By Julie Wiessner
Since the day it happened, the country has been in a state of shock and disbelief. How could anyone walk into a school and shoot 20 innocent children and six adults? For many, that shock and disbelief has turned into a determination that such acts should never happen again.
Immediately following the brutal shootings on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Governor Jan Brewer issued a statement asking all Arizonans and all Americans to rally together and pray for those killed and those whose lives were irrevocably affected by the senseless murders. Brewer also set aside Dec. 21 as a day of mourning in the state.
There has been much talk about what citizens should do to prevent such tragedies.
Attorney General Tom Horne unveiled a proposal last week that would equip one person in each school with a firearm and provide emergency response training for select school employees. This training would be con-ducted for free by the attorney general’s office and local sheriff’s offices. Horne likened it to pilots on planes having a weapon to prevent hijackings or another 9/11. When asked what he thought of this proposal, Winslow High School Principal Chris Gilmore noted that he wished the state would reinstitute a Student Re-source Officer (SRO) for each school; that the SRO actually did more for the students than just look out for their safety.
“The SRO educates the students,” he said, adding that the SRO is the liaison between the city, schools and parents. “When the state took away the money for the SRO, the city and the school board picked up the pro-gram, and we now spilt the cost of one SRO for the high school and junior high.”
Holbrook High School Principal Lance Phaturos agreed that something needs to be done and that the SRO program is the better way.
“The SRO is a trained, legal police officer, and is the best way possible, feasible and actionable if we are to bring guns to our campuses,” said Phaturos. “Our kids do need to be safe and protected by the best individual possible. I feel the SRO is the answer.”
The Holbrook School District also partnered with the city to fund one SRO for use at the schools.
Both principals agree that having an SRO on campus is beneficial, but for the most part, they remain on junior high and high school campuses.
Holbrook School District Superintendent Dr. Robbie Koerperich is reading about Mr. Horne’s plan, but first, would like to know Horne’s action plan for legislation before submitting his final thoughts on the matter.
His preliminary response to arming a person in each of the schools follows.
“School Resource Officers are of great benefit to school systems; however, the costs of these services, as well as the availability of officers, is limited. Presence and preparation, which are available through SROs, are definitely preventative measures for school safety; however, to put a fully prepared, armed, trained officer on each of our (six) school campuses would most likely cost over $200,000 per year; a service we are not funded for. In addition, school resource officers would only be part of the solution. There have been school resource officers in other schools that have been exposed to school shootings; I believe Columbine had an SRO on cam-pus at the time of the shootings.
“SROs can be one element to a very complex school safety plan; however, to think it will cure the problem is inconclusive. A more comprehensive plan in which schools work with local law enforcement services, social services and public awareness systems to develop a prevention plan, as well as a response plan, is at a critical stage. These emergency situations center upon human behaviors unlike an emergency response plan for tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.,” Koerperich continued. “The human element causes preventative measures to be very complex. This is why we need assistance from multiple resources such as law enforcement, social services and the general public to help people with their personal and social issues prior to developing into a stage in which violence occurs.
“Occasionally we receive reports of Facebook comments, texts or happenings throughout our community that help us prepare our schools for the ills of society that can spill into our school system. People that do these horrendous acts do not do so instantaneously, there are symptoms that lead up to such behaviors and our society must work together to help people with behaviors that may lead to acts such as the ones we have experienced not only on school campuses, but also in shopping malls, movie theatres and on the streets of America every day. Inevitably, it will take many resources to prevent unfathomable events such as what has occurred in American schools in the past couple of decades.”
When asked if he was opposed to an armed person at each school and why,” Koerperich responded, “The notion of bringing guns onto school campuses is something that cannot be a spontaneous decision and one that I do not believe is a logical decision for school systems. The unintended consequences of such actions are enormous and to my knowledge there is no research behind such a decision. To put policy before practice in a situa-tion like this would be detrimental to the American education system. There may be ways to build in school safety measures, such as the use of security devices (tasers, disabling devices, etc.) into a comprehensive plan; however, deadly weapons such as guns add a whole new dimension to school safety. If one steps back and looks at the logic behind the decision, it would expose many barriers to utilizing weapons as a school safety measure, some of which could be catastrophically counterproductive to school safety. The goal is to keep guns out of school not to put them into schools.”
When asked if a different administrator than a principal could be trained at each school, a trusted person that would be there on a daily basis, or if there are other ways the district could supply a day-to-day presence at each school, Koerperich replied, “This is a complex problem that cannot be solved by any one particular solution, such as putting weapons on school campuses. The Holbrook Unified School District has a very comprehensive emergency prevention and response plan; however, one never knows the reliability of the plan until the emergency arises, whether it is a natural disaster or human caused emergency.
“In the coming months we will reanalyze our preventative and response procedures to ensure we are fully prepared to the best of our abilities. If there are modifications and enhancements that can be made, we will respond appropriately. We will continue to work closely with our local law enforcement services, social services and school personnel to do everything within our power to ensure our students are educated in a secure and safe environment.”
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By Julie Wiessner