Are school safety advocates alarmists with a morbid life view?
From time to time over the years, I will hear somone refer to myself and other school safety advocates as “alarmists” because we advocate for proactive school security and emergency preparedness planning.
Pat Lamb, Director of School Safety & Operations for the Irving Independent School District in Texas, shared an article he wrote after someone told him he had a “morbid” view of life. As a passionate school safety advocate and guardian for more than 35,000 students, I have found Pat to be genuine with good common sense in his questions and discussions with me on school safety issues.
Below is Pat’s guest blog article entitled, “A Morbid View.” Enjoy it. It is a good read.
A Morbid View
J. Pat Lamb
For the twentieth or so time in the semester I sat with a group of educators around a conference table. I was there to teach them of things they hoped never to encounter; and they…well some were there for the good, others in spite. Collectively it was our task to discover… their school’s vulnerability to threat; their readiness to respond; and what it should take to protect our children and those who teach them. And frankly, all of us could see it…that wall of disbelief and apathy; of so many tabletops and drills, never tasting the horror that molested our senses when we watched others work through the devastating reality of violence against innocence. Was this really necessary again?
As I had done many times before, I challenged the team with the possibility borne of the likes of Morrison and Carneal and Harris…of Klebold and Kinkle and Golden. Would each member be prepared should that hostile force seek to change destiny at a moment’s notice? Then suddenly, from one of the quiet souls in the room came, “Yours is a morbid view of life.” There, it was spoken with honesty and courage…and I was taken aback. Had my view of life been tainted by study of so much historical violence, such that I could no longer see the good for the evil?
T.S. Elliott said, “However you disguise it, this thing does not change: the perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.” And each of us knows, irrespective of the statistical odds against an act of heinous violence occurring on any one of our campuses, our turn could be next. So we prepare. So we struggle with reality. So we hope against history.
I am indeed honored to work with two women who, regrettably, know firsthand the heartrending grief of loss… It was a typically beautiful day on May 14, 1993; the school bell had released students for the evening. As the halls filled, their brother walked with his girlfriend. Who knows what his plans were for the rest of the day? Nearly as quickly as he left the classroom, his life came to an end…taken at the hand of another. A family’s son was forever gone, and our school district was forever changed… For those who might minimize the potential of this sort of act, in deference to his memory and in respect for my friends, please don’t. Instead, learn with me in hopes of stopping it at your campus.
My purpose in writing is the same as it is in training: I want to shake you to your core with the reality of what has ripped the soul from communities who too well know this loss. The arrogance of people cannot help us in this effort. Naiveté cripples us. I cannot turn a blind eye to that which I know to be true: most of us are ill prepared to face this potential. You’ll be the one who says to the reporter, “We just didn’t think this sort of thing could happen here.”
That potential is broad. Threat is all about us. We pray and hope for the best as we daily go through the routine of life. Yes, we watch for that which is out of place, prepared always to sound the alarm. Yes, we positively engage visitors on our campus, fully expecting they are there for good and helpful purposes. Yes, we teach with classroom doors locked, having learned the lesson from Tim K. in Germany. And we hope we know our neighbor.
One of my favorite tactics in training a small group is to ask them if they know me. Assuredly, they think they do…but do they really? I ask them what they know about me; in short order, they come to realize they know very little of my background or of my personal struggles. Then I ask them if they know one another. Again, they soon understand just how little of one another they truly know…
- 2011: In Rio, a 23-year-old former student returned to school. The staff knew him…and so let him in. He killed 12 children.
- 2010: At Deer Creek Middle School near Columbine, a 32-year-old former student went back to his school. The staff knew him…and so let him in. Immediately after school, he approached two students, asking them if they attended the school. When they said they did, he shot them. (The school staff lived through yet another shooting incident, the first having taken place in 1982.)
- 2009: And Tim…he went back to his school in Germany on March 11 at 9:33 a.m. They knew him, you see. And so they let him in, where he killed 12 students.
Who do you know? Are you sure? Can you ever be too careful?
I’ve recently learned of a situation that caused me simply to pause. I could not have imagined such a heinous act against a small child. A child, who as custom would have it, was walking from her home to her bus stop a block away…and this while her stepdad watched. And on June 10, 1991, 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard, a fifth grader, was kidnapped and held for 18 years, some 190 miles from her home. Though rescued, a part of her life was forever stolen from her.
In my world of security, I want to believe that the public schoolhouse is the safest place in our community. I want to trust that all adults interacting with students are good and honest people; that none would commit violence against any of our children. Daily I hope the best with regards to how students treat one another, though I’m never shocked when I hear of bullying or gang trouble or fighting. Yet I know that today, even today, our nation could be rocked by another Virginia Tech or Columbine…or that innocent children could be victimized by adults ~ caregivers, parents, or even teachers.
Morbid? I hope not. Practical? I hope so. Determined? Yes. You? What are you doing today to keep kids safe? What is your message? Does your security plan call for action on your part…or are you waiting for local law enforcement? The good guys are coming, to be sure…but what is their average response time? When seconds count, is that good enough?
None of us has all the answers; some of us have better security than others; yet, all of us need to help all of us. In my time of leading security efforts, I’ve learned a few lessons. I’m sharing them in hopes of helping you (and I’d appreciate hearing from you with your ideas to help me).
- Security is everyone’s business. No one wants to see a student, teacher, or employee hurt in their district or at their campus.
- But everyone has a full-time job, and that usually doesn’t directly involve security…so most people don’t give the matter much consideration until needed.
- In most schools, a perpetrator could walk right through the front doors and into the community mix without so much as notice from school officials. (Why?)
- Security costs money and money is scarce; in times of budget crunch, it’s easy to cut security. (And yet we know that parents will forgive us for not teaching their child a subject matter, but will never forgive us for allowing that child to be seriously injured.)
- No district has enough security staff. No district has enough security technology. No district has a fail-proof safety and security plan. But every district can do a few things to help: positively engage all visitors; sound the alarm; teach with classroom doors locked.
- People do care what happens in our schools. Parents care. Teachers care. Administrators care. Employees care. Pushed, they will pay the price…they will sacrifice…they will give of their time, talent, money…and some have given their very lives for their students.
- Violence is kept at bay because enough good people anticipate, they watch, they protect, they communicate, they educate, they are present. (How do you encourage this in your community?)
- The potential of violence is never vanquished; the need for security is never satisfied. (You do believe this, don’t you?)
- In many ways, the safety of our students is up to you. You determine fate. By your attitude you build or destroy the security network that protects kids. You.
- Courage is defined as running towards that which causes greatest fear in order to break it down to component parts, to dissect it completely, to overcome each factor. (Who will stand up in my district to be accountable for the safety and security of students and staff? I will!)
- At the end of the day, hope drives destiny and that which is good will always overcome the evil in the world. It’s a foundational truth.
It’s a beautiful day today. Students are engaged in academic pursuits. Security training is going well with campus staff. There aren’t many personnel or payroll matters vying for attention. My world, for the most part, is safe. Yet I know the potential that lies within a person. I’ve seen the devastation that one can bring on a community. I know that dreams can be shattered today; that destiny can be changed today; that violence can visit today. And so I prepare…today.
Am I morbid? So be it.
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