December 20, 2012
In the aftermath of the horror, amid the debate on how to respond, a bit of perspective: Schools have been, and remain, among the safest places for children – indeed, for anyone. And as a general trend, they've been getting safer.
As brutally heart-wrenching as it is, the murder of 20 children in Connecticut does not visibly nudge the statistical needle. Some facts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, derived from data collected since 1992:
• Violent deaths at schools accounted for less than 1 percent of homicides and suicides among children ages 5-18.
• Rates of school-associated student homicides decreased between 1992 and 2006, though they have been relatively stable since.
• Nearly half of homicide perpetrators gave some type of warning signal, such as threat or note, prior to the event.
So, yes, increase police patrols of parking lots, practice lockdowns and other appropriate responses, and make a thorough review to assure policies and procedures are up to date and being followed. But no, do not start issuing side arms to teachers or locking students behind metal doors for each class.
Children are far more likely to be killed outside of schools. A 2004 joint report by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education calculated the odds a child would die in school by homicide or suicide at about one in one million. And one last stat from the CDC: School-associated homicides account for less than 1 percent of all homicides of victims in the same age group.
Security at local schools has come a long way – a very long way – since The Times Leader conducted a simple test in May of 1998, about a week after four students were killed and 10 wounded in a shooting in Arkansas. After notifying superintendents but asking them not to warn school personnel, two reporters tested nine schools and gained easy access to six, roaming the halls freely for as much as 15 minutes without being questioned.
While security can still seem lax at times, particularly at older schools without two sets of locked doors and a waiting area for visitors to be cleared, control of access is much tighter. Larger districts have their own security forces, the presence of potentially-armed School Resource Officers is common in high schools, and, as several administrators have noted in Times Leader stories in recent days, security protocols are regularly scrutinized and revised, with periodic training. Most local districts have recently done or are scheduled to do new security audits.
It can happen here. It can happen anywhere. But as tragic as the Connecticut slaughter is, as much as it demands a national debate on a variety of topics including gun access and mental illness, it doesn't change this fact:
Our children remain at much greater risk of death outside of schools than in them.