President Donald Trump’s Federal School Safety Commission toured a K-12 school in Las Vegas, Nevada on Thursday to see first-hand how the campus is beefing up its defenses against mass shootings.
The commission, formed in response to the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has criss-crossed the country exploring ways to make schools safer as school shootings increase.
After touring the Miley Achievement Center campus, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen M. Nielsen—a member of the commission— and surrogates from the departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services met with a panel of school safety experts. They touched on many themes discussed in previous meetings: surveillance, preparedness, communication, and building design.
There was no public comment at this meeting, and no mention—at least during the livestreamed portion—of whether school districts could be allowed to use federal funds to buy guns for the arming of school staff. This is an idea U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos has been asked to weigh, and has become a growing controversy that dominated both traditional and social media on Thursday.
Arming school staffs is in general not a very popular idea among K-12 education professionals. The commission has also been criticized for not directly addressing the issue of gun control.
The panel of experts at Thursday’s session included two law enforcement officers, a school security consultant, and an architect. A common theme among their proposals was designing shooter drills and secure buildings that don’t traumatize students or make them feel like they’re attending school in a prison.
“The likelihood of mass murder is high if protective space is not available to the intended victims,” said Tim Troyer, the sheriff of Steuben County, Ind. “This can be accomplished with bullet proof entryways, ... classroom doors with hardened, full-length hinges, and locking mechanisms that allow escape by victims but keeps suspects outside. All of this can be accomplished without a school appearing like a fortress.”
Among the panel’s other recommendations for the commission:
- Restricting access to school buildings to a single entry point;
- Using multiple, or layered, security tactics;
- Alarm systems that don’t require fine motor skills to trigger and which put school officials in direct touch with emergency dispatch personnel;
- Distinct alarms for school shootings, separate from the fire alarm system;
- A specialized government agency responsible for school safety;
- Courses or training on school safety for teachers in undergraduate degree programs;
- And regular, active shooter drills.
Another issue of particular interest to the commission members: cost. How can schools secure their buildings with limited resources? Creating single-entry point to a school, each expert agreed, was among one of the most economical steps school officials can take.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.