Editorial: All schools must boost security — now

The Detroit News

It’s impossible to imagine the horror of sending one’s child to school in the morning and never getting to see that loved one again. But it is a painful reality too many families in the U.S. have experienced in recent years, as school shootings are ever more common, and deadly.

There have already been at least seven this year.

The immediate reaction to any mass shooting automatically turns to gun control, and the same political fight ensues. But what can schools do right now to improve the safety of their students? That’s a discussion that should happen at districts everywhere.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, killed 17 people — mostly high school students — Wednesday at the Parkland, Florida, school he had been expelled from the year before for disciplinary reasons. Despite his history at the school, Cruz apparently had no problem walking into the building with his weapon and ammunition.

While it’s understandable that many school leaders don’t want their buildings to resemble prisons, the safety of students and staff is paramount. Just as many stadiums, concert venues and workplaces require an increasing level of security, so should schools.

There are some common sense measures schools could put in place without being overbearing.

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon says the shootings that have affected an array of educational institutions, from elementary schools to colleges, demand some changes.

“We need to do something more to protect our children,” he says.

Napoleon points to practical things schools can do with available technology, such as installing cameras with facial recognition capability that could alert security and other school officials if there is a problem — such as in the case of a disturbed former student.

Similarly, if schools had one access point that everyone had to pass through and more security layers before reaching the interior of a school, that could help.

“Those are the kinds of things that need to happen,” says Napoleon. “It would go a long way.”

Schools in this state have a lot of leeway in structuring their safety requirements, according to the Michigan Department of Education. While the department ensures that schools know the legal requirements for lockdown drills and other safety mandates, it cannot force compliance and does not have direct oversight over school security.

Department spokesman Martin Ackley says districts are encouraged to work closely with local law enforcement. And the MDE partners with the Michigan State Police’s Homeland Security efforts to help train educators and law enforcement for school emergencies, including those related to weather and threats of violence. And schools are encouraged to promote the state’s OK2SAY hotline and the state police’s “See Something, Say Something” initiative.

But there should be a more coordinated effort to make sure all schools are getting on board to boost security. Napoleon says that should include conversations among law enforcement, school administrators and legislators.

That’s good advice, and the immediate safety of Michigan’s students must come regardless of how the political fight over guns progresses.