Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

School Daze

Posted October 18, 2007

When we were growing up no one worried about guns or knives at school.  No one entering a school had to pass through a metal detector, be patted down by a security guard, or have their backpacks searched.  My how the world has changed.  Some people like to say kids today live in "the real world" as opposed to earlier generations where childhood was characterized by an almost Disney-like expectation of safety.  Personally, I think the "the real world" is a place where adults should live, but it's no place for a child if it means that they are exposed to dangerous and frightening situations. 

Today Raleigh Police responded swiftly to the report of a possible handgun at a local middle school.  A witness called the report in setting a school system safety plan in motion.  Law enforcement locked down the school- meaning that no one could come in or out.  The blinds were closed, the lights turned off, and kids hid under their desks.  Doors to classrooms and leading outside were locked.  Police cars with blue lights spinning and ambulances on standby surrounded the perimeter of the school while officers made a security sweep of the building and the grounds.  Ultimately they found a 13-year-old with a BB gun in the school's media center.  It was a good ending to a bad story.  No one was hurt, but it left me thinking about the different world our children are living in today.

I had the opportunity to talk to concerned parents who were anxiously waiting outside the school to make sure their children were safe.  As the minutes ticked off (the ordeal last about two hours) they grew more worried, more frustrated, and more vocal about their frustrations.  One mother told me that her daughter told her it was becoming increasingly common for kids to bring weapons to school.  A grandmother told me that someone had been killed outside her grandson's school recently- a school just down the road.  It was clear these parents feared for their children's safety on a daily basis. 

The question of how do we solve this problem is a big one.   I'll be the first one to admit I don't have the magic answers.  Certainly  the school system and the law enforcement community should train and prepare for these threats.  It would be irresponsible not to.  But the bigger issue is how do you prevent them in the first place without  creating a "police state" environment in our public schools?

The bottom line is that safety of children should be paramount in our society.  The school and all of the law enforcement agencies are to be commended for how professionally they handled the perceived threat today.  They have no choice but to take these threats seriously and respond accordingly.  But we as a society have to figure out ways to prevent it from happening.  Our children should not have to feel unsafe, ever, period.

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