I have the privilege of working with children every day in elementary and secondary schools as they strive to become better students and human beings. It’s not always the sound of pitter patter walking the halls of academia. Sometime it’s more like bustle and hustle, or rift raft when students are trying to get where they belong. In the midst of all the commotion several things can happen if there are no adults monitoring the halls. Even when staff is present sometime things go wrong. I am an outsider working on the inside of four elementary schools in North Wilmington, Delaware, and almost twice as many schools in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Out of the many schools in Delaware County, two comprise of a junior and a high school. I am a substitute teacher.
Earlier in the school year at a junior high school in Delaware County, Pennsylvania I was present when the school had individual classes practice emergency procedures. I’m not talking fire drills like we had when we were kids, but a drill used in the event of a suspected intruder. The students were told by the teacher what to do if this happens. I was surprised and impressed with what I saw and heard. In my opinion, this school is one of the safest I have worked in. For one, you are buzzed in at the front door like most schools, but security is usually a few feet away before you venture into the hall. The office is right inside the door versus most other schools where the office is up the hallway where you could go in another direction in a hurry if you wanted to before someone stops you. All classrooms are locked, so an adult will need a badge to get in and out during the day. Students are let in to a classroom by the teacher at the time they arrive. This school has at least two security guards present during schools hours. Maybe it’s because the students are bigger and older than the students at the elementary level. The only problem I saw was when I was buzzed in at the back door where no one was there to greet me and the office was a long ways away. They were expecting me, but it was probably my first time going there. On an occasion I did see a parent and student ringing the buzzer at the back door when I was coming in.
The one high school on my list is similar to the junior high school but did not seem as safe. For instance, the front door was a good distance from the office and no one was there to greet me when I entered the building. On another occasion, I came right in with the students when they were entering and I was left to go to the office unescorted. The five or six elementary schools in the Delaware County area are pretty much set up the same way. The office buzzes you in then you find your way. Three out of four schools did have security. Two of them were positioned in rough neighborhoods. None have security guards stationed at the front door all day. They might be found on the playground watching the kids as they come in, or in the hallways of the school. Sometime security is working in the cafeteria on either breakfast or lunch duty. In two and a half years I have not witness nor have I heard about emergency procedures. I’m not at the same place for more than a few days at a time, but I do visit a lot of schools.
In Wilmington, Delaware I happened to be at a school when there was an actual intruder emergency going on, about a year or so ago. Someone who worked at the school came down the hall and gave us quick instructions to stay where we were until further notice. The situation was over quickly and no harm came to anyone. Before or since then never has a word been mentioned about an intruder emergency until now, in light of the recent tragedy. I was on the playground at an elementary school in Wilmington when I heard the news of the school shooting in Connecticut. A day or so afterward I was handed a two page document shortly after arriving at the office at a school. I was only told to return it at the end of the day. I didn’t read it immediately, but I did read it before the morning was over. The document summed up the emergency procedure and what to do if we suspect someone to be a danger to the students or staff. There was a new sign posted that no one is allowed in the building right before dismissal time. Some parents did not pay much attention to the notice which was placed on the front window of the door, so we had to reiterate that it was for the safety of the children. I returned the document before I left on the desk because there was no one to give it to.
The four elementary schools in North Wilmington use the buzzer system to let you in, but none have security guards or a person on the door to guard our children during the day. Nor does anyone greet you when you are buzzed in, making it an opportunity to just go the opposite of the office before someone stops you.
So, the original question was: Are our schools safe enough? Some may think so and some may not. In Connecticut the average family income was over $100,000 a year, so I’m going to say that I think they have a good school system. Connecticut is an area where you might not think that this sort of thing can happen. The sad thing is that a school shooting can happen anywhere.