In the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, some people decided to do something about the flood of high capacity weapons in our neighborhoods (like petitions to stop selling semi-automatic rifles at a local store and sweeping new gun control laws). Others decided to go the opposite route and create videos and vast conspiracy theories about how Sandy Hook never happened.
And others decided that sussing out the security flaws of local Alameda elementary schools was super important.
So Michele Ellson over at The Alamedan decided that it was her journalistic duty to see how “safe” a few local Alameda elementary schools. The test? Seeing if she – as a young, non-threatening looking, white woman — would be interrogated by staff if she was found wandering on to a few campuses.
Here are a few snippets:
Not one of the more than a dozen adults a reporter encountered during visits to Edison, Donald D. Lum and Ruby Bridges elementary schools offered more than a hello as the reporter wandered in and around the wide-open campuses for as long as 10 minutes. The reporter found doors to classrooms full of children unlocked, propped open or even wide open, while other security measures went untended or were outright ignored at the schools, which serve more than 1,500 students combined according to district enrollment figures.
Built in 1942, Edison School offers visitors multiple points of entry, included an open entryway without a door or gate. A reporter was able to enter the school and walk into a play yard full of students without being questioned by any of the adults she passed; the door to a portable full of students the reporter tested was unlocked, while a room that appeared to be a staff room was propped open by a hole punch.
The reporter had a similar experience at Lum, where some of the hut-like classrooms front directly onto Otis Drive. A sign posted on 52-year-old campus said the school had surveillance cameras monitoring for illegal activity, but the reporter wasn’t questioned by anybody during the roughly 10 minutes she roamed on and around the campus. One of the classrooms was open, with students visible to a reporter walking across the campus.
Ruby Bridges offers visitors similarly easy access; a sign on the gate through which a reporter entered said it was to be locked at all times “for children’s safety.” Again, none of the adults a reporter encountered while on campus questioned her as she roamed the campus; blocks away, a pair of police officers had stopped to question a bedraggled-looking man wandering the neighborhood with a sleeping bag hung off his shoulders.
First, let me just say, as a frequent user of the Ruby Bridges campus, the signage actually reads that the gate should be “closed” not locked, there is a difference, for children’s safety. And — during school hours — I have always found the gates to be closed, but not locked. Also, let me also point out that at Ruby Bridges, probably like most schools, the play yard where all the kids have recess is completely open. Completely open. Unless we are going to suggest that we put fences up and around all these play areas and fields too, then those are vulnerable security points as well.
I guess my initial reaction was: what was the point of this? While I, as a mother, want my children to be safe at school as much as the next person, my big takeaway from the Sandy Hook shootings was not, “Zomg! we need to lock our schools down tight in order to protect the children! Where’s the bubble wrap?” For me, I came to the realization that I should never ever let my children go to school without me telling them that I love them. I know it seems pretty simplistic, but sometimes in the rush of the morning prep, something as simple as that is sometimes forgotten. Plus, extra curricular practice occurs in the morning which often leads to exasperated yelling…I mean…loud expression on my part which leaves everyone in a slightly funky mood.
What I came to rationalize was that bad things will happen and all the locked doors and armed guards and fences and gates in the world won’t stop a crazy person with a gun from doing what he (or she) has set his (or her) mind on doing. There is this phrase from one of my favorite movies of all times, Strictly Ballroom (have you seen it? So good. My favorite Baz Luhrmann movie, but I digress) that goes something like “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” And that is what I went through my head when I read the piece. There were suggestions from a “security expert” that talked about buzzers and single entrances, doors unable to be opened from the outside and so on and so forth and all I could think was: how does that make our children safer as opposed to little prisoners? Personally, I would be more upset if I were to learn that AUSD wanted to start to lock doors everywhere and essentially pen in students, where does it end?
I was glad to see the pushback from AUSD staff in the piece:
“Your ability to walk on the campus is very much a part of the culture we live in and expect in Alameda,” Shemwell said.
Zazo said that prior to the shootings, some school districts had begun removing fences and other security measures because they detracted from school security, rather than improving it.
“We could make all of our school campuses little tiny prisons with fences all around them, an extreme degree of lockdown. It is a balance that the community has to weigh in and talk about,” said Shemwell.
I think that most parents who have kids that go to local schools are more than aware of the situations at local schools. I would hazard to guess that most, not all, but most feel okay with the level of security that exists at their schools. So other than a bit of pot stirring when it came to striking fear into the hearts of over-protective Alameda parents, I don’t know if this piece reflected anything that parents of Alameda elementary school kids didn’t already know about their schools if they thought about it in terms of “school safety.” My fear is that articles like this only enhance the apprehension that some parents have naturally and then there becomes a push to invest in unnecessary expenses at schools designed to “protect” students from some unknown and scary boogeyman that may exist in the shadows.