8/20/13 ASHLAND, Ohio - A national school safety expert says that schools opening this fall need to remember to put safety first during this school year.
Dr. Amy Klinger, assistant professor of educational administration at Ashland University, says the Newtown school shootings need to continue to be a lesson to schools nationwide. Klinger works with school districts throughout the country and the province of Ontario to prepare them for threats and disasters.
"Schools have a lot of things pulling at them. They have limited resources, they have limited time, they have test scores, and they have all these different accountability measures,” Klinger said. “But safety issues have to rise to the top."
Over the past year, Dr. Klinger put a number of schools’ security measures to the test and most of the schools did not do well.
“We do intruder assessments throughout the nation as part of the vulnerability assessments that we do for school districts,” she said. “In the vast majority of the schools we assessed, our professional intruder was easily able to access the building without interference.”
Klinger said only one or two schools had people who engaged with the “stranger” and denied them access to the school.
“The vast majority of staff members ignored or didn’t notice that a stranger was present in the hallways and classrooms,” she said. “This illustrates that there is still much to be done in the way of school safety.”
Klinger said a fact that was even scarier was that the average time it took “for someone to finally ask” the stranger decoy what she was during in the school was nearly 15 minutes.
“The intruder assessments completed were part of a larger vulnerability assessment of the school district. Districts contract with us to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the risks and vulnerabilities of their schools. A vulnerability assessment looks for safety concerns and risks in the physical facilities, but more importantly in the daily policies and practices of the school,” she said. “There is often a major discrepancy between what a school’s policy says to do, and what is actually done in practice. The intruder assessments clearly illustrate that while a school may have a visitor sign-in policy, unlocked or propped open doors, a lack of supervision and even “tailgating” in through a buzzer systems with other visitors can give unauthorized individuals almost complete access to a school and to students, despite what the policy says.”
Dr. Klinger said she believes that districts’ comprehensive crisis planning or crisis management needs more attention.
“We need to look at bringing our staff, our community, our students together and train them to understand what needs to happen,” she said. “How they need to think differently about safety. How they have ownership of safety. It's not just one person in the building who is responsible for the safety of the building.”
Klinger said we all need to see school leaders, police officers, mental health professionals and parents working together to deal with threats and stop tragedies before they happen.
“We need to be more proactive about assessing the threats that are present, not just for potential school shooters, but for anyone who is risk of committing violence against himself or others,” she said.
Klinger said it is critical that schools develop threat assessment teams that deal not just with facility concerns, but with concerns about people.
“The threat assessment process identifies and assesses individuals of concern by helping schools to ‘connect the dots’ between what is happening with a potentially violent individual in school, at home and in the community,” she said. “Parents play a big role. They must make sure children know that to do if tragedy strikes and find a balance between scaring and preparing them.”
Ashland University, ranked in the top 200 colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category for 2013, is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###