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Dennis shooting puts spotlight on school security

March 12, 2019

ON December 13th, 2018, a 14-year old boy entered Dennis Intermediate School with a gun. It is a day no one in this town, and especially in this school system, will ever forget. The tragedy of the situation has touched many people throughout RCS, and there is generally a surreal feeling that something that is normally reserved for the 5 o’clock news has happened here.

“I don’t think people really understand the severity of it until it really hits home and happens,” junior Kaya Bane said.

The tragedy itself will remain at the front of the minds of many students and teachers for years to come. But the more lasting impact might be the effort to use the situation to better inform our security and make our schools safer, to ensure that the events never repeat themselves.

“A positive thing that you try to make out of a very negative thing that happened a few weeks ago is that it’s sure got us at the drawing board now trying to make us re-look at our procedure plans, our emergency procedure plans, our evacuation drills, and our things that we need to be on top of,” School Resource Officer Rick Thalls said.

Thalls stressed that while the security at our school needs improvement, there are lots of things that are going very well, and have been going well for some time now.

“We’re not just now thinking we’ve had a catastrophe in our community and we better start doing something,” he said. “No, we’ve been doing something, and I think the way we handled [Dennis] proves that.”

But that certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we could be doing to make our schools safer.

“I believe we need to take measures such as door locks, wired-in windows [and] more security guards,” senior Daniel Tran said.

Bane mentioned some measures that she would like to see as well, touching on a similar theme as Tran – upgrading existing security measures, and adding new ones.

“I know a lot of solutions that are most effective are the most cost-effective as well, like sensors and [metal] detectors on our doorways,” she said.

There are definitely new technological things that RHS could look into. For example, according to Fox 59 News, Indiana governor Eric Holcomb rolled out a program at the beginning of the school year that would give school districts metal detector wands, about one wand per every 250 students, at no cost to the schools. But there are concerns with measures such as these.

I think it’s getting everybody on board, talking the same type of terms, and just talking about shutting the classroom doors. It doesn’t cost anything to shut that door and lock it.”

— School Resource Officer Rick Thalls

“It would limit how many people could get in at a time, which could be dangerous in aspects,” Tran said. “If everyone is going to school at the same time, and then you have large groups of people waiting outside to get inside the school because everyone has to be searched, it could be a very big hazard to have such big groupings.”

Some solutions are very simple, and have been put in place already.

“I think it’s getting everybody on board, talking the same type of terms, and just talking about shutting the classroom doors,” Thalls said. “It doesn’t cost anything to shut that door and lock it.”

There is also an inescapable debate over whether teachers and administrators should be armed.

“If we implement more guns in the school, you put more incentive for people to stand up against the threat, whether it’s internally or externally,” Tran said.

Tran likes the idea of arming teachers to defend the school, but he also mentioned some important caveats that he said were necessary.

“By putting guns into the school districts, of course there’s a risk, there will always be a risk, but as we’ve seen before, the more guns there are, the less danger there is,” he said.  “Crime has gone down – including murder, rape, theft, burglary, all those types of things – all crime rates have gone down as the rate of firearms have gone up into the civilization. So, yes there is a risk, but in the end, it will probably put down the chances of any school shooting by a massive amount.”

He also noted that caution in the selection of teachers would be important to the success of the idea. “If you’re a teacher, and you happen to be qualified to have a gun, and you know what you’re doing, then you should be allowed to carry your gun inside the school,” he said. “But I don’t believe in forcing teachers to take hands-on firearms if they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Others are more wary about increasing the number of guns in school and aren’t convinced that it wouldn’t do more harm than good.

“I just think in the school environment, so many things could go wrong, and there are just so many kids here that there’s such a chance that so many bystanders could get hurt and it could lead to more problems,” Bane said. “Somebody could get possession of it, even if they have it with them, someone could easily take it from them.”

I just think in the school environment, so many things could go wrong, and there are just so many kids here that there’s such a chance that so many bystanders could get hurt and it could lead to more problems. Somebody could get possession of it, even if they have it with them, someone could easily take it from them.”

— junior Kaya Bane

Instead, Bane said that we should focus on arming people who are more qualified.

“I think it would be more effective to have more professional security in our building than having every single teacher

armed because that could be an even bigger problem – more bystanders hurt [and] other things like that,” she said.

Thalls said he sees the upside, but stressed the amount of safety-related hoops we would have to jump through to make arming teachers a practical reality. “I would be more okay at looking at that if there were some policies in place that if there was another person besides law enforcement in this building carrying a gun, they need to have the same kind of training that I do,” he said. “So that they know what to do. They need to go through the same type of updated training, the new type of things that come out, and the different kind of scenarios and the different kind of active shooter drills that we do.”

He mentioned that arming teachers could create confusion in the middle of a chaotic active shooter situation.

“There’s a lot of things to consider before you go to that, because in an active shooter situation, you need to come up with something where that teacher can be identified to know that they’re a good guy and not a bad guy running in the hallways with a gun, or we’re going to be, as police officers, shooting teachers,” Thalls said.

In situations like this, students often feel hopeless, but there are a lot of things that can be done by our student body to aid our security.

“I think the best thing that the students could do is realize that ‘punching down’ is weak and lame, and immature,” Matt Jenkins, who works at the front desk, and also as the boys soccer coach, said. “Do you know what I mean when I say ‘punching down’? Like, making fun of people that are less affluent, or less intelligent, or less whatever, right.”

Jenkins said that confronting the bullying problem could help security by defusing the kinds of situations that lead potential school shooters over the edge.

Thalls said he wanted to create rapport between people running security, like himself, and students such that students would feel comfortable helping out.

“I think if students felt they had a say in [security] – or at least, we don’t do everything they say, but they know we’re listening, then it might be more of a buy-in from them for them to watch who might be coming indoors,” he said.

Ultimately, students have many reasons to feel hopeful, even in such a dark time.

“In the aftermath of what happened in December, I feel like the staff here really did a great job of coming together and making it clear that they cared about the well-being of the student body here,” Jenkins said. “And I don’t know if the student body is quite aware of that, but I just hope that they are because they’re lucky that they have a lot of adults that really care about them here.”

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