Planning Our Way to Safer Schools and Churches

By Rob Morse | SlowFacts


Protecting innocent people is serious business. Smart men and women gave it a lot of thought. We now know a lot about mass murderers. We know how to prevent some of their attacks on our schools and churches. Unfortunately, we don’t know enough to stop all of them and we probably never will. That means we need an effective response to an attack in addition to a program of prevention. I emphasize the word effective because we can call anything a “safety program”. An effective program addresses the largest threats before it focuses on the less likely or less dangerous threats. Here are two stories about protecting our schools and churches.. or not.

Defend Them or Leave Them Defenseless

I read reports from local school boards who are considering school safety. Someone invariably says something like this.

‘It isn’t fair making teachers protect their students.’

I agree. It is not fair. Neither is it fair to go to funerals after innocent people are murdered because defending them was considered too unpleasant or inconvenient. There is more to say about armed staff, but courts recently confirmed that the police have no duty to protect us. That appies at home, at church, and at school. Fortunately, there are church and school staff who want to be protectors as well as educators. It makes my heart leap that we have such men and women.

Some school boards will accept their duty to keep our children safe. In contrast, some school boards and church governing boards will say it is society’s problem to stop mass murderers. Those two choices lead to very different endings.

That leads us to our first truth.

It is extremely dangerous to expect the world we want..
..and refuse to see the world we have.

Our society creates murderers and our media rewards them. We should protect innocent people at schools and at churches as long as that threat remains. We don’t have to give up our ideals to protect our kids. We can make progress in this imperfect world and also want to change the world for the better.

The school of clear-thinking will adopt a self-defense program. The church of perpetual idealism will not.

Not Quite Ready for Church or School

Security is a real world problem. We have years of experience protecting our schools and churches. Churches and schools formed regional groups that shared the lessons they’d learned. You might think that adopting a security program would be a well established process. It isn’t. The school board and school staff customize the security plan to fit a particular school.

It is easy to confuse these plans with reality; to confuse how we hope things will happen with the chaos of an attack. There is tremendous temptation to define every detail. You can delay a program forever by constantly adding to it and rewriting it.

That takes us to our second truth.

The lure of perfection in the future delays progress in the present.

Effective plans are a work in progress. The church of incremental improvement implemented an imperfect plan that they will revise in six months. The school of perpetual procrastination formed another study committee to recommend a schedule for studying a security plan.

Politics or Wisdom

Sometimes, school security teams uncover a deficiency in state law. That can be a significant problem because large political forces influence state regulators. For example, how can our school or church be protected when a School Resource Officer or an off-duty police officer isn’t present? Is it safe for our children to be there? Should we shut the school down? There is no guarantee that best practice will be enacted into legislation. Politics rears its ugly head.

Most legislators stick to the preapproved talking points provided by their political party. Politicians deviate from that routine only when they think they can secure larger campaign contributions. As expected, state employee unions lobby for more money and power.

That leads us to our next truth.

Most legislation is designed to promote the legislator
rather than promote the general welfare.

Fortunately, these legislators and special interests will do the right thing when they are forced to do so by public demand. We simply have to apply enough political pressure that it is in their interest to do the right thing. Politics is determined by those who show up, testify, call, and donate. This separates the keyboard commandos from those of us who want to save our children.

Are Those Rules or Needs?

Don’t underestimate the detrimental effect of political lobbying. Changing a few words in legislation can turn a realistic safety plan into waste paper. We want school staff trained to protect their students, but we don’t need these defenders to be police officers. School teachers will never conduct high-speed pursuits or transports prisoners from one jail to another. Staff don’t need to secure chains of evidence.

That training simply isn’t necessary to protect our children. The instructors who established the national training requirements for School Resource Officers only needed three days to train teachers to be armed first responders.

That leads us to another truth about protecting our schools and churches.

Most law enforcement training is designed to indemnify the institution
rather than to deliver essential skills to the trainee.

Of course, more training is better, but most law enforcement training isn’t applicable for school staff. Don’t let bureaucrats distract you. What is important for them is not necessarily important for us. Don’t confuse a bureaucrat’s interests with the personal accountability of volunteer defenders.

Testing and Development

One thing is certain. Security plans change..and they should. You won’t protect your congregation next year in the same way you’re protecting them today. For one thing, plans change as the existing staff gets more training and as new staff are brought onboard. One of the benchmarks of any mature safety program is a walkthrough with other agencies like the fire department, EMTs, and the local law enforcement agencies.

That exercise inevitably uncovers necessary improvements. Depending on the campus, where should police park their cars and advance on foot? Where should healthy students shelter until they are reunited with their families? We learn a lot as we different organizations try and work together.

That leads us to our last truth.

In theory, theory never fails. Test the plan before you adopt it into daily practice.

Ideas that look good on paper don’t always work as planned. A healthy organization sees this as an opportunity to improve their program and make the school safer.

Hard Knocks High School will either train or tests their security plan once a month. The Saint Pollyanna Day School never tried to lock their doors.

The Greatest is All of Them

Whatever we do today is only a starting place. We make our children safer with a thousand small decisions made day after day. Every effective safety program is a shifting mixture of new ideas and time tested techniques. Laws and governing boards have to allow that growth.

We know too much to leave our schools and churches vulnerable. Don’t let politics put our children at risk. Not at the your state capital, not at your school board, and not at your church governing board. In the final analysis, it is up to us, not to them.

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