Editor’s Note: The names of students have been altered to protect their privacy.
There have been several mass shootings that have occurred recently. Some of these shootings have taken place at schools. In response, many people believe that precautions have to be taken to ensure the safety of students and teachers.
Holly Flora, the principal of John Sevier Middle School, was hit hard by the news of the recent shootings.
“It is heartbreaking to me that there are students, teachers and families who have had to experience the horror of a school shooting,” she said.
Elizabeth Franklin, a sixth grade student at John Sevier Middle School, agrees.
“I think that they are tragic things that have happened and I’m surprised at how easy it is for someone to bring a gun into school,” she said.
Flora believes that school safety is very important.
“School Safety is a priority for every school system,” she said. “Our first obligation to students and families is that we are able to keep students safe at school.”
Flora feels that Sevier Middle takes a lot of effective safety precautions.
“We have a secure entrance, bullet resistant film over windows, and first aid kits in all rooms,” she said. “We also have a detailed Emergency Response Plan and Quick Response Booklets that outline safety procedures at Sevier. We have these in a quick flipbook form for all Sevier staff, so that, in the event of an emergency, there is a quick ‘go to’ for procedures. We also follow a strict drill schedule for intruder drills, evacuation drills and fire and tornado drills.”
School Resource Officer Brad Conkin thinks that safety starts with the students.
“We have put police in schools, added cameras and many other thing across this country, but until the students speak up, this will continue,” he said. “What I mean by this is that every time there is a school shooting, a student from that school says the next day that they always thought that kid would do something, but did not want to be a snitch. Kids have to speak up and know that if you heard something, please say something. You could save many lives.”
Jane Ruth, a seventh grade student, felt worried about going to school after hearing about the school shootings.
“Yeah, I feel anxious about it, but I have anxiety,” she said. “I trust the system, but shooters normally have everything planned out to avoid delay, so yes, I’m anxious about going to school with shooters loose.” Maria Franklin disagrees. “I don’ t feel that way because I feel that this school is safe,” she said.
At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where one of the recent shootings occurred, students have to wear clear backpacks, which are intended to prevent a student from carrying a weapon in their backpack.
“I do not believe that Sevier students have shown us that all students need clear backpacks,” Flora said. “If student behavior revealed that there was a reason it may be beneficial for safety reasons for them to carry a clear backpack, then I would think that may be something to be considered, but on an individual basis.”
Clarissa Indy, an eighth grade student, agrees.
“No, clear backpacks should not be used, because someone could easily put a weapon into a smaller bag and put the smaller bag into the backpack,” she said.
This year, more and more students are protesting to strengthen gun laws to make their schools safer and to prevent any more school shootings from occurring. Flora has positive feelings about the actions students are taking at Sevier.
“I am proud of the work JSMS and KCS students have done to address school safety concerns,” she said. “Through proactive actions such as writing legislators, voicing questions and concerns to school administrators and counselors, and by making an effort to ‘pay it forward’ by voicing kindness and positive remarks to others, I believe students are making a difference in an extremely impactful way.”
“I enjoy seeing kids come together to stand up for their friends they lost,” he said. “It’s incredibly brave and inspiring.”
The first line of defense when it comes to school safety is, of course, the school resource officer.
“My main job is to make sure that 820 kids walk in the door every morning and 820 kids walk out,” Conkin said. “If danger ever tried to shows its ugly face at Sevier, I take it very personal that it’s an attack on my kids and will eliminate the danger. I feel that I am to protect you guys like I would my own and that is why I am here.”
It is important for schools to practice intruder drills so students know what to do to protect themselves from danger. Schools have a requirement for the minimum number of intruder drills that are done every year.
“We did an intruder drill during the first 30 days of school and 3 additional safety drills, such as tornado, shelter in place or another intruder drill,” Flora said. “We typically exceed the minimal number of drills required in order to ensure that all staff understand procedures and to continually improve our processes.”
If a student ever brings a weapon to school, there will be consequences.
“The KCS student handbook outlines consequences for various weapons brought to school,” Flora said. “If a student brings a gun of any kind to school, it is a zero tolerance offense.”
According to Conkin, the consequences go far beyond school.
“Students will be charged criminally and taken to JCDC,” Conkin said. “A weapon on school property is a zero tolerance offence and carries a long term suspension. After being taken to JCDC, the student will appear in court after a 48 hour lock up and go before a judge for sentencing.”
Sevier students generally agree with these consequences.
“They shouldn’t come back to school and they should be sent to juvie,” Franklin said.
“I think they should at least be expelled, and then the police should do an investigation of some sort to determine what should happen after that.”
The issue of raising the allotted age for gun ownership has sparked controversy, with some people saying that the age needs to be raised, while others believe that it is not necessary.
“Age and gun, I feel, have no correlation,” Conkin said. “We have laws in place to keep guns out of the hands of convicted criminals, but we often find criminals with guns. The law has been in place for many, many years and has now proven not to be effective, so raising the age, I feel, would have little impact, but I am not against it either.”
Conkin knows what is important for students to know about the safety of schools.
“School safety is something we always need to be working on and trying to improve every year. It is a group effort and will take the entire community to stand up and say ‘not at my school’ ,” Conkin said.
If an intruder enters a school, it is imperative that the students know what to do.
“If an intruder is in our building, we would immediately go into lock-down procedures,” Flora said.
Fortunately, students do know what to do if an intruder goes into their school.
“I do know what to do, I just don’ t want to have to do that, especially if you get caught out of the room,” Ruth said. “I’ve stopped using the restroom for that reason.”
Franklin also knows.
“You need to stay away from the door and make sure that the doors are locked and you need to block the door with chairs and desks and take cover,” she said.
In the end, Conkin is confident that Sevier is safe.
“I am very honored to work as the SRO at Sevier and feel confident in our student body, who have shown to make great decisions and set good examples of how a school should be,” he said.