Schools seek balance between safety, 'Fort Knox'
Delaware district leaders work to help students adapt to emergency situations, foster student-staff connections
The Dec. 14 shootings in Sandy Hook, Conn., have led many central Ohio school districts to reconsider their current safety procedures.
Delaware City School District Superintendent Paul Craft said that before the shootings took place, the district already had made it a goal to evaluate its safety procedures and make changes accordingly.
As a long-term solution, the district has been making sure all school entrances are up to industry standards by installing buzzer systems and cameras.
Currently, all district schools have either a buzzer system or all visitors are required to pass through an office before entering the main part of the building.
Craft said he would like all entrances to have both safeguards in place. Two months ago, Hayes High School moved to a buzzer and camera system.
Craft said he was happy the district is being proactive in matters of safety rather than reacting to an incident.
Short-term goals have included additional safety training for the staff, including a new way to train students and staff to be prepared in the event of a school intruder. That plan is dubbed A.L.I.C.E., or Alert, Lockdown, Information, Counter and Evacuation.
Craft said instead of having the same procedures as during a fire or tornado drill, the district has created obstacles that students and staff must find a new way to respond to.
"What will you do if there is an exit blocked? Students need to make decisions, because one response may not be the right response for every condition," he said.
He said in the past, the district has trained students to sit quietly in the corner of a classroom and wait. However, this proved to be the exact wrong thing to do in the case of the Virginia Tech shootings, Craft said as an example.
"If students can evacuate safely, they need to do that," he said. "We want our kids prepared with other options in each situation."
Craft said he has had some parents ask him if he's telling students to run if there is a shooter, and his response has been "yes" -- if it means they'll be safer.
"This is different than what we did when we were in school, and that's a good thing," he said. "We're adapting."
Craft said although district leaders are doing the best they can, society as a whole will have to come up with better ways to handle mental illness and gun control.
"Our schools cannot be Fort Knox," he said. "We are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our students, but we can't stop everything. That's when we need to deal with it on a societal level."
Craft said one of the worst things that's ever happened in a school was perpetrated by its own personnel, when a board member bombed a Michigan school in 1927, killing 38 students.
"We are working on the climate in our buildings. Many of the threats to safety happen day-to-day between students," he said. "This is why we are building a connection between students and staff to create a climate where bullying is unacceptable."
Craft said the events in Sandy Hook have kept him up at night and he has been worried ever since, knowing there are no guarantees even if you do everything right.
"All we can do is do the best we can at training our staff and students and get back to the business of what we're supposed to be doing, which is caring for and educating our kids," he said.