In 2012, the world was shocked after a gunman shot and killed 26 first-graders and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Many parents were terrified after this incident and called on their own schools to tighten up security.
Across the country, school districts are seriously working to improve their security. Educators are thinking about ways to make schools and children safer from mass shootings and other potential disasters. School districts are spending millions dollars for improvement of security. The schools are hiring police officers and security guards and equipping them with high-tech radios for communication. In addition, they are putting teachers and emergency responders through active shooter drills, writes Denise Smith Amos of The Florida-Times Union.
Charlie Van Zant, superintendent of Clay County schools, said that everyone is now viewing the prospect of an armed intruder at school as a possibility. And they are trying to plan for it.
"Sandy Hook really rocked our nation because it happened at an elementary school," Van Zant said. "It caused a real increase in vigilance. â¦ [Preparing for a shooter] is not really paranoia; it's a possibility. It would be irresponsible to not be prepared."
Schools are actively preparing pupils. They no longer just practice fire drills, but they huddle in darkened classrooms during lock-downs and shelter in place to keep out of sight. School districts are also spending money on digital cameras, fences and gates, and security lighting.
Campus Safety magazine recently released a survey of 600 school districts. The survey showed that 88% had made changes in security after Sandy Hook. The National Association of School Resource Officers recently said it has trained 1,800 officers in 2013, twice as many as it trained in 2012.
Federal grant for school security also increased. In September 2013, the Department of Justice said it will spend nearly $45 million for 356 new school officer positions. Also, President Barack Obama has requested Congress to approve $150 million for school safety in 2013.
However, there are limits to how much safety schools and taxpayers can afford. The Congressional Research Service said that providing one police officer in every school would cost at least $2.6 billion a year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research shows that schools are still safe locations for children. Over the past 20 years, there have been about 600 violence-related student deaths in public and private schools, or about 30 a year among 60 million children.
Despite the numbers, some parents say schools don't seem as safe as they once did. "There is nothing to indicate that schools are any safer today than one, two or three years prior, because there is no reliable way to foresee when these incidents will arise," said Manny Barrientos, who lives in Southside Jacksonville.
"There is no way to fully protect schools from people who are insane and determined to kill, but steps should be taken to minimize the risk," said Rosalina Ayala, a Mandarin mother of three. Often those steps cost a lot of money.