School Climate & Safety

Calif. Shooting Redoubles Attention to School Security Protocols

By Evie Blad — April 18, 2017 3 min read
Betty Rodriguez, right, comforts her granddaughter Giselle at a prayer service after a fatal school shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that left a student and a teacher dead and another child wounded.

In the aftermath of the shooting at a San Bernardino, Calif., elementary school that left a student and a teacher dead and another student wounded, education leaders are falling into a familiar pattern that follows most school attacks.

They’re asking what they could have done differently and how they can change their policies to reassure the public about the safety of their students.

The suspect, Cedric Anderson, who allegedly shot two students and his estranged wife in a special education classroom April 10 before killing himself, entered San Bernardino’s North Park Elementary School through a common process with approval from office staff, police said.

Anderson, who was known to school staff members, said he was at the school to drop something off for his wife, teacher Karen Smith, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said at a media briefing last week.

It wasn’t until he got to her classroom that he revealed his gun, silently shooting and killing her, before turing the gun on himself, police said. The bullets from the revolver also struck two students near the teacher. They were transported to local hospitals. One of those children, 8-year-old Jonathan Martinez, later died. The other student, 9-year-old Nolan Brandy, was recovering in stable condition last week, the school district said.

San Bernardino city schools Superintendent Dale Marsden told reporters the school had controlled access and careful safety procedures. The district will review its policies and practices to look for lessons, he said.

North Park’s security measures look like those that are common at elementary schools. But after officials revealed that Anderson allegedly had concealed his gun and entered the school through routine means, members of the public wondered what could have helped school staff determine that he had a weapon.

North Park does not have metal detectors, police said—most elementary schools don’t. Only about 1.4 percent of elementary schools reported random metal-detector checks in the 2013-14 school year, according to the most recent federal data on schoolsafety. That compares with 7.6 percent of middle schools and 8.7 percent of high schools.

Civil rights groups say high-visibility security measures, like metal detectors, can have negative effects on the school environment. And for schools with a relatively low incidence of crime, the cost of buying, maintaining, and staffing the devices may not be a priority compared to needs such as curricular materials.

No Security Officer

None of San Bernardino’s elementary schools has armed security officers, district spokeswoman Maria Garcia told the Los Angeles Times. She also described security on North Park’s campus as “very, very tight.”

Nationally, elementary schools are the least likely to have on-site police officers. In 2013-14, just 10.4 percent of elementary schools reported the presence of a full-time security guard or law-enforcement officer. That’s compared with about 37 percent of middle schools and about 48 percent of high schools.

As Education Week detailed in a recent special report, the presence of police and armed security in schools has stirred concerns from some about heavy-handed discipline and possible violations of students’ civil rights.

It’s not clear if or how a school-based officer could have intervened in the San Bernardino shooting, which occurred very quickly. And local law enforcement responded to the scene within minutes, officials said.

School safety experts say controlling access to the building is one of the most important security measures a school can take. That measure and clear and consistently practiced safety procedures are more effective than such measures as expensive equipment, they say.

San Bernardino officials said North Park had limited building access, which the alleged gunman was only able to bypass because he was known to school staff.

In 2013-14, 94.5 percent of elementary schools reported controlled access, compared with 94.9 percent of middle schools and 88.8 percent of high schools.

A version of this article appeared in the April 19, 2017 edition of Education Week as Calif. Shooting Redoubles Attention to School Security Protocols

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