Keeping kids safe

Recently at a dinner party the talk turned to how we can increase the odds our children will return home from school without be shot at.

Attending was a member of a local school board.  She’s a buck-stops-here administrator, the kind that must shepherd fanciful wish lists into the real world of budgets and limited resources.

The conversation flashed through several ideas, all of which sounded great—but when you don’t have to sign the checks, creating safe schools isn’t that difficult.

“Every teacher should carry a gun, and be ready to use it.”

“Fences around schools.”

“Completely lock the school down once it starts.”

“Metal detectors at every door.”

“Visible armed guards around every school.”

“Video cameras everywhere.”

“Bullet-proof glass.”

“If the office can’t see the front door, remodel it.”

Then came the gentle probing questions.

“What if some teachers don’t want to carry guns?”  (“Why wouldn’t they?”)

“Wouldn’t fences around schools, metal detectors and bullet proof glass make the school feel like a prison?”  (“So?”)

“Who would pay for the costs of all this new equipment, remodeling and the salaries for extra security personnel?”  (“I don’t know.  Find something to cut.”)

And there’s the problem.  From the outside, it’s pretty easy to toss around phrases like “find something to cut.”  The reality is that our schools aren’t exactly swimming in cash.

Fences, remodeling, bulletproof glass and security cameras are expensive.   With 730 public schools in Idaho, that’s a big check to write for the state that already spends less per student than any state in the Northwest.

No doubt it would be cheaper to just train the teachers who want to carry weapons, and then call it a day.   As security goes, it’s better than nothing.   But perhaps we can all agree that keeping the shooter out of school in the first place is a safer alternative.  Less collateral carnage.

Sure, retrofitting schools to resemble medium security prisons may dampen the idea of a bright, sunny, and welcoming campus atmosphere, but when the sun set on Columbine and Sandy Hook and Parkland it set for us all.  That’s modern life.  These days we’re all targets, and each new crop of victims was just unluckier than the rest of us.

Advanced school security will help—maybe a lot—but the cost is high.  In the end, as always, it circles back to you and me.   Sure we all want our kids to be safe.  But do we want it enough to pay for it?

If I was on a school board, I’d figure out what top of the line security would cost for each school in the district and then I’d go to my voters.

“Here’s the deal,” I’d tell them.  “Here’s what it’s going to cost to keep your kids safe in school.  We’ll pay for it all with a school bond.  If you approve it, every penny will go for security—no new science labs or football stadiums.   If you really want safe schools, this is how you get them.”

And then you let the voters decide.

It’s easy to be cynical and predict such measures will fail.  But maybe we’d rise to the challenge.  One can hope.

One thing is certain.  Children who grow up with a constant fear of violence are scarred inside.  Our American experience is nowhere close to the trauma facing the children of Syria or Somalia, but that doesn’t mean we can dismiss it.  If you’re dismayed at the vehemence of young students protesting the lack of gun control in America, it’s because your formative years weren’t spent dealing with the post-Columbine reality that on any given day your brains, or the brains of your best friend, could suddenly be splattered against the wall in your science class.  To them, it’s not a philosophical argument about the 2nd Amendment.  In their young eyes, right or wrong, it’s life and death.

So if the gun laws aren’t going to change—and they’re not—then we’d better get ready to write some big checks for school security upgrades.   That is, if we’re serious about our kids’ safety, and not just looking for symbolic solutions for a serious problem.

 

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