The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 28, 2013

Our View: A shield is not a strategy


The Free Press

— It might be useful to go back to the drawing board — whether it be white or not —  and reconsider. A bulletproof whiteboard isn’t really good preparation for the next attack on a school.

The desperation of the Rocori school district to avoid future loss of life in their schools is completely understandable. In 2003 a 15-year-old boy fatally shot two students in the Cold Spring school before a teacher convinced him to put down the gun.

The central Minnesota community never saw it coming, just like the Newton, Mass., school didn’t anticipate their shootings — and every other school before that has suffered such a tragedy.

But turning whiteboards into bulletproof shields isn’t the tactic that is going to protect students and staff. School security experts say that arming school personnel and introducing protective equipment — from bulletproof whiteboards to Kevlar-lined backpacks — are extreme tactics that give a false sense of security. What’s next — 6-inch-thick lunch trays?

Preventive steps such as monitored school entrances and learning to retreat from danger are more realistic ways for school staff and students to cope with threats. Charging at an intruder with a slab of whiteboard as a shield or hiding behind it isn’t the best approach, security experts say.

The positive thing about Rocori district’s school security is that the whiteboard shields are just a small part of its overall plan. Their larger  plan includes lockdown drills, school resource officers and a single point of entry. Those measures all make sense.

Another positive thing is that about half of the district’s 170 boards, which cost about $300 each, were bought by a local business for the district. But the district did pay for the remainder from savings after a construction project came in under budget.

For other school districts, a more sound use of their money would be to put it toward hiring more school counselors or police liaison officers, who  are trained to recognize when youth are troubled — before they are a threat to others or themselves.