School Climate & Safety

Shooting Reignites School Safety Concerns

By Evie Blad — October 11, 2016 3 min read
Joey Taylor reunites with daughter Josie Taylor following a shooting at Townville Elementary School in Townville, S.C. A 14-year-old is accused of killing a 6-year-old and injuring three other people.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A shooting at an elementary school rocked Townville, S.C., leaving a 6-year-old dead and two other students and a teacher injured.

But school leaders say the situation that unfolded late last month could have been worse if not for practices that limited the alleged 14-year-old shooter’s access to the building and the students inside. Those included self-locking external doors, visibility inside the building, and staff members prepared to respond to an active shooter, Anderson District 4 Superintendent Joanne Avery said in a letter to parents.

The shooter, who police say shot and killed his father before arriving at the 285-student Townville Elementary School, began firing from the playground as children were coming outside for recess.

“Immediately upon those shots being fired, our students were led to safe locations by the teachers,” Avery said. “The doors were secured, and the shooter was denied access to the building and our students. Administrators and teachers at Townville Elementary followed all district procedures by immediately placing the school on lockdown and taking children to secure locations.”

In the aftermath of school shootings, public debate often focuses on such issues as arming teachers, increasing police in schools, or investing in costly security infrastructure. That’s the case now in Anderson County, where some leaders have proposed placing school resource officers in every elementary school or allowing teachers to carry guns.

But many school safety experts say more basic efforts to limit schools’ exterior access, boost visibility indoors, and train teachers and staff about how to respond to an intruder are some of the most important steps schools can take.

“We need to reinforce or reintroduce these basic fundamentals,” school security consultant Kenneth Trump said. “We have a number of people in the post-Sandy Hook era who’ve been focused on questionable, over-the-top tactics,” he said, referring to the 2012 shooting at the Newtown, Conn., school that took the lives of 20 students and six staff members.

The Shooting

The family of 6-year-old Jacob Hall, who died after several days in critical condition, laid the kindergartner to rest in Townville last week after a superhero-themed service.

The alleged shooter awaits trial on two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder. He never made it into the building, officials said.

A volunteer firefighter, who arrived on the scene, restrained him until law-enforcement officials arrived seven minutes after the shooting started.

The school canceled classes for several days before planning to return last week. Teachers were to return a day early to prepare to address the issue in classes, and the district planned to provide counselors and therapy dogs for students to help them process the events emotionally, the superintendent said.

The school took “additional safety precautions” as students were scheduled to return, including an increased police presence to calm parents’ fears, Avery wrote in a message to families before school was set to resume.

“We want our children to feel safe, but we don’t want the additional police presence to scare them,” Avery wrote. “We are attempting to find a healthy balance.”

It’s not unusual for educators and policymakers to explore upgraded safety measures in the aftermath of an attack, and those conversations often extend beyond district and even state boundaries as parents around the country respond to news reports with fear and anxiety.

The “fundamentals” of school safety training and controlling exterior access were stressed at schools across the country after the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, which dramatically changed practices, said Trump, who is based in Cleveland.

Emotional Topic

But the safety of vulnerable children is an understandably emotional topic, so members of the public often look for quick fixes like untested response plans and expensive gadgets, he said.

“There’s been this sort of mantra of do something, do anything, and do it fast,” Trump said.

Townville Elementary School and the entire Anderson County district had made a number of safety upgrades in the last six years, Avery said. Those included locked entry vestibules in all schools, systems that require visitors to buzz for entry, cameras to improve visibility in hallways, and regular safety drills with students and staff members, she said.

Trump said it’s important for schools to focus on such “human elements” of safety such as training and teaching staff members about proper protocols because even the most sophisticated door lock won’t keep a school safe if that door is propped open against school rules.

“The nuts and bolts things that need to be done take as much time as they do money,” Trump said.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2016 edition of Education Week as Shooting Reignites Safety Concerns


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety What the Research Says A Hallmark of School Shooters: Long History of Social Rejection
New research finds that shooters in K-12 schools are more often "failed joiners" than loners.
5 min read
Butler County Sheriff Deputies stand on the scene at Madison Local Schools, in Madison Township in Butler County, Ohio, after a school shooting on Feb. 29, 2016.
Sheriff deputies were on the scene of a shooting at Madison Local Schools, in Butler County, Ohio, in 2016.
Cara Owsley/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP
School Climate & Safety 4 Myths About Suspensions That Could Hurt Students Long Term
New longitudinal research shows that longer in- and out-of-school suspensions have severe consequences for students.
5 min read
Image of a student sitting at a desk in a school hallway.
Jupiterimages/Getty
School Climate & Safety Photos The Tense and Joyous Start to the 2021 School Year, in Photos
Students are headed back to school with the threat of the Delta variant looming. How is this playing out across the country? Take a look.
School Climate & Safety Former NRA President Promotes Gun Rights at Fake Graduation Set Up by Parkland Parents
A former NRA president invited to give a commencement address to a school that doesn’t exist was set up to make a point about gun violence.
Lisa J. Huriash, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
2 min read
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, speaks during the CPAC meeting in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2010.
David Keene, the former president of the NRA, promoted gun rights in a speech he thought was a rehearsal for a commencement address to graduating students in Las Vegas. The invitation to give the speech was a set up by Parkland parents whose son was killed in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP