Security coupled with with caring

Mindful of the reality that a school shooting, while statistically rare, is as likely to happen here as anywhere, Rogue Valley school officials are working to increase building security and raise awareness about dangerous behaviors in the hopes of heading off tragedy before it happens. All of those efforts are important, and parents and community members should support them.

As critical as security and preparedness are, it’s important to remember that the primary function of schools is to teach our children. Keeping them safe is a big part of that, but parents and the community must share some of the responsibility.

A series of stories by Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay and our television partner KTVL outlined security measures taken to make school buildings less vulnerable to an intruder intent on violence. In Medford, fencing, doorbell buzzers and microphones along with cameras allow school staff to see and speak to anyone seeking entry to the buildings. Entry points have been limited.

Security challenges vary. At Ashland High School, which was designed to mimic a college campus, the open architecture means more entry points, not fewer. Ashland is in discussion with security experts about potential changes, and that district is considering a ballot measure to address safety measures.

Eagle Point is also floating a bond measure, which would pay for a keyless lock system allowing an instant lockdown and satellite-connected cameras that would let first responders see what was happening before they arrived.

Beyond security, districts are placing more emphasis on student counseling and staff training to catch behavioral issues with students that could lead to tragedy if not addressed. In Medford and Eagle Point, that means more mental health counselors; in Ashland, administrators chose to hire more academic counselors instead, reasoning that their close relationships with students would make them better able to direct them to mental health resources when needed. Neither of these approaches is necessarily better or worse than the other. The important thing is that school officials are focused on developing relationships with students and monitoring their emotional well-being.

That’s where parents and community members come in. In the past, school shooters have exhibited warning behaviors that could have allowed tragedy to be averted if someone had intervened with them soon enough. Not all the behaviors are the same, and many youths who manifest these behaviors or personality traits will never act out violently. But parents who pay attention to their children’s behavior, their use of social media and what they are thinking and feeling are a key element in getting them help when they need it. The same goes for other relatives, family and friends.

Security measures are important, but even the most secure school building cannot hope to be completely invulnerable to an attack. Looking out for students’ emotional well-being is of primary importance, and that takes an entire community.

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