Time to upgrade school security

It has been just over a week since one of the most impactful tragedies in American history occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

In the days since the unthinkable robbed 20 families of the opportunity to watch their children grow up and seven more of countless memories still to be had, the outcry has been deafening and unrelenting.

There is the segment of society that believes gun control is at the heart of the issue. There is another adamantly maintaining a lack of mental healthcare services is at the center of the tragedy. We’ve heard from the Obama administration. We’ve heard from the NRA. And we’ve heard from plenty of celebrities, pundits and talking heads who have felt the need to chime in on the subject if for no reason other than to try and make the tragedy make sense, to make it mean something more.

But it is inarguable that this tragedy will be lasting by its very nature. Jonesboro, Ark. will forever carry a connotation because of the tragic events that occurred in its borders. Columbine is a name permanently emblazoned on the minds of most Americans. Now, Sandy Hook and Newtown will always mean something to us. They will carry with them an air of sadness that is substantial and palpable.

Perhaps this one hurts more because these children were only six and seven years old. Perhaps this one hurts more because we have read of the acts of heroism by those such as Victoria Soto. Or maybe it is because of the accounts of children exclaiming, “I just want Christmas” as they heard the gunfire sound in their school, a place where they were supposed to be able to feel safe and protected.

And that issue – the one of school security – is the one that may be most affected by the events of Sandy Hook. It may not get the play nationally that gun control and mental health will get, but it is doubtless that every teacher, administrator, superintendent, board of education member and parent of a school-aged child in the entire country has had the concept cross their mind over the last eight days.

And, the truth is, it should cross our minds. We are all parents or brothers or sisters or aunts or uncles or grandparents. And there is absolutely nothing short of a blind, overly-optimistic faith in human decency separating our children from tragedies every single day.

The security plans currently in place at our schools are, for lack of a better word, archaic. Decades ago, such plans were plenty sufficient because society was not quite as volatile as it is now. But, since Jonesboro and Columbine, we needed to have become more aware that such things could occur anywhere.

Funding will always be an issue when it comes to anything related to schools and it is a hurdle that will need to be crossed at each school in each community. But the greatest obstacle that has left our campuses open to the whims of outside forces is the irrational concept that it cannot happen here, it cannot happen to us.

We have never been to places like Columbine or Jonesboro, so it is hard to genuinely relate to those communities, to metabolize it and understand that nothing separates our community from theirs.

Maybe we should take just a moment to entertain the notion of the thing we fear the most. Maybe we need to imagine the phrase “school shooting” in the same sentence with places such as Demopolis, Linden, Sweet Water, Dixon’s Mills, Thomaston, Thomasville, Greensboro or York. These places are closer to home. We know people who live in these communities. We are people who live in these communities.

Fortunately, local school administrations and law enforcement personnel understand such morbid hypotheticals should never become tragic realities. As such, the Demopolis City Schools BOE has commissioned police chief Tommie Reese to study the security protocols at each campus in the system and to help put together a plan to better secure each one.

They should be commended for the move, but the real challenge is to keep the issue at the forefront long after the dust has settled and the wounds of Sandy Hook have begun to turn to scar tissue.

For all the talk of funding and changing academic standards and flexible school calendars, the fundamental truth of public education remains. A school must first be able to protect its students before it can ever hope to teach them anything.