Should T/E School District Join Others in Increasing Public Meeting Security?

In December, I think we all watched with disbelief the footage of Clay Duke, the disgruntled husband of a former school employee who opened fire on school board members in Panama City, Florida.  Duke’s wife had been fired from her special ed teaching job in the Florida school district.  The school board video showed Duke complaining about taxes and his wife’s firing before shooting at close range as the superintendent begged, “Please don’t.”  There were several rounds exchanged with a school security officer, who wounded him, before he took his own life.  Amazingly, no one else was injured during the shooting.

The Florida shooting was a wake-up call for many school districts around the country; many of which are considering increasing security at public meetings.  Various security options considered include security guards, police presence, or requiring all meeting attendees to pass through some type metal detector or the use of a handheld detector. Protection at school board meetings is not just for the elected officials.  As the discussion on our school district’s budget deficits increases, with discussion of property tax increases, programming cuts and possible staff reductions, there are more parents, teachers, staff, citizens, press, and sometimes students attending the meetings. As schools nationwide face this financial education crunch, heated moments and frustrated community members cannot be far behind. 

Unlike Tredyffrin’s township meetings, which are held in the same building as the township police department, the T/E School Board meetings are held at the high school or the school district office. The Downingtown School District has made the decision to increase security at their school board meetings. Their decision to have security at regularly scheduled school board meetings was based on the Florida school board shooting as well as the recent shooting in Tucson, Arizona of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford. Starting this week, Downingtown School District has contracted with their police department for security at their meetings. 

Although I am certain that T/E School District has an emergency management plan, I wonder if there is anything specific to public board meetings.   You cannot predict or prepare for random acts of violence.  However, circumstances that have happened nationwide in recent memory and given the time of which we live, unfortunately require this type of discussion.

Should school boards assess and appropriately upgrade awareness, along with security and preparedness measures, for their board meetings?  Certainly.  School districts need to be proactive (rather than reactive) in examining prevention, security and preparedness practices.  We understand that no school district has a blank check for security or any other support service.  School districts everywhere are under unprecedented financial crunches.  But it is during a time when society is under intense economic pressure that violence and related security risks will likely increase. 

I am curious, has T/E School District reviewed its public meeting security policies? 

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13 Comments

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  1. During my time on the board, we occasionally had hearings where this topic came up….and some precautions were put in place without any announcement or explanation to the public. After all, if you know what the security is, you would know how to bypass it. When on the board, we did have a contingency response.

    I come down on the side that if we walk around scared, we will already be victims. Metal detectors and the like don’t eliminate bomb threats — and the beefing up of security anywhere would require it everywhere.

    It’s a good topic to talk about, but like gun control and gun rights, both sides of the debate have reasons for their viewpont — sound ones in most cases. Until Columbine, parents were not afraid to send their kids to school. Millions of kids go to school every day in this country without any incident, yet isolated episodes informed our security awareness and elevated our fears.

    One thing to be aware of — IF you do a security audit, and then you do not implement every measure identified, then you are more liable should anything happen. It’s almost like once you start trying to prevent something, the list would never be completed.

    If a mad man/woman wants to kill, they will do so until they are stopped. How they are stopped remains a security detail not necessarily shared. Perhaps asking this current board if there are measures in place for the meetings is a timely idea.

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  2. Other school districts in the country are assessing their security and making changes, why should T/E be any differently. Patty mentions Downingtown School District, but many others are taking security seriously and making policy changes.

    Andrea, I appreciate what may have been discussed when you were on the SB. However, the world is changing and is a different place now. I would like to know what the ‘current board’ is doing — are they reviewing security policies based on FL & AZ shootings? And yes, although one may not want to show one’s hand (security-wise) — having obvious deterents such as a security guard or metal detector send a message.

    Where would the Florida school board have been were it not for the security guard on duty? The outcome could have been far, far worse. As a resident who attends school board meetings, I want to know that there are precations in place to protect me.

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  3. I’m not sure that providing special protection for public meetings is a great approach. In 2009 a doctor was shot and killed in his church. In 2008 someone walked into a Tenessee church and shot nine people, two fatally. Must all churches start reconsidering their security procedures too? Does every office that ever laid someone off or denied someone a raise need to increase its security too?

    Or should we as a society, as a country, as a state or township, be trying to reduce the number of guns we make available to every angry Tom, Dick and Harry in our midst? We really can not afford to secure every public meeting against armed angry people.

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  4. There are 13,506 School Districts in the United States. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_district). If each one meets at least once a month, that means there are approximately 162,072 School District meetings each year.

    A single shooting at one of those 162,072 annual meetings and PANIC!!!! Sorry, but lets not start a collective knee jerk over reaction.

    Just to put things in perspective: According to the National Weather Service, you have a 1 in 6,250 chance of being struck by lighting in your lifetime (http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/medical.htm).

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  5. Thank you Mr. Roboto and Mr. Fritzson. As Pattye and Andrea stated, this is a topic worthy of discussion, but I’ll agree that there are sound reasons in any direction.

    I will point out that additional security precautions would not be free…..so what cuts do you propose to improve safety at school board meetings? Televising them does make attendance optional, but I ‘ll agree with Mr. R — the world has not changed as much as we think. Just the 24/7 news cycle makes us more aware and yes — more afraid.

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  6. Would an off duty police officer standing at the back of the room armed — for 30 – 50 hours every month (committees meet with the same personnel at risk) provide a satisfactory response? i.e. could they kill the intruder before he/she killed more than the primary target?
    How about the library? How about the BOS for both townships? Every township committee too?
    I just don’t buy us looking for one more scary monster in the closet. I’m not saying it cannot happen, but not “preparing for it” doesn’t equate to negligence. It is a matter of reasonable minds disagreeing, and since the essence of most of the school talk for the last few weeks has been why no one wants to pay more taxes, I’m not in favor of much debate on how much to spend on enhanced security at meetings.
    Do we think Wegmans is able to satisfactorily deal with such an event? 911 ….

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  7. Who would pay the cost of police at the meetings? I’ve been told that the cost would fall on the school district. Is this really fair? After all, we ban citizens from carrying guns onto school district property. So we’re forcing them to be unarmed and making them potential victims.

    A better solution would be to have a police officer at every meeting. Is that even possible given cuts to the police budget?

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  8. You cannot predict or prepare for random acts of violence.

    Pattye, didn’t you get an education on this a year or so ago when you discovered that many of your fellow citizens have licenses to carry concealed firearms? The best preparation for random acts of violence is to carry the means to stop them, and the most easily-carried violence-stopper is a handgun. (Which is why, not coincidentally, even our strongest professional policemen carry handguns.)

    PA 18.I.912 suggests “Possession of weapon on school property” is a misdemeanor, but that a defense against that charge is that a weapon is possessed for a “lawful purpose.” IANAL, but self-defense is a lawful purpose for possessing a firearm, so I would just encourage competent citizens not otherwise prohibited to carry a gun to school meetings. The more armed citizens we have the less we depend on paid police to deter violence.

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    Lysander Reply:

    Most moronic — well, what can I say, I’m a superlative commenter?

    It is true that you can’t positively prepare for unknown (“Knightian”) risks, but you can certainly prepare for known events that occur at random. We’re talking here about the risk that an individual or group initiates an act of violence against another without warning. That is a known risk that occurs apparently at random — and one for which police prepare every day. Many of us who don’t enjoy the benefit of constant armed escorts also prepare our lives and our selves against such random human events with the same diligence for which we prepare for “random” weather events like severe storms.

    There are plenty of anecdotes — even statistics — that show how prepared individuals fare better than the unprepared when they are faced with the random events for which they have prepared.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Lysander —

    Can I assume by your statement ” . . . prepared individuals fare better than the unprepared . . . ” that ‘prepared’ would mean armed with a weapon? Just asking — I don’t want to misintrepet your comments.

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    Lysander Reply:

    John, way to take ad hominem arguments to a new level: Attacking the motives and skills of someone you admit you do not know? I wish I didn’t have to blog pseudonymously, but unfortunately my real-life position doesn’t allow me to voice my opinions with the same freedom. Nevertheless, even if you knew me personally it would still be more effective to address my arguments and ideas than to attack my character.

    Anyway, for those interested in anecdotes my favorite source is the NRA’s Armed Citizen archive.

    For those interested in statistics look up books and papers by John Lott or, for the more skeptical, Gary Kleck.

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  9. I’m guessing that Lysander means prepared — however the person chooses to do it. Being armed, being trained to disarm, just having a plan. Doesn’t have to mean being armed I bet.
    Most homes don’t have sprinkler systems, but that doesn’t mean the homeowners aren’t prepared for a fire (insurance, exit plan, fire extinguisher, 911 on speed dial) Obviously not a good analogy, but I think we all have our level of comfort in how we are prepared to protect/defend ourselves. And if that means avoiding public meetings that don’t metal detectors or armed guards, so be it.

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  10. Yes, School Observer is right. Granted, I don’t know of any weapons or means other than firearms that an average person can employ to reliably stop a random act of violence. But not everyone is comfortable, capable, or even allowed to carry and use a firearm. Other ways to “prepare” for violence are to maintain a heightened level of situational awareness,to avoid circumstances where the probability of random acts of violence are elevated, and to avoid situations where there is no ready means of escaping violence. E.g., don’t walk down unfamiliar streets alone at night and, if you do, scan attentively for threats; and certainly don’t run into a dead-end alley if you feel threatened!

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