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School Climate & Safety

America’s Most Wanted: High School Journalist Edition

By Ross Brenneman — June 17, 2013 1 min read

It usually seems like a good idea at the time.

Two students from West Islip High School, on Long Island, N.Y., decided to investigate school security earlier this year, after having little faith in their system’s precautions, as part of a story for their school paper, Paw Prints.

The students, Paula Pecorella and Nicholas Krauss, successfully watched two friends from another school gain access to WIHS, walk through the halls, and exit unstopped.

Bolstered by their investigation, (and, they claim, with encouragement from their journalism adviser), they decided to try out security at other schools, according to a gripping thriller in The New York Times. That took them to North Babylon High School, in North Babylon, N.Y., supposedly a bastion of good safety practices.

Initially unable to enter without ID passes, the two were let in another door by a student at the school, but were quickly discovered and taken to the principal who, in the most beautifully Hollywood-perfect line, said they “would see the full extent of security at the school.”

They were arrested and charged with trespassing.

Court proceedings for the two have just ended, and barring any arrests for other crimes, the charges will be dismissed in six months. Krauss soured on journalism, but Pecorella remains determined.

This incident isn’t altogether different than tests of airport security, where lapses continue to allow banned items past the Transportation and Safety Administration. A security system is only as strong as its weakest link, and it’s not unlikely that, in a school, that link is an empathetic student. Most apartment buildings have key access, but I don’t know the last time I couldn’t get into one just by waiting for someone to come along in a few minutes.

The NBHS system seems like it worked, but perhaps in spite of the school’s students than because of them. That’s why it’s not surprising to see schools training students on how to respond in cases of school intruders, including engaging shooters themselves. A few officers can respond quickly, but students are everywhere; an immune system doesn’t work as well when only a few white blood cells have antibodies.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.