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Longboat Key Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 9 months ago

How do we keep our kids safe?

Treating our schools like minimum security prisons is not the answer. 
by: Kat Hughes Executive Editor

Disbelief. Sadness. Sympathy. Outrage. Anger. 

The feelings are all too familiar. Another school shooting. Another disturbed shooter. Another body count of lives over before they really began. 

The questions that follow are also all too familiar. How did the shooter get the guns? Should we allow weapons like this? Didn’t anyone know he was capable of this terribleness? What can we do to keep our schools safe?

It didn’t take another school shooting to make the last question relevant in our community. It’s almost eerie — a week before the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland that left 17 dead, the Sarasota Observer’s front page article was about Sarasota County Schools’ plan to spend $21 million over six years to increase security. And that money is just to create a single point of entry for all schools in the district. It doesn’t even include other security efforts.

Without a doubt, safety is paramount when it comes to our schools. But as we write about closing streets and building more fences, we wonder: Will it ever be enough?

Frustrated and angered by the lack of solutions offered in other avenues of our society, we often turn to an area where we can make a tangible difference: security.

We’ve seen it in our airports post 9/11, as we succumbed to the pat downs and scans at security points. Now we’re seeing it on our streets with the threat of vehicles driving through crowds. The Sarasota Observer recently reported the downtown farmers market in Sarasota is looking into the possibility of barricades.

But as much as we’d like to wrap our loved ones in Kevlar before handing them their lunchbox and sending them to school, how much security can we really gain?

Teachers, staff and administrators already maintain security protocols. They review procedures, they drill scenarios and they pray they never have to use this knowledge.

They also act with an abundance of caution toward any perceived threat. In the past 10 months, Sarasota schools have been locked down or put on heightened security eight times. Several of these came from social media posts that officials believed posed a threat toward a school. 

This is the new reality of our world. There are threats, and we do the best we can to stay safe in the face of them. 

But let’s not let fear cloud our common sense. Treating our schools like minimum security prisons is not the answer. 

Instead of reacting to violence in the form of more security, what can we do to prevent it?

If you look at the confessed Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, there were signs everywhere. Violence at school and at home. Questionable mental health. A fascination with firearms. It appears he even posted a comment online about wanting to be “a professional school shooter.”

The warnings were there — from parents, from school officials, from his own classmates. How do we listen and act? 

How can we help these troubled individuals and prevent them from doing harm? This is our failure as a community and as a society. Doesn’t it make more sense to focus on the few who could create harm instead of the countless others who might have it brought to them?

We could spend a limitless fortune on security to address threats we don’t even know exist. 

Instead, do a better job addressing the ones we know are out there.

Kat Hughes is executive editor of the Longboat, Sarasota, Siesta Key and East County Observers.

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