More School Security May Not Be Enough, Parents Say
In the wake of CT shooting, parents said schools need to find the weaknesses in their systems.
For many parents of children under 6 years old, they said they felt it was unnecessary to talk to them about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“My children are 5 and 2-and-a-half,” said Bridgewater resident Jessica Demcsak. “I did not feel the need to discuss the shootings with them because of their age. They did not encounter any news broadcasting at home or in the car, so it was pretty easy to shield them.”
Bridgewater parent Liz Marranca said she has also limited the exposure her children—ages 6, almost 4 and 8 months—have had to news and current events.
“I just told my just turned 6-year-old that a bad man in Connecticut did something bad and we need to pray for people in Connecticut,” she said. “I also reminded him to listen to his teachers, and if a teacher tells them to run, just run. And keep running until you get to a safe place.”
Bridgewater resident Jamie Pear said she also chose not to talk to her children, ages 4 and 1, about the incident.
“I felt that it was not appropriate to delve into this particular tragedy,” she said. “When I do talk to my older son about painful topics, the conversation is two-fold, how he tried to protect himself and how he can support his community.”
“I want him to feel empowered within his own life, but also to realize that such control has its limits,” she added. “The hope is to teach him about the importance of community, how we can all be a part of making change possible, even in the face of unfathomable pain.”
And for many parents, hearing the news for themselves was just shocking.
“There really are no words, it’s so shocking,” said Bridgewater parent Rebecca Brown. “It’s hard to believe it even happened, and I think there are very few things you can expect in our world.”
“One thing all parents expect is to drop their kids off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon,” she added. “It is heartbreaking and terrifying.”
On Friday, Pear said, her 4-year-old was at school, but she decided to pick him up early after more news of the shooting was released.
“I needed to see his little face and hold him,” she said. “Over the weekend, I spent extra time cuddling with both children, and it was difficult to drop them off [Monday]. I immediately went to speak to the administrators about increasing safety measures at their school. I then drove away and cried.”
Demcsak agreed that it was difficult to send her child to school Monday.
“However, as a working mom, I have no choice,” she said. “Knowing that I trust their school, and that they have fabulous loving teachers helped put me more at ease.”
As a teacher herself, Demcsak said, she knows that drills are done to prepare for certain situations, and there are buzzers at the doors of her child’s school, but that may not be enough.
“I don’t know if there is a way to completely protect the children in school apart from what has already been done,” she said. “Maybe schools could install bulletproof glass or solid doors without windows in classrooms, but school buildings are outdated as it is, and they have a difficult time fixing the little things, but I do think some legislative changes need to be made on gun control, as well as with helping the mentally ill.”
Marranca, a special education teacher, said she knows there are more than just gun control issues at stake in this situation.
“I have, and have had, mentally ill students,” she said. “I think schools need federal and state monies to improve the actual buildings and install better panic security, like how can we announce lockdown if the front office staff is shot dead? Horrible to even imagine because my son’s kindergarten room is feet from his main office.”
Marranca said there just needs to be more of some kind of security or something else.
“There needs to be more, of what exactly I’m not sure,” she said. “I, like every mother in America, am grieving for those angels and their teachers who gave their own lives to protect their children.”
But Brown said she doesn’t think it’s as easy as just talking about gun control and school safety.
“This person shot his way into the school, so you can have certain types of security measures that may provide some comfort, but the answer is not so easy,” she said. “My school has a security key that you have to swipe to get in, but that’s not to say that if someone wanted to get in they wouldn’t figure out a way.”
Brown said she believes there needs to be discussions about what could be done, and what could have been done.
“Were more children saved because he had to shoot in, or because someone turned on an intercom to hear gun shots?” she asked. “Is there an effective way to communicate?”
“I think there are things we can learn from this,” she added.
Bridgewater parent Stacey Friedlander said her son attends school at the Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center, and they have said they are planning to make some changes. They are also, she said, asking parents to pitch in by not opening doors for anyone who does not have a card proving they belong at the school.
“They are asking caregivers to come to the building and not let anyone in who doesn’t have an ID card or key card,” she said.
Friedlander, herself a teacher in Florham Park, said all the doors in her building are always locked, and guests have to be buzzed in at the main office in order to come in.
“We have had parents letting other parents in, and holding the doors open, but that will not be happening any longer,” she said. “And we had a larger police presence there making everyone feel safe.”
Still, Friedlander said, these measures may not be enough. Maybe, she said, they should be putting alarm systems on all windows and doors.
“In the back of every parents’ mind, and teachers’, we know we can do whatever we want in terms of security with buzzers and cameras, but with this recent incident, none of those precautions stopped it from happening,” she said. “There isn’t one school that can protect itself from that.”
“What are we going to do, put a force field around the building?” she added. “No one knows what to do, other than beefing up what we are already doing.”
And, Friedlander said, it may be important to leave some of these decisions in the hands of the policy makers.
“Let’s make sure every district is on the same page, and hopefully the governor will lead the way,” she said. “I hope our leaders will put politics aside and come together in making a statement.”
With the world the way it is, Brown said, people need to understand that the systems are designed to deal with what people are aware of in terms of what could happen next.
“Now we live in a different world,” she said. “The best thing we can do is find the weaknesses and correct them.”