We have ample evidence that students and staff in schools with poor access control, visitor sign in procedures and student sign out protocols are at increased risk. Here are just a few examples of the types of cases we see relating to these areas:
- A daughter of the owner of a prominent pasta maker was abducted from a Florida independent school by a man posing as his bodyguard who signed the student out for a dental appointment. He and an accomplice were arrested by FBI agents after they demanded a one million dollar ransom.
- A Kansas elementary student was sexually molested by a man who refused to stop and identify himself to school employees.
- Two Tennessee elementary students were murdered by their father after he signed them out of school in violation of a court order. The man wrote in the sign out log that the reason for signing out the students was “payback”.
- A man entered an unlocked side door of a Georgia elementary school and embedded a metal hammer in a student’s skull causing permanent brain damage.
- Bibb County, Georgia school police officers arrested a man who tried to sign out the son of his ex-girlfriend at an elementary school after he had vowed to kill the boy. Officers recovered a loaded .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol and several knives from the man who had driven fourteen hours from Pennsylvania to kill the child.
Though we are and should be shocked by such terrible acts, we should not be at all surprised by them. These types of incidents have been taking place for many years at public and non-public schools in urban, suburban and rural communities. When we look at the grisly acts of violence that sometimes take place in our communities, we should not be taken by surprise when the types of people who will commit such terrible acts decide to do so at schools.
In any week, we can see horrific acts of violence committed against children, youth, ex-wives, ex-husbands and other victims that have clear implications for the need to provide proper security in our schools. Last week, 34-year-old Aaron Schaffhausen allegedly drove from Minot, North Dakota to a small town in Wisconsin and brutally murdered all three of his daughters, tucked their bodies in their beds and sent his wife a text message telling her that he had killed the girls.
School employees in all positions should understand that a person who will carry out such a brutal act of violence against his own children will not hesitate to come to the finest independent, charter, public or parochial school, in the nicest part of town and forever change the lives of innocent students and staff.
We know how offenders can beat even high-tech security systems if school employees are not trained and empowered to provide good security with solid and enforced procedures, quality staff development and true leadership. Though the public and the processes of civil litigation will judge the actions of school officials who do not realize the danger and act appropriately in time, the gravest punishment can be internal. When we fail to properly address these dangers, we must live with the knowledge that we did not do what is reasonable and appropriate when tragedy strikes. To paraphrase what one educator from a school where one of the above incidents occurred told an audience I was presenting to – we paid millions of dollars but we can never bring these children back, we killed them by trusting people too much. The chances are high that this fall, there will be an elementary school within a short drive of this horrible crime scene where anyone can walk right in through an unlocked door and gain access to innocent students due to unrealistically lax school security.
We are all on notice to the danger, but are we all really listening to the warnings?