Last December's deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut have led to a slew of school safety legislation across the country, including in Arizona. The Flagstaff Unified School District held a meeting recently to discuss the issue. Arizona Public Radio's Justin Regan reports on how local schools are reacting.
Marie Haynie is one of dozens of parents attending the meeting. She has young children in the school district and, like many here tonight, she's concerned about new state legislation that would allow some teachers to carry guns on campus. "You're not necessarily going to have that gun next to you if you're walking your students down the hallway as a teacher or at recess," Haynie says. "If you're away from the gun and something happens, you still have the problem there."
The district agrees, which is why, for now, they are choosing other options besides arming teachers. Barbara Hickman is Superintendent of FUSD. "There are a number of security measures we could try to put into place, but really, prevention and education are the strongest ways for us to improve security in our schools," Hickman says. "We certainly don't want our schools to resemble prisons. The idea is not to lock everybody in, but the idea is to make sure we have tight controls over the doors, make sure we know exactly who's coming in and out of our schools."
That's why the district is working closely with law enforcement on a community policing strategy called Project Safe Schools. Flagstaff Chief of Police Kevin Treadway says it was developed after the shooting in Connecticut. "The policy or directive to our officers is that each officer visit one school minimum in their beat every day," Treadway says. "That's in order to get to know their faculty, get to know the school layout and provide a little bit of visible deterrent at the school." Treadway believes this approach helps to strengthen relationships and trust between the students and the officers who protect them. "We don't want the children to be afraid of an officer in uniform," Treadway says. "So, the more chances and opportunities we have to get in the schools and get around the children, whether it's to read a first grade class a story, or just stop by and talk to the kids and say hi."
Other measures the schools are taking include funneling all visitors through one door by front offices, which are currently being remodeled to have greater visibility of people coming in. Schools across the district are also changing out their locks for new card-key-entry systems. They would track who's entering schools and when. The cards can be programmed to work at designated hours.
Marshall Elementary has already made the switch to card-keys. Joe Coe is principal of the school. He says, "the number one thing in my school I've stressed to teachers and my students is merely be prepared to act." Coe says there's a balance to be struck between keeping children safe at school and not scaring them with too much procedure that's come out of recent tragedies. He feels that soon security measures will simply be part of the regular school routine. "It's not scary," Coe says. "It's just what we do and I really do hope that we get to a point very soon where no one asks, 'is this a drill, or is this the real thing?' When Mr. Coe gets on the intercom because it just shouldn't matter."
For now, FUSD officials say they're opting for a community-based approach as opposed to a policy of arming staff. And they are asking the community to remain vigilant and report any suspicious behavior.