Editorial: Upper Valley Educators Get School Safety Right

  • A sign on the new door to the main building informs parents and visitors to check in at Richards Elementary School in Newport, N.H., on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. The school's new safety measures were paid for with an infrastructure grant, with homeland security paying for 80 percent and the school district paying for 20 percent. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Friday, September 14, 2018

As students around the Upper Valley settle in for the new school year, we’re happy to note that the region’s superintendents and principals have by and large struck a good balance: They’ve taken significant steps to improve security and avoided the impulse — egregiously fostered by the National Rifle Association, President Donald Trump and, most recently, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — to turn their schools into armed camps.

As staff writer Jordan Cuddemi reported recently, schools across the Twin States have used grants — $5 million from Vermont and nearly $29 million from New Hampshire — to improve safety and security, develop emergency plans, conduct training exercises and more. (The New Hampshire money also was used to pay for fiber-optic internet connections at schools.) The efforts came in the wake, most prominently, of the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 14 students and three staff members dead and launched the student-led March For Our Lives movement.

None of the improvements, it must be said, will be a perfect defense against evil or madness. They weren’t designed to be and, anyway, there is no such thing, at least not in a free society. But improving access control to school buildings, such as adding keyless entry systems, limiting the number of unlocked doors and installing reinforced glass at reception areas, is simply common sense, as is replacing decade-old radios with a new internet-based communication system, as Lebanon plans to do. We are less sanguine about surveillance cameras, but we recognize their value in monitoring visitors and, perhaps, in assisting first responders in an emergency. And in any event, many schools had already installed such a system.

In all cases, school officials told Cuddemi, the goal was to improve safety and security in as unobtrusive a way as possible. “Students might notice another camera or two but the feel of the schools will be the same,” Amanda Isabelle, interim superintendent of the Mascoma Valley Regional School District, told Cuddemi. Thetford Academy Head of School Bill Bugg added: “No school wants to put barbed wire around it and put a guard in a watch tower.”

To which we say: Don’t give Betsy DeVos any ideas. The ones she’s had already are bad enough, and her latest might be the worst to date.

Last month, DeVos proposed a plan that would allow school districts to use federal education grants — the money schools use to create enrichment programs like computer science or Advanced Placement classes — to buy guns to arm teachers. At least she’s consistent. At her Senate confirmation hearing in 2017, DeVos said some K-12 schools might want to have at least one gun on campus because, you know, grizzly bears. Following the Parkland shooting, her boss drank the NRA Kool-Aid and suggested arming teachers, too.

Guns have no place in the classroom. Aside from the certainty of accidents and the damage that would be done to the teacher-student relationship, armed teachers — even trained ones — are as likely to wound or kill their own students in an active shooter situation as they are to stop the shooter. According to a 2008 Rand Corp. study, the highly trained members of the New York City Police Department hit their targets just 18 percent of the time during a gunfight. Based on that data, if a trained teacher carrying a handgun that held six rounds emptied the magazine in an active shooter situation, one bullet just might hit the target. But five other deadly projectiles would be left to ricochet around the classroom or skip down the hallway until they hit a wall or a desk — or a student.

When word got out about this appalling idea, howls of protest arose and the backing and filling began. An Education Department underling was trotted out to say DeVos simply meant that local school districts had the “flexibility” to decide how the grant money was spent.

We’ll say this about DeVos: Unlike some of her current and former administration colleagues, she does not appear to be profiting unethically from her, let’s call it service, in Trump’s Cabinet. But what she does have in common with such disgraced and disgraceful luminaries as ousted EPA chief and body lotion enthusiast Scott Pruitt is this: She’s doing terrible damage to the institutions she is charged with overseeing.

Then again, that seems to have been her goal all along.