Fortifying schools is immediate answer

I dropped off my 15-year-old son last week and watched from my car as he strolled into his high school. Like countless other students, he slung his backpack casually over his shoulders and entered the building, passing a school resource officer seated at the front security counter with little or no interaction.

A horrific thought crossed my mind about how easy it would be for any student to enter any school building with a backpack loaded with firearms, explosives or any other weapon while receiving barely a glance from the police officer guarding the door.

Two days later, shots rang out again in an American high school, this time near Houston, Texas, killing 10 and injuring at least 13 in what media has described as a “well-planned assault.” The shooter was a 17-year-old student who apparently carried a shotgun and a handgun into the building, perhaps beneath the long black trench coat that he was known to wear to school routinely.

Like most school buildings in the Mahoning Valley and nationwide, all outsiders or visitors who enter my son’s school are required to provide ID and are given a visitor’s pass. This school is equipped with multiple security cameras monitored by police inside the building. The school frequently holds active shooter training for employees and police. Students have been taught about lockdowns. Classroom windows are marked with room numbers clearly visible from outside.

It sounds like we’re prepared, but is all this enough? What’s to stop a student like the one in Texas from entering any local school building in the same manner? It seems to me, a parent, that many of the steps taken by schools and police focus more on reacting to shooters than preventing them.

Few local schools utilize metal detectors at their entranceways — perhaps because of cost or inconvenience. No one entering — students or visitors — is searched, routinely nor randomly. In my son’s school, multiple exits throughout the building are said to carry alarms, but those often go unset or unprogrammed since students have been known to slip in and out without the alarms sounding. I suspect that’s the case in other school buildings as well.

After the last major school shooting in which 17 people were killed in Parkland, Fla., in February, the Tribune Chronicle editorial board, of which I am a member, took the position that it is time to turn local schools into mini fortresses. It is time to begin raising the bar on security for our children to the same level that we use when we prepare to board a commercial aircraft, go to a concert or even a Cleveland Indians game.

We argued that each time a mass shooting occurs in one of this nation’s school buildings, renewed demands begin for increased gun control or legislation imposing new limits on Americans’ rights to purchase and own weapons. We argued, however, that fortifying schools with improved security, locked and alarmed exterior doors, metal detectors scanning ALL who enter are better answers. And, we argued, the option of arming trained teachers should be considered.

Some readers responded critically to our opinion, arguing that America must, instead, focus on increased gun control, including enhancing background checks and banning assault rifles.

While I understand those arguments, I also believe those measures simply aren’t going to end violence like school shootings now. In Texas, the 17-year-old shooter used weapons obtained legally by his father. There were no assault weapons or guns purchased via any “gun show loopholes” used in this shooting. And let’s be realistic, even if stronger gun control were to be enacted, that wouldn’t remove existing guns from people’s homes.

We must act with the urgency this matter deserves. It’s time we, as parents and society, demand that our schools are fortified. Inconvenience or expense are not acceptable reasons for allowing these horrific incidents to continue.