, Corbin, KY

January 10, 2013

Student education important in school safety

The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — Gripping terror — that’s what many parents felt after hearing the news about Newtown, Conn.

That terror led to thousands of phone calls nationwide to all types of school administrators and law enforcement officials, asking if they were prepared.

Whitley and Knox counties fielded those calls too.

Since the Columbine tragedy in Colorado in 1999, several school shootings have revived these burning questions.

With each shooting, the questions start, the concerns are spoken about, and then complacency resumes as normal.

And nothing ever gets addressed until it’s too little, too late.

Both Whitley and Knox counties responded by forming committees to review safety procedures and crisis management plans.

Both groups feel the days of complacency are over — it’s time to be vigilant about student safety.

What’s been found so far? While all officials unilaterally agree safety of the children in school comes first, not every agency is on the same page when it comes to crisis control.

And that must immediately change.

That’s what makes these committees so important.

I’ve written about and attended these gatherings, and one subject I feel needs to be addressed and hasn’t yet, to my knowledge, is student education.

We all want to shield our kids from bad news that might scare them. It’s a parent’s protective nature.

But sometimes ignorance may not be bliss.

Let me better explain. During regular school hours, I went to a school Wednesday to retrieve some documents I had requested.

I am not here to call the school out — I’m just presenting a scenario that ran through my mind as the following was happening.

I parked on campus, and chatted away on a cell phone before entering the building.

I huffed on my cigarette, one leg hanging out the door.

My vehicle has no marking on it to say where I’m from, so visually, I was a complete stranger.

I went to the building’s main entrance, and went through the door.

I was greeted by a closed door with a buzzer next to it, with directions on how to get office assistance.

I was pleased to see it, and hoped it was beneficial.

And then the potential deadly mistake was made.

There were three or four students in the office area, and one turned around, saw me and pushed open the door.

I buzzed nothing — in fact, I didn’t even make visual contact with any school personnel before I waltzed in the office.

I had no visible credentials, and in fact was wearing semi-ratty blue jeans and my huge winter coat — which holds all kinds of goodies for me.

But it could have held all kinds of firepower as well — and no one would have had a chance in that room.

Had I been a crazed shooter, instead of a reporter, I could have eliminated the entire front office staff and four or more students in seconds before anyone knew what was happening.

What you get left with is an active shooter behind a buzz-in door running rampant through a fully-packed school, murdering whoever, wherever until he stops himself or gets stopped by police.

And with the locked door, there’s no way for law enforcement to get through to “save the day.”

No one wants this to happen in their schools — and many may retain the thought “It can’t happen here.”

But it can.

Since 1996, there have been more than 60 shootings at schools across the United States, many of which happened in schools similar in size to our Tri-County educational systems.

In 2012, 38 students and faculty were killed in schools across the nation, including the 26 killed in Connecticut.

As has been said by both school officials and law enforcement during these meetings, there is no way to 100 percent prevent a tragedy like this from happening.

Sandy Hook Elementary reportedly did everything by the book — this shooter blasted his way through the doors, which obliterated any procedural practices performed by school officials.

But like a good Scout, we all must be prepared.

It can happen here.

John L. Ross is a reporter for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at