Although images of the 1999 Columbine massacre are still etched in the minds of most people, there seems to be a waning interest to control the root causes of school violence. Ten years ago, it seemed as though there was no end in sight to the emerging threat of school shootings. Survey after survey indicated that school safety was the most critical issue for parents, well ahead of concerns over curriculum quality or the availability of educational resources.
In the state of Chicago alone, The Illinois Criminal Justice System has reported that at least 33 percent of all Illinois school children carry weapons some time during the year and five percent of them carry a gun. On another note, a survey conducted in 1990 by the Federal Centers for Disease Control indicated that more than half a million students walk into school with a gun each day (Hernandez, 1996).
Amidst a pervasive state of alarm, many administrators responded by turning their schools into a militarized zone. Security officials reported that since there has been a number of shooting events that occurred after the Columbine massacre, it is practically impossible to ensure total safety for students and teachers without turning schools into fortresses. The perception of schools as safe havens are now bombarded by metal detectors, drive-by shootings, gang warfare and children living in constant fear.
It is quite an alarming change of scene (Hernandez, 1996). Most educational institutions nowadays have upgraded security and sought to identify potentially violent students by scanning for warning signs such as black trench coats or any other symbolic clothing and accessories, and of course delinquency. As more and more students passed through metal detectors, many are reminded to be on the lookout for anyone uttering a threat.
For instance, the Chicago high school developed new security policies which enlisted more security guards to surround the school vicinity, enforced a uniform dress code and spent $40,000 on communication technology such as walkie-talkies, hand-held metal detectors and surveillance cameras and monitors (Hernandez, 1996). For an in-depth coverage to combat school violence, steps have been taken to provide an education for students in a safe environment.
Administrators have focused on a range of prevention efforts to make sure that schools are a safe place for children once again. The Chicago high school has implemented strict standards of discipline and security equipment regarding school safety and violence prevention. A zero-tolerance policy has been established to combat gang violence. School uniforms have been mandated to eliminate the wearing of gang colors. Student identification badges are imposed on students to be worn at all times so as to gain entrance into the building.
Students are also obligated to go through the metal detectors upon entering the school premises. When the bell has rung, a closed campus policy is enforced to guarantee the safety of the school premises (Hernandez, 1996). In some schools, backpacks and other bulky bags are prohibited inside the school premises and students are advised to use small to medium-sized bags instead. Video trainings and situational drills are also conducted in a lot of schools nowadays, parallel to the fire drills that are enforced in school every year (Sutter, 2009).
While such efforts may seem overwhelmingly monitored and controlled, well meaning efforts to reduce school shootings may actually have an unintended effect of escalating fear in vulnerable students whilst encouraging angry students to take up guns against their classmates. These practices inadvertently reminded vengeful students around the country about one particular way to resolve their problems (Dobbs, 2005). Violence against classmates had become, if not an accepted way, at least a familiar way to respond to classroom bullies.
The shifting of attention to school violence may reinforce the notion that, indeed, the power rests in the student’s hands. (Dobbs, 2005). Several students from Yale University have stated that metal detectors, equitable or not, are ineffective. One student expressed that a potential criminal could come in from the front doors, which are reserved for visitors and rarely guarded. Another student has said that a knife or any other weapon could be hidden in their bags which are seldom opened.
To leave it up to the discretion of the security personnel to determine who should be wanded by the metal detector leaves open a window for profiling, which is unjust (Anand, 2006). On a positive note, most students are appreciative of the efforts made by school administrators and law enforcers to ensure their safety in the school premises, even if it is such a hassle for them to fall in line to pass through the metal detectors and abide by school rules. One student expressed that even if such efforts may have certain loop holes, at least he knows that the authorities are doing their part to keep them safe.
Based on the research done regarding this topic, educational institutions have come a long way from being an establishment for learning to imbibing a prison-like system of security. While it may seem uncomfortable to think that such a place could also breed violence within its midst, I believe that it has made people more aware that the world is becoming a violent place. I concur with Dobb’s opinion about looking more into the behavioral aspect of students instead of the physical establishment of the school since violence is found within the student and not on objects (Dobbs, 2005).
References: Adams, G. (2008, August 27). American students taught how to survive high-school shootings. The Independent News [Online]. Anand, E. (2006, October 6). City School Beefs up Security Measures. Yale Daily News [Online]. Dobbs, M. (2005, March 23). Experts Emphasize Interaction Over Security Measures. The Washington Post, p. A08. Hernandez, F. (1996). Students’ Opinions of the New Security Measures/Equipment in Their High School. ERIC, ED398619. Sutter, J. D. (2009, April 20). Columbine massacre changed school security. CNN International [Online].