Education
3:12 pm
Tue September 10, 2013

After Newtown Tragedy, Some Schools Are All But Bulletproof

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 4:05 pm

As parents send their kids off to school this fall, many are wondering what's been done since last year to make sure they're safe.

Many schools have embraced new security measures since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, from uniformed police on hallway patrol to shatterproof laminated windows.

'How Could This Have Happened?'

Bob Gay of Newtown, Conn., has a tattoo on his arm of his daughter Josephine's footprints as a baby and the number "2560," for the number of days she was alive.

"Joey," as her parents call her, was one of the 20 children killed in the shootings at Sandy Hook. Her mother, Michele Gay, was a second grade teacher at the time of the Columbine shooting, and she remembers questioning how she would respond if something like that happened in her classroom.

On Dec. 14, Michele Gay stood in the firehouse next door to Sandy Hook Elementary, waiting for her daughter's class to appear.

She says, "I kept hearing that over and over, 'How could this have happened? Isn't there security? How could somebody get in the building?' And I remember thinking at that point, 'Oh God, you know, there really wasn't anything to stop anybody but our locked front door.' "

After Joey's death, the Gays joined with other parents of Sandy Hook victims to found Safe and Sound, a nonprofit organization devoted to encouraging communities to think about school security and take steps to protect kids. They plan to offer tools on their website to help empower school officials and parents to make schools safer.

Mental Health First Aid Training

Around the country, there's a range of things schools are doing to try to meet that goal. Some districts have trained teachers and school staff to carry guns in case of a school shooter. Others are adding uniformed police to patrol the halls.

"Our training calendar probably anywhere from doubled to tripled since Jan. 1 until right about now, in comparison to years past," says Kevin Quinn, who is head of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

Quinn estimates there are about 7,000 school resource officers around the country. And it's not just the uniformed police who are getting training.

"If you turn the page and you look at mental health first aid for youth in crisis, that is very much about how you intervene in specific crisis situations," said clinical social worker Dawn Roy to a classroom of security personnel. Roy trains nearly 40 school security guards in Stamford, Conn., in "mental health first aid." Since January, about 4,500 people across the country have been trained in mental health first aid for children.

Districts are also looking at how to harden the infrastructure of their schools.

"The weak link of any security system has always been the glass," says Jim Chandler, who runs Armor Solutions, a small business in Connecticut that sells a transparent laminate for windows.

A single layer of the laminate usually can't stop a bullet, but it can keep the window from shattering, possibly preventing someone from getting through, as the shooter did in Newtown. In addition to shoring up windows, schools around the country were busy over the summer doing things like installing new locks on classroom doors.

'Take Action In Your Own School'

In June, the federal government released guidelines intended to help schools plan for emergency situations, but it didn't provide funding for school security improvements. In fact, a number of federally supported school security programs have been cut in recent years. A plan to provide funding was included in the legislative package that focused primarily on guns.

"School security issues have been couched in gun control versus gun right debates," says Ken Trump, who heads the consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services. "And the bottom line is that there's nothing coming out of Congress or the administration to help security on the front lines of our schools."

Sandy Hook parent Bob Gay says people are fooling themselves if they think shootings like the one that took his daughter won't happen again.

"I think if they wait for already overburdened state or local or federal governments to do something about the problem in a meaningful way, it's not going to happen," he says. "[You've] got to take action in your own school."

Around the country, parents and school districts are considering strategies and looking for the budgets to do just that.

Copyright 2013 WSHU Public Radio Group. To see more, visit http://www.wshu.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

With the start of a new school year, the challenge of keeping schools safe is never far from parents' minds. And after last year's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the issue seems more important than ever.

Craig LeMoult of member station WSHU reports on what new security measures schools are adopting.

CRAIG LEMOULT, BYLINE: Bob Gay of Newtown, Connecticut, has a tattoo on his arm of his daughter Josephine's footprints as a baby.

BOB GAY: The number is the number of days she was alive.

LEMOULT: Twenty-five 60.

GAY: Yeah, seven years, three days, two leap years.

LEMOULT: Joey, as her parents called her, was one of 20 children killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Her mother, Michele, was a second grade teacher at the time of the Columbine shooting. And she remembers really questioning what she would do if something like that happened in her classroom. On December 14th, she stood in the firehouse next door to Sandy Hook Elementary, waiting for her daughter's class to appear.

MICHELE GAY: And I kept hearing that over and over: How could this have happened? Isn't there security? How could somebody get in the building? And I remember thinking at that point, oh, God, you know, there really wasn't anything to stop anybody but our locked front door.

LEMOULT: After Joey's death, the Gays joined with other parents of Sandy Hook victims to found Safe and Sound, a nonprofit organization devoted to encouraging communities to think about school security and take steps to protect kids. They plan to offer tools on their website to help empower school officials and parents to make schools safer.

Around the country, there's a range of things schools are doing to try to meet that goal. Some districts have trained teachers and school staff to carry guns in case of a school shooter. Others are adding uniformed police to patrol the halls.

Kevin Quinn is the head of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

KEVIN QUINN: Our training calendar, probably anywhere from doubled to tripled since January 1st until right about now in comparison to years past.

LEMOULT: Quinn estimates there are somewhere around 7,000 school resource officers around the country. And it's not just uniformed police who are getting training.

DAWN ROY: If you turn the page and you look at mental health first aid for youth in crisis, that is very much about how you intervene in specific crisis situations.

LEMOULT: Clinical social worker Dawn Roy trains nearly 40 school security guards in Stamford, Connecticut, in mental health first aid.

ROY: OK, what would a crisis be? Give me an example.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Sandy Hook?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Kid banging his head on the walls.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Oh, God.

ROY: That's more what I'm talking about, yeah.

LEMOULT: Since January, about 4,500 people across the country have been trained in mental health first aid for children. Districts are also looking at how to harden the infrastructure of their schools.

JIM CHANDLER: The weak link of any security system has always been the glass.

LEMOULT: Jim Chandler runs a small business in Connecticut called Armor Solutions, selling a transparent laminate that goes on windows.

CHANDLER: If you see, this is the plastic layer. You basically take this off and just apply this to the glass.

LEMOULT: A single layer of the laminate can't usually stop a bullet, but it can keep the window from shattering, possibly preventing someone from getting through, as the shooter did in Newtown. In addition to shoring up windows, schools around the country were busy over the summer doing things like installing new locks on classroom doors.

In June, the federal government released guidelines intended to help schools plan for emergency situations, but it didn't provide funding for school security improvements. In fact, a number of federally supported school security programs have been cut in recent years. A plan to provide funding was included in the legislative package that focused primarily on guns.

Ken Trump heads the consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services.

KEN TRUMP: School security issues have been couched in gun control versus gun right debates. And then the bottom line is that there's nothing coming out of Congress or the administration to help security on the front lines of our schools.

LEMOULT: Sandy Hook parent Bob Gay says people are fooling themselves if they think shootings like the one that took his daughter won't happen again.

GAY: I think if they wait for already overburdened state or local or federal governments to do something about the problem in a meaningful way, it's not going to happen. You got to take action in your own school.

LEMOULT: Around the country, parents and school districts are considering strategies and looking for the budgets to do just that.

For NPR News, I'm Craig LeMoult in Connecticut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.