In safety pursuit, schools need to balance interests

Published 4:51 pm Friday, December 21, 2012

Without question, school children deserve the safest, most secure environment possible in which to learn.

     What is in question is how to achieve that goal without sacrificing any of the characteristics that make schools welcoming to students and conducive to learning.

     In the wake of the horrific Dec. 14 shootings that claimed the lives of 20 elementary school students and six adults in Connecticut, school leaders around the nation this week have been reviewing their own safety plans. Brookhaven and Lincoln County leaders are no different.

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     In the Brookhaven School District, a report earlier this year highlighted some deficiencies in the area of security and emergency preparedness. Among them were a lack of an evacuation point at some schools in the event of a disaster and a lack of training as school resource officers for two police officers at Brookhaven High School and Alexander Junior High School.

     Many of the evacuation point concerns have been addressed, and the officers have obtained the needed resource training. The fact that police officers have been on city campuses for a number of years, prompted in part by an incident at Alexander about 15 years ago, represents a positive response as incidents of school violence across the nation have been all too frequent.

     Still, city school leaders recognize that more can be done. They have spoken of the need for better control of access points for visitors to school campuses.

     Lincoln County school administrators are in much the same situation as the city, but they have to consider campuses spread across the county. Some facilities are sprawling as student populations have grown, while others have been able to remain somewhat compact. Nevertheless, despite signs urging them to report to the office to sign in, visitors’ access remains fairly open.

     But therein lies some of the rub.

     The county’s schools promote a “community” atmosphere where “everybody knows everybody.” Restricting some of that openness in the name of safety could certainly be considered.

     But go too far in the direction of safety and security, and schools risk becoming “bunkers” instead of centers of learning. And even a bunker could be breached under the right circumstances.

     “No campus is 100 percent safe,” said Brookhaven Superintendent Dr. Lisa Karmarcharya. “That’s impossible.”

     Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the nation’s school leaders and everyone involved, another tragedy – hopefully not on the same scale as last week’s shootings in Connecticut – is bound to happen at some point in the future.

     Doing everything possible to prevent that from happening while still maintaining a quality educational environment will require a delicate balance. That may not be the most reassuring situation, but it seems to be the best that anyone can hope for.