The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

February 7, 2013

Summit: Vigilance, preparation needed to keep schools safe

CHARLESTON — Cutting out violent media and entertainment and placing armed guards at schools could help make them safer, a violence expert told school and law enforcement officials on Wednesday.

Speaking at a summit on school safety, retired Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, an expert on human aggression and the roots of violence, pushed simple, inexpensive solutions, such as implementing lockdown plans, locking doors and shatter-proofing windows. He also called for more controversial tactics like placing armed guards in schools and imposing strict dress codes that ban baggy pants.

He said violent movies and video games teach children from an early age to associate violence and killing with pleasure and rewards. He called for the creation of no media-violence zones in schools, with a moratorium on violence in art and writing.

Grossman spoke in harsh, ominous terms to a packed auditorium to try to encourage action to prevent school violence.

“Sandy Hook is just the beginning,” Grossman said, referring to the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which a gunman killed 26 students and faculty. “They’re coming to our daycare centers, they’re coming to our buses, they’re coming to our Little League games.”

Grossman said that no American child has died in a school fire in 50 years because school officials have prepared for fires, but that they have failed to do the same to prevent school violence.

“We prepare, prepare, prepare for fire,” Grossman said, mentioning the ubiquity of fire alarms, fire drills, extinguishers and sprinklers. “But what have we done to prepare for violence? Our children are more likely to die by violence in school than every other cause put together.”

He urged communities to decide for themselves whether their schools need more security, but said that unarmed security is not a viable option.

“Never call an unarmed man security,” he said. “Call him a Wal-Mart greeter if you want, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re safe because you find an unarmed man and call him security.”

Sheri Hoff, the director of attendance for Jefferson County’s schools, said they already were practicing a number of school safety policies. She said that they have had school lockdown codes for eight years and that they continue to work on ways, like shoving desks in front of doors, for teachers to secure classrooms. Hoff also said it was important to distinguish between trained, armed law enforcement officers at schools, and more generic armed guards.

Over the last few years, the West Virginia School Building Authority has given county school systems $30 million to improve safety equipment at schools such as electronic locks and security cameras. As a stipulation of that grant, every school system must have a specific crisis response plan in place by August 2013.

Notably absent from Grossman’s recommendations was any mention of gun control legislation, which became a hot topic after the Sandy Hook shootings. Among other proposals, President Barack Obama has said he will push for universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

Obama’s plan doesn’t sit well with Bob Perrine, the director of the Charleston Emergency Patrol Center. Perrine wants changes to be made to make schools safer, but is wary of any effort to make it more difficult to buy a gun.

“Once a fox gets a foothold into the henhouse, that fox won’t be satisfied until it’s got its belly full, and I believe this gun control thing could be the same way,” Perrine said. “The N.R.A. is stopping Obama right at the henhouse door.”

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