Be Realistic About Safety in Schools

“Grading” Ohio public schools on safety may be a good idea — but only if a comprehensive approach, not one focusing only on high-tech equipment and supposedly “secure” buildings, is taken.

Ohio Board of Education members are considering a system whereby schools would be graded on how well they handle safety concerns. Information on the “grades” achieved by individual schools and school systems could be released to the public in much the same way that other data is issued through education “report cards” now.

School safety involves a variety of issues ranging from whether armed gunmen can go on classroom-to-classroom rampages to whether students — and teachers — are protected against bullies. Too often, technology is viewed as a guarantee of security, as in situations where school officials announce that they have installed metal detectors or surveillance systems that allegedly keep intruders from entering schools. They do not, of course.

More important to the public is information about the human side of security. What are a school district’s policies on bullying — and are they enforced? Does a school have a “resource officer” and, if so, is he available at all times when students are present? Have teachers and other staff members been trained on how to deal with a violent intruder? How effective was that training?

Those issues and others with little to do with technology are the most important factors in school safety. A carefully planned evaluation system dealing with the human factor in safety, as well as issues involving buildings and equipment, may be of some value to Ohioans. On the other hand, one encouraging schools to seek high safety “grades” by installing new detectors, cameras, etc., would be worse than useless — because it could instill a false sense of security that could be exploited by someone who, armed with a gun, would be more likely to shoot his way past a metal detector than to walk through it.