FEELING WHOLE AGAIN: Pros and cons of heightened school security

One students says too much change could rob school of ‘homey environment’

Feeling Whole Again is a series on how an Abbotsford school and community work through issues of healing and security in the aftermath of fatal violence, ahead of a public meeting on Jan. 25. Click here for a list of the stories in the series.


Schools provide a safe environment for kids to learn, develop friendships and grow up, all the while being partially sheltered from some of the harsh realities of the “real world.”

But when violence intrudes, that perception of safety is challenged.At least a couple of parents told a forum held a few days after the stabbings that they wanted to see metal detectors and locked doors in the school.

But those speakers were “quickly shut down” by other parents who felt such stringent security would create more trepidation than it cured, according to Diane Horner, who was in attendance.

“There’s enough fear in the world that we don’t need to put it at school with kids,” said Horner, a mother of two kids at Abby Senior and a member of its parent advisory council.

A Grade 12 student, who asked not to be named, agreed, saying strict security would take away from the “homey environment” she has come to expect from her school.

“We go to school to interact with people. We go to school to learn. We don’t go to school to feel like there’s a threat,” she said.

Attacks play into fear of crime, despite what statistics say: expert

High-security campuses are not immune to violent attacks. In 1999, Columbine High School had armed guards and locked doors, but that failed to prevent the attackers from entering the school and even placing bombs in the weeks leading up to the attack.

Many school and government officials, students and parents supported the idea that higher security would hamper the learning environment.

But the scientific research doesn’t actually support the viewpoint, according to registered psychologist Lynn Miller, a retired University of B.C. researcher who has spent her career examining how to prevent anxiety disorders among school-age children.

Just as air travellers quickly became accustomed to heightened security at airports since 9/11, Miller said students would adjust to metal detectors, locked interior doors and armed guards.

“Look at how many millions of people pass through airports in North America every day. We’re taking off our shoes and we’re taking off our belts and we’re going through these things where you have to put your arms above your head and it’s a 180 [degree] scan… Those people in line aren’t anxious.”

Irwin Cohen, a professor at the University of the Fraser Valley, studies how violence can affect people’s perception about their own safety.

“Certainly after a serious violent act, people tend to be more fearful,” Cohen said. Yet, the statistics don’t always show that crime has gone up.

UFV’s Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research, of which Cohen is director, conducted a survey for the Surrey RCMP following a harrowing attack on a mother at a hockey rink.

Julie Paskall was waiting to pick up her son from the Newton Arena a few days before Christmas in 2013, when she was beaten to death in what was believed to be a robbery gone wrong.

Nearly half of those living in Newton said they believed that crime in their neighbourhood had gone up following the Paskall attack. But the numbers showed that violent crime had actually decreased by nine per cent.

In response to the survey, the Surrey RCMP’s chief superintendent held several public forums to discuss crime rates and what officers were doing, as well as to hear from citizens.

“This can go some way in alleviating some of the fear,” Cohen said. “Some communities have also created dashboards on their police or city websites to provide real time data on crime trends, locations of crime, and nature of crime.”

Students will adapt, administrator says

Miller has visited several private Jewish schools in Vancouver, where security is significantly higher than public schools in the region. You must show ID to a close-circuit TV camera before being buzzed in.

“And then, that’s it,” she said. “The kids there are happy and yelling and it’s a regular old school.”

Jewish institutions, including schools, synagogues and cultural centres, are historically “targets of people with an unsavoury agenda,” said Alex Monchamp, deputy head of King David High School in Vancouver’s Oakridge neighbourhood.

King David has a sophisticated security system in place, Monchamp said, but to protect its integrity, he could not give many details.

“It’s kind of like Fight Club: The first rule about school security is you don’t talk about school security.”

He did, however, confirm that the school is a locked facility, which requires identification before someone may enter.

Monchamp said the protocols do not affect the learning environment.

“The kids are used to the routine. The teachers are used to the routine. Whomever we have visiting the school… they understand how we operate as a building and it doesn’t impact any of the school experiences for the kids,” he said.

He said the notion that higher security creates anxiety among students is unfair, and recommended that Abbotsford’s school district consider implementing a similar system.

“I think the world isn’t the same as when I went to school, when our parents went to school,” he said. “The world is just a little different and,  unfortunately, I think it’s better to be cautious than to be sorry.”

 

 

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