School Safety

Lockdown drills have become a sad element of school culture. The shooting in Parkland, Florida was particularly upsetting as the killer exploited students’ natural reaction to a fire alarm to increase the number of deaths he could cause, and the police response was not ideal.

As with any terrorist incident, these senseless deaths provoke emotional responses. We are human and terrorism exploits this.

Our families are diverse and have responded differently to this news. Some discuss it with their kids, others shield them. As an elementary school we must consider your children’s emotional capacity, while respecting your choices.

I pointed out previously that we live in one of the safest large cities in the country, Crime rates have been dropping in Brooklyn, consistently in the last decade, even as we ended the ‘stop and frisk’ program that some claimed was integral to our increased security.

Further context can be found in this story from the non-partisan news site 538.com, which quantifies key elements of gun violence in America. Shootings like Columbine and Parkland, while horrid, are far from the biggest gun violence risk we face. By a long shot.

Reviewing the history, one sees that school shootings have taken place almost exclusively in middle and high schools, perpetrated almost exclusively by current or former students who had motives (albeit twisted), and access. David Ropiek writes in the Washington Post that since 1999 there has been a 1 in 614 million chance of a child being killed in  school shooting.

The chance of a child being shot and killed in a public school is extraordinarily low. Not zero — no risk is. But it’s far lower than many people assume, especially in the glare of heart-wrenching news coverage after an event like Parkland. And it’s far lower than almost any other mortality risk a kid faces, including traveling to and from school, catching a potentially deadly disease while in school or suffering a life-threatening injury playing interscholastic sports

Ellen and I have consulted with neighboring charter elementary schools, reached out to the 84th precinct, and spoken with a retired NYPD detective who now heads corporate security for a large financial services company. The key thing you can do as parents to support our policies is to follow instructions at pickup and drop off.  We have spoken with the teachers about their key steps as well.

Ropeik notes that school shootings don’t happen in isolation but in the context of worrying news about all sorts of things. Our judgement suffers from the “mean world syndrome” arising from relentless headlines about war, terrorism and the flu. He concludes:

Just as surely as there will be another school shooting, it will prompt another flood of outrage and fear. That fear, while understandable, will distract us from greater threats and lead to behaviors that do greater harm. The real lesson we need to learn is this: We need not just reasonable gun control, but also a bit more self-control over our emotions and instincts if we want to keep ourselves and our kids safer.

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