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School Security in the News

By guest blogger Gina Cairney

In the month since 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., many states and school districts throughout the country have taken steps to sharpen their focus on school security.

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In Newtown, parents of the slain children, and members of the newly formed group Sandy Hook Promise called for a national dialogue to help prevent similar tragedies in the future, the Associated Press reported. The group members want issues like gun control, mental health, and safety in schools and other public spaces to be covered.

The group didn't offer any specific solutions, but co-founder, Tom Bittman told the AP that the members want the shootings "to be recalled as a turning point where we brought our community and communities across the nation together and set a course for real change."

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers agreed on Monday to a broad package of changes on gun laws which, according to The New York Times, expands the state's ban on assault weapons, and includes new measures that would keep guns away from individuals with mental illness.

The state Senate approved the legislation just after 11 p.m. Monday by a 43-18 vote, making New York the first state to pass gun legislation in response to the shootings in Newtown.

On the same day, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg laid out a seven-point plan to reduce gun violence during a national panel of gun policy with experts at Johns Hopkin University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Baltimore Sun reported.

In addition to supporting New York's expansion of the ban on assault weapons, Bloomberg also called on President Obama to implement four additional measures, which include ordering federal agencies to update the national database on gun background checks, and aggressively prosecute those who lie on background checks, the Sun reported.

The Sun also reported that Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, speaking at the same event as Bloomberg, announced plans that would give Maryland one of the strictest gun laws in the country, including a required training course and fingerprinting prior to getting a licencing or purchasing a handgun. O'Malley's plans would also ban the sale of assault weapons.

While state leaders and lawmakers push for some kind of gun control legislation as a solution to safer schools, there's considerable disagreement over whether adding armed guards or allowing school teachers and staff members to carry a weapon would make schools safer or deter future incidents.

My colleague Nirvi Shah wrote earlier on the Rules for Engagement blog about differing opinions on having armed personnel in schools. A plan by California Sen. Barabara Boxer would provide federal funding to schools that want police and surveillance, but those opposed to having guns in schools argue against that strategy, citing potential consequencesPDF, including students being arrested unnecessarily for conduct that may not be criminal.

South Carolina schools Superintendent Mick Zais would support any public school district if it decided to allow screened and trained staff to carry guns on campus, according to The State, but that idea is opposed by the state's Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel.

Keel told The State, that in an "active shooter" situation, armed school staff in civilian clothes might confuse police officers at the scene. Instead, he recommended that school resource officers are the best defense.

The State also reported that in Columbia, S.C., police introduced a new safety plan that will improve communication between law enforcement and educators during emergency situations. The plan includes color codes and pictures covering shooter scenarios as well as extreme weather conditions and wild animal sightings.

Janitors in Montepelier, Ohio, schools will be allowed to carry handguns on school campuses within the next several months, according to The Blade, after a unanimous vote by the board of education in William County.

"Sitting back and doing nothing and hoping it doesn't happen to you is just not good policy anymore," Superintendent Jamie Grime told The Blade, "there is a need for schools to beef up their security measures."

School districts in California are debating whether to keep classroom doors locked or unlocked, noting that districts, schools, and teachers have their own preferences, the Los Angeles Times reported.

But while California debates its locked doors policies, some schools in North Carolina are already stepping up school safety tactics, according to The News & Observer. Some of the changes include requiring visitors to enter through the central office, where they receive a visitor's ID with name and photo.

Meanwhile, current laws in Alaska already allow adults to carry firearms on school campuses if the administrators allow it but, according to the Anchorage Daily News, a new law introduced by Rep. Bob Lynn would allow public school districts and administrators to designate staff members to carry weapons on campus. The staff members have to be permanent employees, not contractors, and they have to attend a firearms training from the Public Safety commissioner and receive a concealed handgun permit.

The issue regarding school safety and gun control are likely to be on the radar for the forseeable future. As school districts and states try to address concerns about children's safety, it's clear there isn't a one size fits all solution.

What works for one school or state may not necessarily work for another.

Photo:Maricopa County Sheriffs Office volunteer posse member David Bennett patrols outside a school last week as part of a new program initiated by county sheriff Joe Arpaio that aims to provide increased security around schools in Phoenix. The plan sends volunteer posse members outside some schools in the metropolitan Phoenix area as a response to last month's shooting at the Sand Hook Elementary School that left 26 people dead. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

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