Lately it is nearly impossible to turn on the news or open social media without seeing another act of school violence. However, after learning of all these horrific incidents, I never thought it could be my town. I was faced with the harsh reality when a local man, Dylan Jerrell, was arrested near my hometown moments before he was allegedly planning to attack a nearby high school. It was the events leading up to his arrest that astounded me. Prior to his arrest Jarrell contacted Koeberle Bull, a single mother of three from New Jersey via Facebook message. In his message Jarrell wishes death upon Bull and her children. Fearful for her children’s life, Bull reaches out to her local authorities. However, it wasn’t until after posting the message on her Facebook page that she was able to locate Jerrell and notify Kentucky State Police of the incident. She was soon connected with Officer Satterly, who decided to take things further despite the original issue being at state-level. In doing so, officers were able to stop Jerrell moments away from leaving his home. Still, I began to wonder what would have happened if the circumstances were different. Would this man have come into my child’s school and what was our schools doing to prevent these acts? I thought back to the times my children told me about their day at school, when they had practiced their lockdown drills. These drills were the same outdated drills I had done when I was in school. Lock the door. Turn the lights off. Crowd together in a corner and blindly wait. Schools are a place of learning, students should not have to worry about being attacked while getting an education. However, our community must be prepared. This traditional routine solely focuses on hiding the students. While keeping their distance from the shooter and out of sight is important, schools must change this lockdown process because it allows the intruder to make use of valuable time, it does not take in consideration the multiple outcomes, nor does the plan provide a course of action prior to the act.
The current lockdown procedure lacks the crucial effectiveness needed to protect our community. It is this routine that allows the intruder to access a large group of students at one time in an enclosed area, taking advantage of the time as the students sit and wait patiently for answers. The dangers of this inflexible plan are greatly shown in the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School when twelve students and one teacher were shot and killed. (“Rethinking School Shooter Prevention and Response”) According to Greg Crane, founder of an active shooter response training institute, after analyzing the 911 call from Columbine “it’s almost four-and-a-half-minutes she’s on the call before that library is entered by the shooters. They had a four-and-a-half-minute head start to evacuate that room and that building, but their response protocol was to sit tight and be quiet.” (qtd. in Widmer) The lives of these children and teacher could have been spared if it wasn’t for their uniform plan. Schools need other options to consider in these serious situations instead of being told to just sit and be quiet without any knowledge of what is going on outside their classroom door.
Consequently, the current lockdown procedure does not take in consideration all potential threats and it’s simply treated as just another drill to check off. Kenneth Trump, President of National School Safety, advises swaying away from the norm by stating “Do a lockdown during lunch period. Do a lockdown between class changes. Do a lockdown as students arrive in the morning.” (qtd. in Widmer) Trump also encourages site-by-site reassessments and annual updates to these drills. (Proactive School Security and Emergency Preparedness Planning 19-20) School administrators must be ready at any given time for violence and the lock down procedures need to be flexible. To ensure this, schools must plan a variety of protocols and they should be practiced on an unpredictable basis. Including physical elements such as metal detectors, surveillance cameras, locked gates and or controlled doors as an advantage to keeping out anyone meaning to cause harm. However, Trump argues that while schools may have emergency plans and crisis teams named on paper, many plans are sitting on shelves collecting dust. (Best Practices for School Security and Emergency Preparedness Planning) Schools practice their annual, outdated drills then move forward until next year, only emphasizing the issue after another incident has occurred.
Although keeping our schools secure is important, it is not enough. Prevention is key. School violence is not just what we see on the surface but an enigma of underlying issues. Dewey Cornell, director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project, warns “Prevention must start before a gunman shows up at school.” (qtd. in Lorenzo) An important aspect of prevention is first the prevention of bullying and promoting mental health. In recent years bullying has became an ongoing issue and has even been found to connect with acts of violence within schools. According to the Department of Education, “Almost three-quarters of the attackers felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked, or injured by others prior to the incident.” (How Can We Stop School Violence?) By advocating students to report troubling behavior and acts of bullying, school officials may be able to stop violent acts before they occur. Cornell states “Schools must build a community of support and trust in their school, so that they can identify and help troubled individuals before their difficulties take them down a path toward violence.” (qtd. in Lorenzo) Administrators need to begin focusing on positive interventions instead of suspending any student that administers imminent warning signs. By doing so they can not only save the community from a horrific act but also the student. This type of intervention may also be effective in aiding the student to the right path before becoming an adult who may commit such acts of aggression and violence.
Our students are obligated to have a place in which they can educate themselves without fear of attack. Schools must change our current lockdown procedure to ensure this safety and move away from outdated ways of thinking. The world around us is constantly evolving and as such our practices must evolve with it. It is with an open-mindset that our administrators along with the aid in our community will be able to protect our children in class, and ultimately in life.