Conn. Shooting Brings Attention To School Security

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Claudio Sanchez talks to Robert Siegel about what schools do to assure that students understand safety procedures.


The nation remains riveted by the news that a gunman has shot and killed 26 people - children and adults - in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The shooter has also been pronounced dead along with an adult at the gunman's home in Newtown. It is every parent's nightmare. You send your children to school and you trust there are security and evacuation plans in place to protect them. Joining us is NPR's education reporter Claudio Sanchez to discuss school security both at Sandy Hook Elementary, where the shooting occurred, and more broadly. And, Claudio, what do we know about security, first, at this school?

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: Here's what we know. In a letter to parents at the beginning of the school year, Dawn Hochsprung, the principal killed in the shooting, announced that the school district had installed a new security system in all schools requiring every visitor to ring the doorbell at the school's main entrance after the doors locked at 9:30 a.m. All doors would remain locked until the end of the school day. Now, the main entrance was under a surveillance and monitored by a central staff who could see who was ringing the doorbell on a TV screen. Visitors buzzed in, then had to report directly to the main office, sign in and present photo ID, but only if school staff did not recognize you.

In her letter to parents, the principal asked them to be patient with the process. She wrote: Please understand that with nearly 700 students and over a thousand parents, most parents will be asked to show identification. Now, apparently, there was no metal detector and there was no security personnel watching the main entrance. What we don't know at this point also is why the new system was necessary, what had existed before, or if something had happened to make school district officials feel like they needed a new system.

SIEGEL: But is the system that they had, and - with the lock and the camera, is that fairly common for schools, and is it considered effective?

SANCHEZ: It is considered very common, although I have to say metal detectors are still very rare in elementary schools. The system at Sandy Hook Elementary itself is actually, again, pretty low tech by today's standards. The more elaborate systems used these days include metal detectors usually used by middle and high schools. TV cameras, school security personnel that patrol the hallways are also pretty common. And in some schools, especially with reputations of having school violence and gang activity, there are always police - there's always a police presence, squad cars that patrol the campus. Clearly, that was not the case here.

Since the 1997-98 school year, Robert, when we saw school shootings, this whole issue has become very debatable, very intense.

SIEGEL: Thank you. NPR's Claudio Sanchez. This is NPR News.

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