How Secure is Hylton?

All schools prioritize safety, but what safety measures are needed to truly protect students and staff?

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In the last few years, school shootings have been on the rise, raising the question of how safe any school can be. After a gun went off in a classroom last April, the Hylton community was relieved that no one was injured, but students and parents alike have questioned the Prince William County Schools (PWCS) protocols that are in place and how they are executed.  

The term “school shooting” seems to be more commonplace nowadays than it used to be. Naturally, students and parents all over the country look to their school boards and administrators for answers as to how their schools are being kept safe, but that answer differs in many places across the country.

When School Resource Officer Mr. John Obuabang and School Safety and Security Officer Mr. Melvin Smith visited the Watchdog staff last fall, they discussed the protocols that were taken and the problems that had occurred during the incident last April.

Many of the questions during the class press conference centered around whether any changes would be made to the existing protocol. Smith said that no changes were made to protocol but noted his team is “now being a lot more visual.” 

Officer Obuabang noted that everyone should do their part to keep the school safe. “If you see something, say something,” said Obuabang.

Mr. Smith said, “Safety is the most important.” The security team explained how they work together to protect Hylton and described the protocols they must follow.

According to the PWCS crisis management plan, the plan states the following information of what students need to do in an emergency situation. It includes securing classrooms, remaining silent during a lockdown, and turning off the classroom lights.

Other than protocols, schools in the nation have begun passing preventative measures meant to keep students safe.

Every measure of security and protection a school may take is different, all with varying pros, cons and philosophies regarding the implementation and the ethics behind it. No security efforts to combat school shootings and violence on school property are without controversy, many politicians and public figures deride one another over their differences in opinions. Here are some measures that have been implemented or mentioned to combat gun violence within schools:

Metal detectors

Metal detectors, while not commonplace in many states, have been installed in many schools across the country, particularly in urban areas. Schools in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, specifically, have established the presence of metal detectors in many of their schools to combat gang violence that has been observed in many areas.

Many of those machines have been the center of debates around the years, some arguing that it creates the idea that the schools resemble prisons, or that it criminalizes children of color in what are often labeled as poorer, “inner city” schools. Others are comforted by their presence, feeling safer because of those extra measures taken to prevent the violence they encounter around them. 

Just this year, the Chicago School Board approved the allocation of roughly $2 million towards “fund[ing] new security equipment including cameras, intercom phones, alarms and screening equipment.” While the school board cannot ultimately require the use of metal detectors in all schools – the decision must go through an individual school’s local council before being implemented – in schools where it has been a security feature the cost is about $3,350 per machine, which some argue could be allocated towards creating a better educational environment, or towards security measures that have more definitive research that attests to their effectiveness.

Many Florida counties have also approved metal detectors in certain schools. Micheal Edwards, director of the Duval County police force in Florida said of the matter: “We know that if we create an environment that is safe and secure our teachers will be able to teach.” The county – which is the 20th largest in the nation – last year approved the installation of a new security package that would include metal detectors and hand wands to screen students for weapons.

Hylton’s own security team is on the opposing end of the metal detector argument. They told Watchdog staff members implementing them at the school, “would create a reputation for the school,” that would discourage parents from sending their children to the school with metal detectors, or feeling that their child is unsafe at the school.

Clear Backpacks

Following Parkland, and many other school shootings, some schools have required that their student body use clear backpacks to ensure that no student is carrying potentially dangerous objects through the school. Students at Parkland specifically have had a lot to say about the new security measures.

“It’s difficult, we all now have to learn how to deal with not only the loss of our friends, but now our right to privacy. My school was a place where everyone felt comfortable, it was a home away from home, and now that home has been destroyed,” said junior Kai Koerber.

Students at the school have also placed price tags on their backpacks to protest conservative politicians who mandate and advocate for such measures, but accept money from the National Rifle Association, who many say directly contribute to the gun violence in the United States. Effectively saying that the backpacks – in the politicians eyes – are worth more than the students’ lives.

Many feel though that marginal discomfort and annoyance are less important than the safety of the students, and that though clear backpacks are a minor precaution, the practice reflects one of the many precautions the school has taken to ward off potential threats.

Active shooter drills

Some schools conduct active shooter drills. There are arguments in its favor, saying they prepare students for real life situations, but others say it traumatizes students and is not conducive to preventing casualties in the event of gunfire on school grounds.

Many concerns arise from the fact that there are no standard protocols for how to carry out an active shooter drill, though the federal government has outlined some guidelines. There have been reports of multiple children who’ve found themselves traumatized and increasingly anxious as a result of these drills, and many parents have found themselves disturbed by the effect they are having on their children’s psyches.

Arming Teachers

 Florida has recently taken a hard-line on these issues – passing legislation that allows teachers to be armed. Many are split on the issue, on the fence between being prepared for a worst-case scenario and the potential consequences of an armed instructor in the classroom.

Many people, including Hylton’s security team, believe that arming teachers could lead to the teacher possibly harming a student. They say that teachers are not trained to act in a dangerous situation and arming them would do more harm than good.

Other people are concerned that if there was a shooting at a school, students and teachers could not necessarily rely on the police and security team. Seventeen people died at Parkland. Some people believe that fewer people would have died if there had been armed officers and staff members in the school. 

Conclusion

The question of whether or not Hylton is secure depends on a person’s perspective and beliefs. Some believe Hylton is secure and others believe changes need to be made. There’s no definite way to determine whether or not a school is secure, but with proper protocols and drills in place schools can be prepared for threatening situations.