Editorial: School Security

After school shootings all over the U.S. such as Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, many schools and colleges are tightening up their security. But there has been very little to no coverage on how Quaker schools such as GFS and other schools with similar values have been balancing their Quaker values of community with the need to protect students from physical harm from weapons such as guns or knives. How can administrators be proactive about school security without going over the top?

GFS faces a unique challenge when it comes to security; the open campus and how security is handled in this day and age have a lot to do with our testimonies and our community involvement. Too much security could alienate the surrounding neighborhood of Germantown, which GFS tries to reach out to as much as possible, and make the campus feel less carefree and easygoing.

One factor already keeping us safe is an effect similar to drivers slowing down when they see a police car. The obvious presence of our security around the border of campus helps to stave off any potential criminals. It has been shown that the presence of law enforcement serves as a deterrent against crime. Increased police in the 1990s brought down crime by about 5 percent (this could range from 0 to 10 percent). According to the Atlantic, a body of empirical research has found that simply having more officers on the streets, even if they are not arresting or stopping anyone, can be a crime deterrent. If you’re a criminal, and you see a police officer or a security guard, are you going to commit a crime? Probably not, because the law enforcement will most likely see you and there would be consequences. The same effect occurs with security guards.

Another challenge that GFS faces is the fact that our campus was built to be open, and its openness is important to our testimonies. GFS has 17 buildings, spread out across a campus that takes up an area of about 4 blocks square and then a half block across Coulter Street. If Maintenance were to, say, install metal detectors in every building, it would be expensive and tedious for students to go through. Other schools such as Central High School have successfully implemented metal detectors, but most of these schools only have one or two buildings with a more restricted flow of students. GFS schedules, especially for high school, are structured so that it is not uncommon to go to several different buildings back-to-back for classes. Imagine having to go through a metal detector 4 or 5 times a day, while you’re most likely rushing to get into class on time. It would easily add a few minutes to transit time, which is already tight considering there is no passing time. So if metal detectors don’t work, what will?

Well, consider this: an armed intruder gets past the perimeter security guards, but then encounters another one at the entrance to, say, the Main Building. The security guard would most likely recognize that this person shouldn’t be here, and will subdue the intruder. Police are called, and the individual is arrested. Danger averted.

GFS could probably find the money in their budget to invest even more than they already have in the security of their students and hire more security guards. The current security is helpful on the perimeter of campus and at Fields, but what if, theoretically, someone had a gun in their jacket and got onto campus somehow? Then what?

According to Security Director Deb Mattefy, there is a reason that our perimeter is more fortified than our interior. As we are a Quaker school, Mateffy wants to preserve the feeling of peace on campus, which could be harmed by the presence of more security. If there are security guards everywhere, the carefree vibe of the campus is disrupted. And with the way that Director Mateffy runs her security staff, it’s unlikely that an intruder could make it past the perimeter.

The values of Germantown Friends School are reflected in our Quaker testimonies; Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship. The value that GFS places on community is one of the reasons that we have such an open campus. But if the choice is between a testimony and adding to the safety of GFS’s students from outsiders with weapons in this age of gun violence and school shootings, safety should always come first. Even though GFS has never had more security than we currently have, times are changing and gun laws aren’t, so we are more likely to have a shooting now than we were 30 years ago.

A good option, which is being talked about on a larger scale in Security and has already been implemented partially with faculty is key cards. Key cards balance a need for security with realistically protecting the campus and the people on it. All of the buildings would be locked and could be opened with a key card, which teachers and staff already have. Every student in 7th grade and above (6th graders largely stay in Sharpless) would have a key card. Lower School students would most likely lose them and also would be accompanied by key card-carrying teachers.

Students with a key card could easily and quickly open doors when necessary. There could be levels of security clearance (i.e a student card can’t unlock the faculty lounge) and if there were a lockdown, the doors would be locked. Using key cards allows the campus to have the same feeling of peacefulness but the security would be tighter and students and teachers would be safer. If an intruder got on campus, they wouldn’t be able to get into any buildings.

This way, our campus can reflect our testimonies while still having up to date security. And a major change in budget or structure of the campus would be unnecessary as there are approximately 500 students that would need key cards (faculty already has them) and the keypads where one would swipe their card are already installed.

Simply put, times are changing and schools and public places are becoming less safe than we once thought before Columbine. In the wake of shootings in San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Virginia Tech, and countless other shootings in public places and schools, GFS administration should seriously consider increasing security. Our school’s security policies should change along with the prevalence of mass shootings. Even though it’s pretty unlikely that GFS will be involved in a situation involving a weapon, and even more unlikely that said weapon would cause injury or death, our campus might be just a little bit too open if you’re thinking in worst-case scenarios.

to read more about mass shootings and their prevalence- http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/aug/6/mass-shootings-becoming-more-common-deadlier-study/?page=all
and read about metal detectors in schools here- http://www.schoolsecurity.org/trends/school-metal-detectors/