Monday, September 9, 2013

School Security, Sinking Funds, & Sinking Hearts

Amy Biolchini reported on two important articles about school security in the past couple of weeks.

Yes, Alice Street is a small street on Ann Arbor's west side. 
No, it doesn't have anything to do with the ALICE program--
except that they share a name.
Photo by Ruth Kraut
In Article #1, Amy writes that Washtenaw County schools are giving teachers and other staff more flexibility in how to respond to outside threats from shooters or other assailants. This is called the ALICE program, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evaluate. This sounds like a great program and I'm glad that the schools are all on board for training on this program.

In Article #2 (which was actually published first), the school board discusses restricting access to schools in a major, major way--so that all doors will be locked to all schools during the school day. The cost--at this point--is estimated to be nearly $200,000 and to come out of the sinking fund.

According to the article:
This year, the district is planning to implement a new policy: Locking all exterior doors on school buildings during daytime hours. The implementation date has yet to be determined.
I don't believe the full board has voted on this. I got the impression from the article that they took a sense of the board but that voting on this will be on a future agenda.

But in order to lock all of the doors, they need to find a way to let people in. And therein lies the cost.

According to the article,
The district is considering several methods that would give certain individuals access to the building during school hours:

  • Using a keypad system in which parents and other qualified individuals get a code that will allow them access to a main door
  • Using a video surveillance and intercom buzzer system that only allows a staff member inside the building to admit someone in from the outside
What will this cost?
The estimated cost* to implement the new security measures is $190,000, which the district has allocated in its 2013-14 property upkeep budget funded by its sinking fund millage. The district also wants to replace all of its schools' exterior doors in the next five years should the sinking fund millage be renewed.
[*Slight digression: I'm not sure how we estimate the cost if we don't know what system we would use. My guess is that this estimate is quite low given the number of schools the district has.]

Do we need this system? Will it make our schools safer? 

I don't believe so.

As a parent, I think this is a terrible idea. It will overburden school office staff (who have already had additional duties added/cuts made over the past several years). It creates an impediment for parents coming into the building to volunteer or to pick up their children for doctor's appointments, for special presenters, for staff meetings.

And most importantly, those locked door policies give an illusion and false sense of security. In fact, in the Newtown, Connecticut shootings (referenced by Andy Thomas in the article), the schools had those locked door security measures. It didn't make a difference

[In the Columbine school shooting, there was an armed guard in the building. It also didn't make a difference.]

From CNNEarlier this year, the [ed. note: Newtown Sandy Hook elementary] school principal, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, ordered a new security system installed that required visitors to be visibly identified and buzzed in. As part of the security system, the school locked its doors each day at 9:30 a.m. The door was locked when the gunman arrived.

On December 19, 2012, after the Newtown Connecticut shooting, the Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence, an impressive array of violence prevention researchers, including some who specialize in school security, put out a School Shooting Position Statement. They wrote:

"Inclinations to intensify security in schools should be reconsidered. We cannot and should not turn our schools into fortresses."
Right. I want our schools to be community centers.

Part of their statement reads:

Inclinations to intensify security in schools should be reconsidered. We cannot and should not turn our schools into fortresses. Effective prevention cannot wait until there is a gunman in a school parking lot. We need resources such as mental health supports and threat assessment teams in every school and community so that people can seek assistance when they recognize that someone is troubled and requires help. For communities, this speaks to a need for increased access to well integrated service structures across mental health, law enforcement, and related agencies. We must encourage people to seek help when they see that someone is embroiled in an intense, persistent conflict or is deeply
troubled. If we can recognize and ameliorate these kinds of situations, then we will be more able to prevent violence. These issues require attention at the school and community levels. We believe that research supports a thoughtful approach to safer schools, guided by four key elements: Balance, Communication, Connectedness, and Support, along with strengthened attention to mental health needs in the community, structured threat assessment approaches, revised policies on youth exposure to violent media, and increased efforts to limit inappropriate access to guns and especially, assault type weapons. 
The National Association of School Psychologists, in a 2013 position paper titled Research on School Security: The Impact of Security Measures on Students, writes:

The widespread public impression that schools are unsafe—fueled by rare, but highly visible school shootings—is contradicted by empirical evidence. (endnotes 22, 23) In fact, schools are not only safe, but are arguably safer today than they were a decade ago. (endnote 24)

Well, then, what would I suggest?

I am in favor of keeping most of the school's doors locked and directing access through the main door of each school. That makes sense to me. There will probably be some small cost in creating signs directing people to the main doors. And in some schools, you cannot see the door that is currently used as the main door from the main office. There probably should be some way to monitor those doors. At Ann Arbor Open, that involved adding another interior window to the Ann Arbor Open office.

And while we're discussing this, did you know. . . 

that although it is illegal to carry a concealed weapon into a school in Michigan, it is apparently legal to openly carry a weapon into a Michigan school? No, I'm not making that up. The father of a Clio-area child apparently did just that recently. Read more about the law and the "incident" here.

Other Good Ideas

The Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence also wrote that:

Concerned students, parents, educators, and stakeholders in the community should attend to troubling behaviors that signal something is amiss. For example, if a person utters threats to engage in a violent act or displays a pronounced change of mood and related social behavior, or is engaged in a severe conflict with family members or coworkers, it makes sense to communicate concerns to others who might provide assistance. Early identification is important not only to prevent violence, but to provide troubled individuals the support, treatment, and help they need.
As far as I know, the only person who has been killed in a school in the last 30 (or more? maybe many more?) years in Washtenaw County was the Superintendent of the Chelsea Schools. A Chemistry teacher, Stephen Leith, who was being disciplined, left the school after a grievance hearing, and returned with a gun, killing Joseph Piasecki and injuring CHS principal Ronald Meade and English teacher Phil Jones (Managing Violence in the Workplace, Capozzoli and McVey, pp. 9-13). In hindsight--and I know, hindsight is perfect--the strategy suggested immediately above by the Interdisciplinary Group (a communications strategy) might have helped. Locked doors with key cards would have done nothing.

So, About That Sinking Fund Money...

Please don't spend our hard-earned sinking fund monies on this, because then it makes me feel like I shouldn't support the next round of the sinking fund millage. There is plenty of other important stuff to spend those funds on, and I want to vote for the next sinking fund millage, but if the school board votes to use this money on such a poorly-thought out idea, I am not sure I can do it.

And I will reiterate what I wrote above: locked door policies as proposed above have not been shown to be protective, and they are a waste of our money.


  1. Great post - thanks for sharing! I absolutely agree with your assessment that a locked-door procedure would be expensive (MUCH more expensive than the estimate!) and only provide a false sense of security.

    Lenore Skenazy at has published a ton of reports on issues such as this across the country and has a wealth of statistics to show how much SAFER we all really are, contrary to media reports.

  2. I agree, and I don't support the sinking fund millage this fall. Money needs to be sent towards staffing and supplies, (basic supplies, paper, pencils, pens and text books).

  3. Ruth, in the coming weeks we will be explaining the ALiCE system to staff and parents. The assessment that the locked doors did not help at Newtown are untrue. The first step in keeping schools safe are creating as many barriers as possible against an intrusion. Locked doors are barriers. If the doors would not have been locked in Newtown, law enforcement state that more probably would have been injured and killed. These barriers create time. Time is crucial to allow law enforcement to respond.

    Maria, we do need more operating funds for staffing and supplies. We cannot go to the voters to ask for operating funds. A Sinking Fund allows for non-operating expenses to be paid for such as renovations and maintenance so these funds don't need to continue to tax the operating funds.

  4. Sorry, Liz, what AAPS is asking for is to keep up buildings that they are thinking of selling off with redistricting, which I find galling.

  5. Newtown is an extreme and unusual case. It is ridiculous to consider in any sort of practical daily sense, and I say that with two in public schools in Ann Arbor right now. Considering that a parent can carry a gun into a school right this moment this is safety theater.

  6. Liz, I would love to have a robust and public discussion of the district's security needs for the schools, based on real data and past experience.

    I am not clear what problem(s) we are trying to solve, but I'm pretty clear that locking all the doors, adding surveillance cameras, and giving parents passcodes or buzzing everybody in will not add to our safety and will make life more difficult and cumbersome for parents and staff--and more expensive for the district.

    If there have been actual security threats, let's define who was causing them and what they were.

    I feel the Planning Committee has jumped to conclusions without using data analysis and evaluation skills.

  7. Well, one thing about locking doors is that you lock kids in as well as lock help out. If someone is going to need to be buzzed in or needs a passcode and there's no one to buzz them in or who has the (latest) passcode, and some person is on a rampage in the school, all this security apparatus becomes a way to slow down help from coming in.

  8. And,(silly idea or not) unless there is specific language on the tech millage prohibiting otherwise, I'd use that money to buy low tech supplies to teach, like paper, pens, and books.

  9. Typically any of these locked or controlled access systems only control access in, and not out--people can leave without assistance.

    And if it is possible to use the tech mileage for low-tech supplies I think that is a great idea. I am not sure it is possible though.

  10. Well, I still think the point of having help locked out when needed is a valid one. I think the district must be concerned about their difficulty keeping ASD and other kids with related issues in schools, and I don't think this is the right solution to that problem.

  11. Has this been discussed by the board yet?

    Interestingly, not long after you initially posted this I got an email asking me to pass out "support the sinking fund millage" flyers at curriculum & capsule nights. My first thought was "not if it's going to be used for that Potemkin village security system!"

  12. Tricia, My understanding is that it has been discussed at the Planning Committee (which has 3 or 4 board members) but not at the full board level.