Letter to the Editor: Protect Schoolchildren

Letter to the Editor: Protect Schoolchildren

Regardless of our political affiliation or ideology, we can all agree on one thing: our children are the future, and they must be protected at all costs. The Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas shootings demonstrate that we need to have a “fool proof” comprehensive program in place now. First, the City Council should direct the Superintendent of Public Schools, the Health Department, the Fire Department, the Chief of Police, and the Office of the Sheriff to develop a three-part plan to ensure that every one of our 16 Alexandria school campuses are safe and secure 24 hours a day, and that everyone understands what to do, including first responders. The plans need to be vetted with the teachers and the PTA, so that everyone understands what to do.

First, a physical security program must be implemented. Entrance and egress should be controlled in a similar way, to include scans of backpacks and other items so that anyone wanting to enter a school complex should be cleared to do so. All students, teachers and visitors to every school should be cleared to enter by clearing themselves and any baggage through a magnetometer. In this manner no student or other visitor will be able to sneak a weapon or explosive onto the school grounds. Also, off-duty police officers should be hired to maintain security during the day, and to patrol the school grounds during the non-school hours. Additionally, retired police officers, retired military veterans or other individuals certified in the use of firearms should be hired to provide additional armed protection for our students during the school hours.

Next, a “see something, say something” program should be instilled in the schools. There have been numerous missed opportunities to identify someone who is intending to harm others, despite the individual leaving numerous clues. The PTA should be an integral part of the solution, in conjunction with mental health officials, since parents may be able to identify those likely to be shooters.

Finally, an emergency response program must include detailed plans of action on how to respond to an attack, tailored for each school’s needs.

In 2016, GAO issued a report entitled “Improved Federal Coordination Could Better Assist K-12 School Prepare for Emergencies” (GAO-16-144, March 10, 2016) noting that many states and jurisdictions do not avail themselves of Federal Resources. Recommend the City Council in conjunction with the Police and Sheriff’s Departments review the available resources as outlined in the GAO report and adopt those programs that can be utilized locally. We must be able to implement a system that is similar to what is currently in use in airports, federal buildings or numerous other venues. There is no higher priority than to protect our children, so let’s make it happen.

Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet