Securing schools

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Security at Christian schools.

Earlier this year, the FBI released troubling statistics about so-called active shootings. Let’s begin with a definition: law enforcement says an active shooter is someone actively killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.

In 2017, 30 active shootings in the United States took the lives of 138 people. It marked the first year an active shooting death toll rose above 90 for a single year.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Most of the recent active-shooter violence occurs in large public schools. In 2006, a shooter in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, killed five children in a one-room Amish schoolhouse. Since then, no Christian elementary or high schools have suffered a deadly shooting.

Feeling safe, Christian schools often lack security features commonly in place at public schools. But as WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg reports, that’s starting to change.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Five years ago, when Steve Lessman became headmaster of Southwest Covenant Schools in Yukon, Oklahoma, 290 students attended. Five years later…

LESSMAN: This year Pre-K – 12 will be about 450 students.

Lessman says as the student body grows, the school has worked hard to make security a priority.

LESSMAN: We’ve done some research and have done some consultation with the Secret Service, just an employee with the Secret Service has helped me and provided information.

The Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Secret Service issues school safety and security guidelines and dispatches agents to schools requesting help. That consultation helped Southwest design both its new elementary and high school with security in mind.

LESSMAN: Really the main design is entry points, limiting them, so that there’s one entry point during the school day and that is a controlled access through a buzzer system. We don’t have a lot of turns and twists and corridors, but one long hallway with a with a fisheye camera on it, so you can see the entire hallway anytime.

Tom Cathey is the legislative director for the Association of Christian Schools International. He says over the past few years many schools, like Southwest, have become concerned about improving security.

CATHEY: Parents are asking the questions, the schools are having to take it much more seriously. They’re calling to ask about, you know, what are some of the measures they should take? Do we have any kind of templates for them as to crisis and security management? A lot of times they’re calling to ask what are the gun laws?

As Christian schools work to answer these questions, many are reaching out to security consultants like Bobby Brasher, co-founder of Christian Defense and Safety Solutions. Brasher says over the last year, he’s seen a significant increase in calls for help as many Christian schools realize they are unprepared.

BRASHER: I would say probably 30 percent of the schools have nothing at all.

Brasher says although schools can implement security measures on their own, private consultants and the U.S. Secret Service know the right questions to ask and can create security and emergency plans that fit a school’s specific needs.

BRASHER: Every emergency plan has got to be customized pretty much because you might have a small Episcopal school that is K-6 and they got 75 kids or you might go to a school in Dallas and they got 2,500 and it’s over, you know, 200 acres.

John Ojeisekhoba is the founder of J&O Emergency Management and Security Consultants and is the chief of Campus Safety at Biola University. He sees Christian schools adding a variety of important security measures.

OJEISEKHOBA: What I’m seeing more now is many schools investing in door locking mechanisms. I’ve also seen a lot of schools putting in place an electronic lockdown system that can be locked down from a centralized location. I’m also seeing many schools putting in place panic alarms. But the area I think a lot of schools need to really, really, really work on is do you have emergency building coordinators or building captains in each building?

Both Brasher and Ojeisekhoba say more schools need to emphasize training teachers and staff for emergencies. Southwest Covenant School headmaster Steve Lessman knows that’s a gap in his school’s security.

LESSMAN: In August when we have our back-to-school training, we, we have someone from homeland security that’s going to, uh, give a kind of an evaluation of our campus currently. And then based on that, then he’s going to spend time with our staff and faculty.

Securing a school takes time, planning, and money, but Bobby Brasher notes implementing security after a tragedy is too late.

BRASHER: It’s a process for defending and setting these school defenses up, and so absolutely you’ve got to start.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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