Experts: Communication not more security could be key to thwarting school shootings

Report: Hardened security in schools may create distrust of educators

Surveillance video was released Wednesday from security cameras outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on the day a gunman killed 17 people.
Surveillance video was released Wednesday from security cameras outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on the day a gunman killed 17 people. (Joe Raedle/GGetty Images)

As law enforcement and school officials attempt to protect students from becoming the next school shooting victims, metal detectors, surveillance cameras, run-hide-fight training and monitoring students' social media are the new normal in education practices.

However, what effect will these hardened safety measures, meant to keep students them safe, have on them? Could other measures, such as creating a more caring school environment, sow better trust and prevent further massacres on school grounds?

Those are questions two Ohio State University experts addressed Monday in their article published in Education Next.

The article written by Bryan Warnick, a professor and associate dean in the College of Education and Human Ecology, and Ryan Kapa, a postdoctoral researcher in the Center on Education and Training for Employment, suggests several ways to address violence in schools without making them feel like prisons for students.

After 17 teachers and students were killed on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, President Trump asked U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to chair a commission on school safety. Warnick and Kapa point out that the commission focused on target-hardening approaches, including armed and trained staff members, enhanced mental health services and other measures, but the commission essentially ignored access to firearms and age restrictions.

In Florida, weeks after the Parkland shooting the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act was signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott. The state law did address age restrictions for firearms, increasing the gun ownership age in Florida from 18 to 21. The law also added funding to increase school security on every campus through target hardening methods as well as requiring an armed deputy on every campus.

Increased surveillance and armed security may prevent another mass shooting; however, Kapa and Warnick write those measures are also sending the message to students "that schools are unsafe, fearful places, thus adding an element of stress to the learning environment."

Students at Lake Brantley High School in Seminole County experienced real fear and stress as they ran from their school when an active shooter drill went awry in December. School officials later said better communication could have prevented the mass chaos.

The OSU experts cited recent potential school shootings averted when students and families communicated with schools about their security concerns, including in Wisconsin, Ohio and Maryland.

Kapa and Warnick say approaches to school safety need to look at how the protection efforts will affect students and staff.

“Instead of simply hardening schools against attack, educators should focus on building school environments characterized by mutual trust, active listening, respect for student voices and expression, cooperativeness, and caring relationships with and among students,” the authors said. “These measures not only make schools safer, they also make schools better.”

To read the full report in Education Next, click here.

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