I had the pleasure of keynoting the Council for Educational Facilities Planners International (CEFPI) Safe Schools Symposium – Best Practices for Your School in Raleigh, North Carolina this week. Architects, school planners, engineers and education leaders from as far away as Alaska attended the conference. We had an excellent group of attendees and it was an absolute pleasure to get to interact with so many talented professionals from the various disciplines. School safety is a major issue and incorporating school safety and security into new school construction as well as renovation projects is a critical aspect. Many of the architects expressed concerns relating to school clients who are moving hastily to remove glass from their new school projects due to fear of gunmen. While this approach may make people feel better in the conceptual phase, school safety experts generally agree that this can increase danger. When we review the research on crime prevention through environmental design and listen to experienced school safety directors, it becomes apparent that this approach can have the opposite effect of increasing school safety challenges rather than reducing them.
This is the fifth school design conference I have keynoted this year and I have heard the same feedback at all five events. School officials are very concerned about school safety and are asking architects to make changes to school plans. Sometimes this will have a positive effect on school safety and in other cases, things may not go so well. The strong reactions since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School have made most people far more focused on school safety than in the past.
We urge our clients to be thoughtful and to evaluate the research when making school safety decisions. It is very easy to create a harsh institutional climate while reducing the ability of students and staff to detect danger when our desire to create safe schools becomes out of balance with our actual levels of risk.