Editorial:Current lockdown security measures have some room for improvement

The Oracle

Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the staff (assenting: 44; dissenting: 7; abstaining: 0) 

In the aftermath of the recent Newtown shooting, schools across the country have called security procedures into question. According to Education Week magazine, 82 percent of 720 surveyed districts report that school violence is on the rise. Gunn already maintains commendable security measures in preparation for an armed shooter’s entry onto campus, but they can be improved by increasing the efficacy of lockdown drills, ensuring that students and teachers possess the necessary knowledge to act appropriately and updating classroom infrastructure to increase safety.

Current school security measures already reduce chances of bodily harm to students and staff. Each teacher is trained to lock and barricade doors, quiet their students and turn off classroom lights. They know to instruct their students to remain silent and turn off cell phones, decreasing the chance that a given classroom will be targeted by an intruder. New teachers are given an orientation before the school year begins, eliminating any chance of a new teacher being caught unprepared. Administrators maintain training through mandatory drills once per year. Such measures were successfully implemented during real Code Red situations, for example in 2009 when a student brought an airsoft gun onto campus by mistake.

Despite these precautions, there is still ample room for improvement. Disaster drills are held second semester rather than first, which can jeopardize the readiness of both students and staff. Holding these drills earlier would be more efficient because it would refresh teachers’ and students’ memories before the majority of the school year. If drills are held only later in the year, the school will only be relatively prepared for the end of the year. More importantly, incoming freshmen are ultimately put at risk, as they receive no instruction at all for at least a full semester. The consequences of even a single unready student can be disastrous, as an uninformed student can be injured or killed by an armed assailant if he or she does not know the proper protocol.

The school’s primary means of making sure students are well-informed of standard procedure lie in the student handbook. Each year, students check off a box on a piece of paper indicating that they fully understand Code Red procedures, sign it and turn it into the main office. However, the underlying problem remains: a majority of these students fail to actually read the student handbook at all. This results in a majorly uninformed student body that may fail to react appropriately to an emergency. Instead of continuing to use an unenforceable policy that requires students to voluntarily read the student handbook, the school should schedule an assembly that would take place early in the year and would teach students how to behave in the event of an armed attacker.

Another problem with the district’s preparation for a Code Red situation is that the locks in Gunn classrooms require an individual to physically exit the classroom and lock the door from the outside. This is not only inconvenient and time-consuming, but also unsafe for a teacher who would possibly have to expose him or herself to the assailant’s line-of-fire. In addition, since doors in Palo Alto schools all swing outwards, barricades set up to obstruct the entrance of an attacker can be rendered useless. This further necessitates the need for a quick and safe way to prevent an intruder from coming into a classroom. The solution for this lies in the very mechanism designed for this purpose. The Columbine Lock, named after one of the high schools that experienced such a tragedy, allows teachers to lock a door from the inside. One variant of the Columbine Lock locks the door by pulling it in towards the interior of the room, which would be marginally inexpensive and easy to install onto Gunn’s many push-bar doors. The district needs to consider installing locks onto the rest of the doors to further prepare the school for a possible assault.

Although the school invests a considerable effort into ensuring the safety of students, it must take steps towards improving preparation for a lockdown. Several aspects of the Code Red procedures are still lacking in that they do not implement some of the precautions that could potentially save lives. The current lockdown process is commendable. Such a status should be maintained by focusing on providing these services that could mean the difference between life and death.