The Cranston City Council, after waffling over a request to the legislature to keep guns out of our schools, has decided it now has the answers to keeping our children safe. What a dramatic, political turn of events.
First, the Cranston School Committee is charged with the education and safety of our school children. The District employs a Director of Security, one of only two in the state.
Second, the parsimoniously inclined council is suggesting the School District absorb the costs of metal detectors and armed police officers in every school. This would be a welcome suggestion if the council were able to provide any information or research indicating such an investment would, in fact, make our children safer. Based on my own experiences in schools, I would suggest the council's proposal would merely create a false sense of security more so than provide any real protection for our students.
Let us first look at metal detectors. The devices would need to be purchased and in some cases manned all day since, at our high schools at least, students travel between two buildings over the course of the day. For anyone who has been through the airport lately, one might have noticed the lines created by travelers waiting to get through the TSA metal detectors and have their carry on bags checked. With roughly 1,500 students needing entry to our high schools, how long might they be standing in line to go through a metal detector and have their backpacks checked. Would they not be safer inside the school than lined up outside?
Then there is the question of armed police officers in buildings. As noted both high schools have two buildings. What is the chance a police officer will be at the exact spot an intruder decides to commit mayhem? Even if the police officer is close by, shooting at an intruder in a crowded corridor or cafeteria presents hazards so the well-trained officer will not chance it. Most school shootings happen very quickly with little time for anyone to respond. A police officer would be effective if the intruder just happened to encounter him or her, something an intruder with a plan would seek to avoid.
If the City Council would like to do something positive versus politic for our children, the council should inform the School Committee that it will endorse and support any plan the District administration deems appropriate to provide for the health and safety of our children. The District's Director of Security is trained for and knowledgeable about school safety. It is that person's responsibility to use well founded, proven effective safety measures, not something dreamed up by a bunch of elected officials with no such training. And, if that person is doing his or her duties responsibly, they are not broadcasting what security measures they are taking so as not to inform unwelcome visitors.
The safest schools have no guns in them. The safest schools create an environment in which students feel respected and supported. They have staffs and students willing to report noticing a student experiencing mental health issues and who might be a danger to him or herself and others so the student can be helped. And the safest schools are those in communities where parents, relatives, friends and other community members are willing to do the same.
Joseph H. Crowley of Cranston, who served as director of the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center is past president if the RI Association of School Principals.