Improve school security to prevent more tragedy

Melissa Gianoplus /

The tragedy in Newtown, Conn. last month really hit home for our family. My 15-year-old stepdaughter and her mother live in Danbury, Conn.; my husband and I anxiously awaited more information when the news first broke and (I am ashamed to say), we breathed a sigh of relief when we learned that it was not a high school, that our child was safe.

It didn’t take long to realize that what happened there could just as easily happen here. We have two children in school here in Redmond. Our daughter is 6 years old, in first grade just like many of the children killed in the massacre. I cried many times in the days following Dec. 14, imagining how I would feel if it was my daughter who was killed, wondering, “What if it happened here? Are my children safe at school?”

Like most other parents, I swallowed hard and took a leap of faith, sending my children to school; I trusted the schools to keep them safe, all the while knowing that our schools are not as safe as they could or should be.

However, like most other parents, I am frustrated. I am frustrated because there is a simple solution to prevent mass shootings at schools that I have not heard one single politician or leader mention as of yet. Frustrated because this solution is cost effective and will do much to improve the safety of our children without angering the gun enthusiasts of the world (of which I am not one). Frustrated because I keep hearing that the solution is to put guns in the schools and into the hands of our teachers who are trained to teach, not to shoot, and I do not think that will actually make our children any safer. Frustrated because the solution seems so obvious to me and yet I have not heard it mentioned by anyone else.

The solution is simple: Secure the schools. We recently returned to the U.S. after living in England for a year. While this experience did much to help our family appreciate many aspects of our life here in the U.S., one area that I noticed immediately that England does much better than we do is securing their schools.

It begins at the entrance to the school grounds, which are surrounded by security fences. These are attractive iron security fences that do not detract from the aesthetics of the school in any way while also securing the schools. School staff is stationed at the gates when parents bring their children to school, and parents are not allowed to enter the school grounds at this time.

If parents need to enter the school grounds to speak with administrators, they go in through a separate entrance after speaking with the office staff on an intercom system. Once inside the school grounds, the adult visitors are still separated from the youth by another security fence, and when the adult visitor reaches the school building they must again use the intercom system to gain access to the building. This entrance is either visible to the office staff directly (through glass) or there is closed-circuit television so that the office staff can see the visitor before granting access to the school building.

Once inside the school building, visitors are in the office reception area, which is secured from the rest of the school building. Visitors do not have access to the halls where the classrooms and children and teachers are.

It’s such a simple solution that greatly improves the safety of our children without restricting anyone’s gun ownership and without putting more guns into our schools. The schools still look attractive and inviting — in fact, they are even more attractive than ever to us parents, because as parents you do not worry about the safety of your child knowing how secure the building is.