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Opinion: School Security Without Armed Guards

policeinschoolsThe following was sent to Scarsdale10583 by Diane Greenwald: I am grateful that the evacuation of students from the Quaker Ridge last week was an exercise in abundant caution, not a real threat, and no one was harmed. My sigh of relief is my thank you to everyone involved.

That same day, national leaders dodged pipe bombs targeting them because of their politics. And then… it got worse. I do not have words to express my grief and dread about the hate shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. We now add Pittsburgh to the list, one that often starts with Columbine and has no end in sight.

Unbearable.

It has been a sorrowful week that brings the feelings of threat and violence close, and we feel vulnerable and powerless. It does not then come as a surprise that some good people in Scarsdale believe the most responsible course of action, in light of great fear, is to place armed guards in schools. I can understand the response, but for me, even under the cloud of these horrifying shootings, I do not support the presence of firearms as part of school security plans.

It is not only because of my own enormous anxiety around guns or devotion to schools as sacred spaces of learning, but because there is reason to question the value and effectiveness of armed presence in schools.

President Trump suggested that the Pittsburgh synagogue would have had a different outcome if they had armed guards at their peaceful place of worship, effectively blaming the victims for their misfortune of being shot. To me, his suggestion defies logic, given that 4 trained officers were hit by bullets during their efforts to apprehend the heavily armed killer. It is indecent rhetoric and ignores a miserable truth that, if someone wants to kill you with a semi-automatic, they are going to.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the highly trained NYC Police Department’s ‘hit rate’ during a gunfight is 18%. Our most stellar first responders miss their mark 82% of the time. Guns do not equate to safety, even in the bravest and most competent hands. And if you don’t have guns in schools, you can’t have a gun accident.

Furthermore, fear and risk are not always linked in rational ways. The risk of the most terrifying gun violence is extremely low. Analysis in a Washington Post states that “the statistical likelihood of any given public-school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 is roughly 1 in 614,000,000." Any number is monstrous but let us not readily funnel resources away from teaching, learning, counseling and training, in service of a false sense of security, that might have unintended consequences for children and not be the most effective focus of our safety and wellness work.

So what do we do now, here is Scarsdale, when reasonable people may disagree?

First, it is my firm and unwavering belief that every single person in our community is fundamentally committed to the safety of our children. I trust that every member of the Scarsdale School Board, the Administration, all faculty and staff, every parent and caregiver, all law enforcement, and all in local government considers our children’s safety to be the paramount priority. We are in this together.

Second, we can and should be proactive to ensure safe schools. I am sure there are lessons from the incident at QRS, but I worry that if we forget that we all share a universal value of safety, we could lose the ability to have nuanced exchanges with productive outcomes. I also worry that in the name of transparency, a normally good value, we could undermine the at-times private nature of security work. Effective security demands our trust.

Third, I encourage our District leadership to consider ways to foster inclusive discussions on this extremely sensitive topic, likely in spaces beyond agenda-packed Board meetings. We need facilitated forums for dialogue where everyone has an opportunity to learn and participate. We can model the collaboration and respect we champion for our children.

Like others in this community, I am distraught. Not only is there unleashed hatred in America, there is ample availability of monstrous weapons. I don’t have answers to the harrowing events of these dark times, but I will not give up what I value in America to hide behind a wall. Or a guard. Or a gun.

We cannot control what is in another person's heart, but we can legislate what is in their hand. Whatever you think the best security options are our children in schools, support common-sense gun control. It’s the best thing we can do today to ensure safety for our children tomorrow.

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