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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 2 years ago

How do we keep our kids safe?

The terrifying event in Parkland has everyone thinking about school security. But amid the aftermath, is our fear driving us to focus on the wrong thing?
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 Sarasota Farmers Market in downtown is looking into the possibility of barricades.

On Tuesday, the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office announced it wants to put more armed guards in schools, in addition to the armed school resource officers that are already offered for middle and high schools in the county. In response to a survey put out by the school district, people have suggested erecting metal detectors at all our schools as another potential way to increase safety.

I understand the fear. I was a senior in high school, practicing for a track meet 10 miles away from Columbine High School when the shooting there began. My last few weeks of high school were filled with security checks and safety concerns. Even then, as an 18-year-old, I had doubts about how effective any of these things would be if a classmate with an agenda decided to do something similar.  

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 seven 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.

The cases are alarmingly similar in the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings. Young men, showing signs of mental illness, caught in a downward trajectory of isolation, violence and angst. 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 Sarasota, Siesta Key, Longboat and East County Observers.

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