School shootings are frightening, and we need to do all we can to protect students. But we need to do so in ways that are based on evidence.
While it may be well intended, the proposed Senate Bill 215 is misguided. This Bill would set aside $65 million dollars for school security equipment (e.g., locked doors, metal detectors, cameras), but would only be available to schools that have at least two armed security guards in addition to any police officers already stationed on campus.
As a researcher who has studied school safety for years, I appreciate the effort to protect children but urge Delaware lawmakers to reject this proposal. This Bill goes too far in devoting resources to strategies with no evidence of success.
First, we need to consider the scope of the problem. Certainly, no child should die in school – schools should be a safe haven. But despite the horrific incidents of late, school deaths are still rare. In 2014-2015, the most recent year reported by the U.S. Department of Education, there were 20 homicides of students in schools across the U.S.
This is certainly too many, but considering the fact that an average of 47 people are killed by lightning each year, that 663 children aged 12 and younger died in car accidents in 2015, or that in 2016 there were 436 suicides of youth ages 10-14 alone, it’s clear that a potential school shooting is less of a threat than most other potential causes of death for children. This year is already worse than most others, but we still should keep the frequency of school shootings in perspective as we try to prevent them.
We should take commonsense measures to keep schools safe, such as secure entrances with bullet-proof glass. But going too far, by making schools feel like fortresses or jails, or by adding large security staffs, can create more problems than it solves.
Research on school safety suggests that too much visible security can create fear among students and be a distraction; metal detectors are a prime example. Further, it is particularly problematic that SB 215 requires at least two armed (non-police) security guards in each school since research shows that students tend to react poorly to armed guards. There is no quality evidence that more armed guards make school shootings less likely, but there is evidence that (even after taking into account other school characteristics) schools with more armed guards have more student violence.
Directing a large sum of money to a strategy shown to be ineffective (and possibly even harmful) means that fewer funds would be available for strategies with evidence of success. Spending more money on mental health services and adolescent counselors, for example, would have several advantages that could help protect students. It would mean that students who feel alienated or who are experiencing trauma might be helped before they lash out.
More counselors would also mean more adults in whom students could confide if they learn of another student’s plan to commit violence. In general, schools need more resources for overworked teachers and more supports for students who may be struggling. These strategies would improve school climates, keep students engaged in school, and help prevent students from wanting to hurt others. Investing in schools and students, not in metal detectors or armed guards, is the best strategy for protecting students and the best use of taxpayer money.