Views from Kansas: Next steps in school security

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Kentucky, Florida, Maryland, California, Texas and, most recently, Indiana.

Those are states in 2018 where a student or former student has gone to school with a gun and shot others.

Kansas, thankfully, is not on the list. The state has been fortunate not to have a school shooting involving the death of a student or staff member since 1985.

But that gives Kansans no sense of security.

It’s time to ask whether our schools are ready. Up to now, districts have seemingly been diligent in acknowledging a shooting is possible in any school and have taken measures to lessen the chances.

But Columbine and Sandy Hook and Parkland and Santa Fe keep occurring — at schools that think they’re ready when violence happens — and at a rate that makes it time to take a next step.

School districts owe it to their students and families to go beyond what they’ve ever done in terms of school safety.

This needs to be a coordinated effort, with voices from all levels. Governor to school board members. Superintendents to part-time paraprofessionals. Middle school students, high school students.

Law enforcement knows best and worst practices. Parents worry about school safety as much as anyone. Business leaders may have innovations that can work in schools. Everyone needs a voice.

The conversation is about people inside the schools. More counselors and psychologists, early school budget victims when times are tight, are needed to identify and help students who have signs of mental-health problems.

Teachers and students should hold more active-shooter drills. These have become more important than fire or tornado reminders.

Students should receive more encouragement in reporting classmates who exhibit signs of trouble. After the Columbine killings in 1999, the state of Colorado in 2004 opened the “Safe2Tell” hotline that gave students, parents and teachers a place to make anonymous tips about threats, bullying and possible suicides. Now a smartphone app, the hotline had 9,163 reports during the 2016-17 school year.

More trained professionals — school resource officers and security guards — may be needed, and should be armed. Not teachers.

The conversation is about school buildings themselves. Districts have performed upgrades to security such as video cameras, secure entrances and systems that require visitors to check in with a driver’s license. Other policy changes, such as locking dozens of doors so only one entrance is accessible, are now common.

It’s now time to talk about next steps. Metal detectors are used in New York, Los Angeles and some other big-city districts, bringing a sense of security but also a message of an unwelcome environment for students and visitors. Are we to the point they should be in Kansas?

The conversation is about cost. Adding anything to a safety program will bring price tags of varying weights to school districts. As the Kansas Supreme Court examines the Legislature’s new school funding formula, finding additional money for school safety will be hard — but should be a priority.

The conversation is about guns. Guns available in a child’s home are repeatedly an issue. The Parkland and Santa Fe shootings included components where the shooter was given guns by parents or the shooter had access to a parent’s guns. Stricter punishment of parents would act as a deterrent.

The conversation is about who leads the conversation. Voters hold the key this fall and should look for candidates who advocate solutions, not rest on protecting gun rights. Stricter universal background checks. Pushing for legislation that would allow the Centers for Disease Control to pick up its study on mass shootings.

Small legislative improvements, without taking away anyone’s guns, are possible and more realistic.

— Originally published in The Wichita Eagle.


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