After a recent shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Florida where 17 people were killed and an increase in gun-related incidents in schools across the nation, students and staff have begun to question school safety.
“I think that one of the biggest things that kids can do is support the idea that if you see or hear something, you say something,” said Deb Smith, principal of Daniel Pearl Magnet High School. “We have to get rid of this idea that if you tell, then you’re a snitch.”
Schools throughout the country have begun to reassess the systems they have in place in case of an active shooter after Nikolas Cruz, a disgruntled former student, opened fire at the Parkland, Florida, school and left 34 injured or dead before being arrested.
One option being explored to increase security is placing a buzzer at the front gate, according to Smith. The system, which has been proposed to the Los Angeles Unified School District, would entail a camera being installed and any visitors during school hours would have to be buzzed in by the front desk. This would ensure a more reliable record of visitors to the school.
“I would say that I kind of feel safe, not 100 percent, but I feel safe,” sophomore Rose Chevere said. “I think maybe having security would make me feel safer. The front gate is closed but the side gates are open and it’s pretty easy to jump over.”
DPMHS does not hire full-time safety officers due to its size and the cost of filling this position, according to Smith. The district eliminated a full-time campus aide position at the end of the 2016-17 school year when former aide Madgeolyn Wooten transferred out of the school. Although it was not Wooten’s official position, she took on the role of a security officer and often times patrolled the courtyards to make sure people were safe.
Instead, the school relies on patrolling staff to monitor the wellbeing of students. Since Feb. 22, campus aide Alex Renderos stands in front of the school from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. every Monday through Thursday. Renderos ensures students enter the school safely and mans the front desk for the next half hour once the bell rings before heading to Independence Continuation High School.
The school carries out random locker searches and random searches of students to maintain safety. Tips from JupiterEd’s hotline system are also used to respond to threats outside of school along with other issues that require attention such as bullying, drugs and students harming themselves. Teachers are recommended to leave their classroom doors closed during class as once shut, the doors are designed to automatically lock and cannot be opened from the outside without a key.
Another suggestion has been made by President Donald Trump: to arm teachers in classrooms. However, many teachers at DPMHS feel that this would only make problems worse as any student can simply take a teacher’s gun and use it for their own means.
“What you’re literally asking a teacher to do is draw a gun and kill one of their students,” science teacher Stephen Schaffter said. “It’ll be something they carry with them for the rest of their life.”
If a student on campus was to be reported for possessing a firearm, Smith and Magnet Coordinator Nicole Bootel would report to the student’s class and search their belongings and locker. After reporting the issue to the district, school police may conduct further investigation. If caught with a weapon, the student would be arrested and go through the expulsion process. However, if the weapon were to be discharged, the school would enter lockdown.
During lockdown, classroom doors stay shut, blinds are drawn and students are to remain silent. Students and teachers are told to not open doors during such situations because it’s impossible to tell whether or not the person on the other side is the shooter. Any students not in a class should try to get into a room nearest to them when the alert is issued.
During nutrition or lunch, most students are out in the courtyards, making it nearly impossible to rush everybody into classrooms. Despite the policies set in place at DPMHS and the district, an attack during this time would lead to fatal consequences.
“It might actually mean that some kids might lose their lives trying to get into the building,” Smith said. “No kid should ever be put in that position.”
by Michael Chidbachian and Rudraj Koppikar