The Context of Security

The Context of Security

Overview Questions 

What constitutes security? What will actually make us most secure as a society? What are the economic costs and benefits of school security in its current form? What are the social costs and benefits of school security in its current form? Who is impacted most by various costs and benefits? How are notions of school security related to those of national security?

Part I: Ohio Voices on School Security

Watch the following clip, in which the Sidney Schools Superintendent and a former student who now works in the central offices discuss the security plan in place in Sidney:

 CLIP 1: Sidney Superintendent’s Office

Shamara Foy, who works in the Board of Education Office, discusses how security has changed since she was a student in the school district, as well as her own reservations about handling a gun. Superintendent John Sheu describes the many layers of protection the district has chosen to build into their system. Both argue that guns provide the best solution to a fear that someone could try to do harm in the district. What would you say to each of them?

The next clip comes from another school district in southern Ohio, who at the time of our filming were just preparing to begin arming faculty and staff in their schools:

CLIP 2: White Oak School District on arming teachers

Ted Downing, Superintendent of a rural Ohio school district, explains that the decision to arm staff in his district came in part from not having the financial resources to hire School Resource Officers. Should schools be faced with making these decisions? How much money should schools be putting into security? Where should this money come from?

 Part II –  Deeper Dive – Security Campaigns that Shape Generations

Watch “Duck and Cover,” a civil defense film shown to millions of school children in the 1950’s at the start of the Cold War. The campaign sought to teach children how to hide under their desks in the event of a nuclear attack.

Again in the 1980’s another film about the prospect of nuclear war – the ABC movie “The Day After” – reached millions of American children, and its traumatizing effects have been debated since. Read the original article about the piece in The New York Times, here.

Consider how much as a culture our exposure to and tolerance for imagining violent and catastrophic scenarios has changed since the 1950’s. What has contributed to these changes? How might the psychological and emotional effect of this kind of exposure be different for different generations of children growing up in the U.S.?

Now read the two articles below, both of which detail modern-day school safety drills, and consider the questions that follow.

“’Haunting school shooter drills become the new normal in US schools,” by Tom Dart. The Guardian March31, 2018.

What are Active-Shooter Drills Doing to Kids?,” by James Hamblin. The Atlantic, Feb. 28, 2018.

Also look over the data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics on school Safety and Security (NCES) measures.

Finally, listen to the following piece, The costs and limits of school security,” produced for NPR’s Marketplace in 2012:

Do you believe it is necessary for students and teachers to go through the kinds of drills described in the articles above? What about the measures described on the NCES website? How are we ‘shaping’ this generation? What kind of damage might be done, and what are the potential benefits? How should the costs and benefits be weighed? Choose any two people in the Marketplace piece to respond to.

Part III: Deeper Dive – Liability and Worker Protection 

While the potential danger to students often gets discussed in the debate over arming teachers, much less attention gets paid to the potential impact on teachers themselves (armed or unarmed). In Sidney, OH, the teachers’ union tried to grieve the armed response plan several times. Although they were against the plan in its entirety, they at the very least wanted to ensure protections for the teachers in their union. The case was brought all the way to the State Labor Relations Board (SERB), where having guns in schools was ruled not to be a change in working conditions. Listen to the following clip from Lori Hedburg, President of the Sidney Teachers’ Association.

Clip 3: Lori Hedburg, President of the Sidney Teachers’ Association

Discuss your thoughts about the issues Lori Hedburg brings up above. Is it fair to ask teachers to volunteer for this? What kinds of protections should they have? Does having guns in the workplace – in the hands of colleagues – constitute a change in working conditions? In what ways?

Now read this online article from NBC News on the problem many school districts trying to arm teachers are facing with insurance. Do you think schools should be insured for these kinds of safety plans? Should individuals? Is this a justifiable cost for schools?

Part IV: Deeper Dive – The Industry of School Security

As schools around the country are required to implement security systems and plans, a growing industry of outside vendors providing products has emerged.

Read the following article published in The Nation, and consider the following questions:

Sasha Abramsky, “The School Security Industry Is Cashing in Big on Public Fears of Mass Shootings.” The Nation (August 9, 2016).

How might the rise of a school security “industry” be feeding our perceived need for more security?

If statistically, schools are still very safe places to be, why do you think so many Americans are now focused on school security?

In paragraph 14, the author explains that “today school-security companies and trade associations are lobbying legislators in several states to change building codes so that schools will be mandated to spend more on their security systems.” Should school security be driven by outside corporate interests? Who is in the best position to understand how schools can be safe?

In this source too, the author argues that it is ‘scandalous’ for schools to spend money on high-tech security when they are already starved of proper funding. Do you agree?

Abramsky ends the article by stating the following:

"Television, newspapers, and social media focus on sensational but statistically anomalous horror stories about school violence. Parents and the broader community work themselves into a panic, prompting politicians to vow that they will do “whatever it takes” to make everyone safer. Security technologies emerge to fill the perceived need for stronger safety measures, and schools end up spending money they don’t necessarily have to implement solutions they almost certainly will never need. The presence and the media coverage of these heightened security measures increase the public’s sense of fear, and the spiral descends even further."

By ending with this thought, the author seems to be implicating the media as the initial cause of this circular pattern. What do you think about the role of the media in inciting fear? How should the media respond to acts of violence in schools?

For other questions and activities related to the role of the media, see the soon-to-be-added section on the social causes of school violence.