Responding to the security scares

TKC Staff

As students hurried through their morning routines Dec. 17 in preparation for their second period exam, police were searching KHS for a shooter that turned out to be a box of lightbulbs. A KSDK employee entered KHS Jan. 16 in an effort to test the school’s security, inadvertently causing a 40-minute lockdown. Broadcast far and wide, the incidents garnered a huge response from students and the community. The Kirkwood Call decided to tackle the issue of school safety in response to these events.

When there’s a chance of people getting hurt, taking every precaution is the only acceptable course of action, and that’s exactly what the administration did, especially with the lightbulb false alarm. According to Dr. Michael Havener, principal, police forces from surrounding areas came to help Kirkwood police search the school Dec. 17. Even U.S. Marshals showed up to help make sure no one was trying to hurt us. This assures our safety much more than a few locked doors ever could.

Completely covering the incident with all the attention it deserved, the administration met with the police Dec. 18 to discuss what was done well and what could be done better in similar situations. They treated the incident as a learning experience, and they are treating the KSDK reporter event in the same way by possibly speeding up security measures they have already been discussing, like moving the main office to one end of campus and adding key card readers to at least some of the doors, according to Havener. The administration has done as well as to be expected under the circumstances.

The only mistake with the KSDK incident was that all walking counselors have lunch between students’ lunches, leaving doors unguarded for about 30 minutes, which of course is when the KSDK employee decided to enter the building. This problem is being addressed, according to Havener and Mike Wade, associate principal, so at least something good will have come from the event. An important point to remember is that safety procedures were already being reviewed this year. Most of the changes being discussed were already in the works before these events. All those annoying locked doors at the beginning of the year don’t seem so ridiculous now.

Students’ emotions were all over the board both days. Havener said he could not have asked for students to respond better to the Deember incident.
The other side to the student reaction was online. Twitter exploded with tweets about the incidents. Seemingly each student had a fresh joke about what caused the delays of school.
This reaction is to be expected. We’re teenagers. We like to brag about how little we care. We like to roll our eyes. We like sarcasm. And as Havener suggested, many might have been trying to release nervous energy. But there comes a time when jokes are not appropriate.

Maybe the light approach so many students took to the incidents was the result of the media desensitizing us to violence. From January to September last year, there were at least 16 mass shootings killing 78 people other than the shooter, according to the Huffington Post. Also, according to The Daily Beast, there were at least 24 school shootings killing at least 17 people last year, averaging one every two weeks. Perhaps being constantly surrounded by a string of shooting after shooting makes us numb to the possibility of us being next.

Or perhaps all the reports make the incidents seem far away. Nothing could ever happen to us here, in quiet little Kirkwood. Students might feel subconsciously that stuff happens in Boston and on the coasts, in the capital, in big cities, but not here.

They must have forgotten 2008, when Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton shot seven people, killing five, at a City Council meeting here, in quiet little Kirkwood.

Many students were glued to screens the morning of Dec. 17, as usual. But that day, they were watching the news and checking websites for updates on the incident at KHS. Similarly, Jan. 16 brought students foregoing homework in favor of studying KSDK’s 10 p.m. newscast explaining their side of the story.

Media outlets reported students were being directed to Dierbergs parking lot before police confirmed that lightbulbs were the culprits Dec. 17. As Havener pointed out, if there had been more than one person involved in a shooting at KHS, the media would have been telling the villain where the victims could be found. The incident was obviously newsworthy, and they had a right to report it. But there has to be a balance between getting information out and safety, and the media pushed that balance over too far.

And obviously, that balance was thrown with the very inception of the January incident. KSDK did apologize Jan. 19, but that hardly detracts from the fact that the media caused the scare. Of course, the media’s reports and students’ jokes turned out to be harmless. Still, the incidents should have been handled with the utmost seriousness from everyone, not just the administration and police.

Nobody wants KHS to be a prison. Just as the media needs a balance, so do administrators. Nobody wants to overreact to everything and nobody wants students to be afraid to come to school. The administration was already reviewing safety policies and will continue to strive for that balance. Maybe they’ll speed up the process, but these events were little more than drills. Kirkwood will continue to do what it’s always done: come together to protect its kids.