“We know there has been an increase in gang activity periodically in the high school age range … we just know more about what we should be doing right now for safety and security and the more we know, the greater the actions that we have to take. Students getting to school on time has been an issue for a long, long time, but this might help.”
— Brandon School Division Supt. Donna Michaels
Ask any right-thinking parent, and they will say they want their children to be safe over the course of their day in school.
As such, there will no doubt be more than a few parents in this community who believe the Brandon School Division has done the right thing by installing automatic door locking systems at Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School, École secondaire Neelin High School and Vincent Massey High School.
Last month, the Sun reported that the exterior doors at these three high schools will be controlled by a central console in each school’s administration office. As well, main doors leading into each school will also be equipped with a surveillance camera. Principals will be responsible for deciding when doors will remain open and when they will lock.
The school board also hopes to install similar systems in all elementary schools in the near future.
“Our view as a board is that we want to be as proactive as we can when it comes to safety and security,” BSD board chair Mark Sefton told the Sun.
To our minds, trustees’ hearts are in the right place, in that they are trying to keep Brandon students safe so they can focus on their studies, not looking back over their shoulders. But in this case, we believe their best intentions are actually going to harm students rather than help them.
Of course, the idea of locking down our public schools to prevent unwanted intruders is not a new concept. Following the horrific Columbine High School massacre in 1999 that resulted in the deaths of 12 students, a teacher, and the suicide of the two gunmen, one company created special locks that are installed on the doors of classrooms that allow the room to be locked from the inside. They were dubbed Columbine locks.
The most recent horror — the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in which 20 first-graders and six adults were gunned down on Dec. 14 last year — has seemingly prompted school boards across the U.S. and Canada to implement these kinds of security measures.
For example, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that several St. Louis-area school districts are beefing up security by adding new locks to classroom doors, while others have had the so-called “intruder locks” for years. The new hardware also comes with a US $200,000 price tag.
And in Canada, The Toronto Star reports that in the wake of Newtown, 80 per cent of Ontario’s elementary schools will lock their front doors this fall and add front-door buzzers and security cameras.
“For all of us, it will be a change in routine, because there are a lot of visitors in and out during the school day,” said Peel District School Board associate director Scott Moreash. “But I believe parents will see it as an added safety measure.”
So much for having an open-door policy when it comes to teachers and their students. For what we are doing is trading freedom of movement for peace of mind and a false sense of security. Keep in mind that Sandy Hook already had a locked-door policy in place with a buzzer for admission.
And in the process, these added security measures are making our schools feel more like a prison than institutions of learning. Locking the door and installing cameras sends a message to the student population that they can’t be trusted. And in the case of our three high schools, where students are nearing adulthood, that is an especially poor message to be sending.
The world is never going to be a completely safe place, but we are, generally, a safer country than the United States. Counting up known incidents since 1902, (thanks Wikipedia), there have been a total of 13 shootings at educational and daycare institutions in this country. Compare that number to the United States, where there have been a total of 14 school shootings since Jan. 10 of 2013 alone. And since 1900 there have been approximately 258 school shootings in the U.S. Why, then, is a Canadian school so concerned? Gangs, as Michaels suggests?
Just because gangs operate in Brandon — and they do — it does not mean the vast majority of students who have nothing to do with gangs should have to be punished for it. What it comes down to is the negative atmosphere these measures create.
Research by the U.S.-based National Association of School Psychologists suggests that many types of school security correspond with a “significantly greater likelihood that students will be worried about crime” while not reducing feelings of worry. It also pushes poor behaviour outside of the school where surveillance cameras cannot go.
And on top of it all, surveillance cameras provide students with a reasonable expectation of safety, so if they are attacked in full view of a camera and no one helps them, “schools could be successfully sued.”
Essentially, the school board sounds like it was riding a wave of fear from last winter when it came up with this plan to spend $150,000 on these new security measures for the three high schools.
In the end, we don’t think it was worth the cost.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 6, 2013