Parents showing misguided priorities on security in Western Pa. schools.

I am in countdown mode, when it comes to having children in the public school system. Based on the typical 180 day school year rule, after this week I have to send my youngest to class 341 more days between now and June of 2020. Like many other parents nationwide, the primary cause for my countdown is fear. While I can empathize with parents who are highly concerned with the possibility of an active shooter showing up in our high school, it is nowhere near the top of my list of worries. The problem is how we view the word “security” particularly in context with schools.

In Bethel Park School District today there is an active shooter drill happening, complete with police firing blanks in the hallways. When I heard that, my immediate impression was it is an excellent idea. While some of the kids in that school may be familiar with the sound of gunfire beyond Hollywood sound effects, most of them probably are not – same as my school district. Blessedly, they are definitely unaware of what it would sound like echoing down the hallways of their school.

I mistakenly thought parents in Bethel Park School District would think the same way, but I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a news report which included an interview with a parent who was upset about the sounds of gunfire happening in school.

Nanette Adams has a son who just this year enrolled in the High School. She and some other parents contacted KDKA-TV News saying they were concerned about the drill; more specifically, the fact that blanks were bring used.

“Students have been prepared; although, I have not been advised about what that preparation consists of,” Adams said. “My concern is for students who may have some sort of issue with anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, special needs students.”

Adams went on to suggest that the school district may not have told residents near the campus about the drill, but just about every local news source did have a report about it – in print, online, and on-air. While I was tempted to think that this woman’s concerns were generally ridiculous, I had to admit that perhaps the district really didn’t completely think through the details.

In June of this year, Bethel Park School District faced a problem that far too many districts nationwide have been facing for some time now – a teacher named Brian Scott was accused of sending sexually explicit videos to an undercover police officer who was posing as a teenage girl in a chatroom. Teachers engaging in behavior like this is definitely a failure of school security, and it is one of the issues which concerns me far more than the possibility of school shootings or drills to prepare for one.

There is no question about whether or not parents should worry about someone taking a gun or other weapon into school, and engaging in a mass attack on students. They should. However, in spite of the fact that these attacks seem to happen very often, they are still extremely isolated.

The problem with sexual predators in the classroom is far more common, but tends to be set aside all too easily. Both of these school security problems do not have easy solutions, but protecting students from sexual predators in schools probably is most objectionable, particularly to conservatives or liberty-minded people. Conservatives have traditionally opposed comprehensive Sex-Ed, which is arguably one of the best options – teach kids early about how to spot potential predators, beyond the basic “good touch, bad touch” because that’s not applicable in the world of technology. The other option which would certainly involve far more monitoring of the electronic communications and activities of teachers would not fly with most people who are concerned about personal liberty and privacy.

That said, the concerns over the sounds of gunfire in school hallways pale in comparison. Security guards, electronically locked doors, metal detectors, and even armed personnel on site can safeguard students from becoming victims of a mass attack. Drills can teach students how to increase their chances of surviving such a situation. Hwever, none of those measures can protect kids from sexual predators, in person or online. They don’t help protect the students from their own stupid decisions about sex and social media, which is really terrifying since the internet is forever. Of course, I worry about someone trying to kill my child in school, but I worry more about the myriad of other security problems in public schools. Perhaps we need to worry a little less about the things that are extremely rare, and prioritize the common problems.

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