The struggles of school safety

There have been 25 fatal school shootings in America since 1999. According to statistics included in the 2001 U.S. Digest of Education, 26,407 public high schools and 10,693 private high schools exist in the United States. This statistic fuels the thoughts of millions of Americans who send their children to public schools every single day from August until May: there will not be a school shooting at their school.

The students attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. were no strangers to this type of thinking, until Feb. 14, when 17 of them were murdered by 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz. The sheer number of lives that were lost in this bloodshed places it in the list of one of the deadliest school shootings in American history. In light of all this chaos, TKC is looking at campus security in-depth at KHS.

When KHS principal Dr. Michael Havener started at Kirkwood 24 years ago, they practiced nothing but fire, tornado and earthquake drills, Havener said. The KHS faculty had no fear of any intruder, as there had not been any such events around the United States that accumulated any sort of national attention. This changed on April 20, 1999, when, in Jefferson County, CO., two students at Columbine High School gunned down 13 of their classmates, injured at least 20 of them and committed suicide thereafter.

Two years ago, KHS held an intruder drill where students and teachers were told to push tables up against the door and arm themselves with what they could: chairs, scissors, textbooks. This was far more extensive than the usual intruder drill, where teachers would turn the lights out and everyone would hide out of sight. KHS now follows the ALICE training for civilians response to a shooter situation. Alert. Lockdown. Inform. Counter. Evaluate. These are the steps KHS would take in a response to an active shooter on campus. Since the Parkland shooting KHS has revisited campus security, according to Havener.

“There are plans to expand our intruder drills,” Havener said. “There [are] different types of intruder drills and we’re going to expand them even more than the one [KHS] experienced a few years ago. Obviously, we can do more training drills with students [and] with staff. Two years ago we had staff training with an actual person in the school with a dart-gun, so it wasn’t a real incident but more of a real situation.”

Sharing that knowledge proves to be a delicate process, Havener said. If the administration reveals too much information, they could be sharing where everyone would be located to a potential school shooter. However, they still have a plan if the situation arises.

“We’re not going to sit and wait,” Havener said. “[There] are types of things where you’re not trying to hide anything, but you’re also not giving somebody who has bad intentions information they don’t need to know.”

As KHS is a California-style campus, with disconnected and spread out buildings with many entrances and exits, it can be difficult to monitor, said Havener. With one on-campus school resource officer it takes a lot of communication between adults on campus to keep everyone safe. One tool KHS relies on heavily is walkie-talkies. With certain channels they have the ability to communicate with all schools in the district.

“Our school resource officer is one person in 43 acres,” Havener said. “He needs to know where to go. Everybody’s going to hear me. Every school, every principal, every resource officer, people in our central office, all the custodians [have radios] there’s hundreds.”

As the only on-campus resource officer at KHS, Officer Bob Johler is the only person allowed to have a gun. He too recognizes the campus can be difficult to protect, but relies on the staff to help.

“My job is to find [the shooter] and take [them] out,” Johler said. “If it’s a suspicious person, when there’s no gunshots then I’d still look for him and do what I need to to take him into custody. I rely on the staff and the teachers, if they seem him, hopefully they’re putting that out over the radio or the intercom to give me a better chance of getting him quickly.”

Besides the 37 entrances into KHS, the multitude of windows leaves another weak point in the school, Havener said. However, the school has upped their eyesight in and around the buildings. Although, he admits this is not so much of a preventative measure, as a tool to use to figure out what happened after.

“We are now in the final phase of putting cameras all over campus,” Havener said. “So at least all aspects of the campus will be covered that we can see. That doesn’t stop anything though. A camera only shows you what happened or gives you some visual, it doesn’t stop something. Whether it’s at the end where you can see what happened, or know where people are. It’s getting better and we are continuing to look at things to make [the campus] safer.”

After it was found that Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz had a history of run-ins with police and the FBI, as well as being diagnosed with depression, according to NPR, mental health and guns have been thrown into the spotlight. This link between mental health and school shooters troubles AP Psychology teacher Angela Scheer.

“I worry when people make statements like that, that we are not using data to actually back that up,” Scheer said. “And that we are spreading or creating this false belief that people with mental illness are violent. It’s just not very accurate, there are some mental illnesses where people could be more violent, but mental illness does not make people violent. And sometimes there are just people who do bad things and have no connection to a mental illness.”

Psychiatrists Liza Gold and Robert Simon found that less than 5 percent of shootings are committed by people with diagnosable mental illness in their book Gun Violence and Mental Health, according to the Behavioral Scientist. For example, Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 people in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017 had shown no signs of having a diagnosable mental illness. He was described as the least violent in the family by his brother and had no run-ins with police, according to the New York Times. Even if mental illness played a major part in the Parkland shooter’s case, that does not explain the amount of mass shootings in the U.S., compared to other countries around the world. The occurrence of mental illness is no higher in America than in other countries around the world to account for the amount of school shootings, although the U.S. has poor healthcare for treatment of mental illness, according to NBC News. More than 188 schools shootings have happened in the U.S. since 2000, the Washington Post reports.

Scheer recognizes that there could be a correlation between some mental health issues and some gun violence, but not to the point where fixing mental health issues would stop school shootings. She also recognizes the difficult access to mental health care for people around the world.

“Yes, we need to address mental health care,” Scheer said. “It’s not going to stop all the mass shootings. It’s just not going to happen.We [also] need to address school safety issues, and I also think we need to create environments where were more aware of what’s happening in our schools and our kids lives. And where they feel connected to someone that they’re willing to talk to, whether or not they feel like they’re going to pose a risk to someone else or just if you feel like someone you know is going to pose a risk, but you feel comfortable doing and talking about it.”

KHS provides students with four guidance counselors for each grade and two support counselors, located in the guidance hallway. Havener also encouraged students to tell someone of they see something on social media that could be potentially dangerous for students at the school.

“We don’t expect someone to stand there if someone comes in,” Havener said. “We want you to run, fight or flight. Grab something and throw something at somebody. Don’t just stand there. Run if you can run, [and] if you can’t, fight. If somebody were to come into a room throw something at them [is] better than sitting there.”