and 91 percent reported presence of school staff or other adult supervision in the hallway.

As every parent knows, keeping a child perfectly safe in a dangerous world isn't always possible. President Barack Obama spoke of this in a memorial service for the children who perished at Sandy Hook school:

"Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around. With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves — our child — is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice."

Protecting America's children is a joint responsibility of friends, neighbors, communities and the nation, Obama continued.

"In that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we're counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we're all parents; that they're all our children," he said. "It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right."

EMAIL: cbaker@deseretnews.com

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