NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 3, 2013

Protecting our children is the legacy of Sandy Hook

As I See It
Joe D'Amore

---- — There is a date approaching that will surely enshroud our nation in thoughtful remembrance of those who passed and how the innocence of childhood could be shattered in just a blink of an eye. That date, Dec. 14, will commemorate the first anniversary of that tragic day when brave souls were lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

There has been much public debate and some consternation after the mourning and most of it has been centered on gun control — the degree that was required to have prevented a mad man from committing atrocities against innocents and the degree to which it is currently lacking. But as a nation the reconciliation between the two has yet to be achieved and as a society we cannot adequately defend the lives of children and their caretakers in our school until there is a more pronounced restriction in arming those who wish to harm others.

So since this achievement holds no promise in materializing soon, what we must do is to initiate protective measures in our public buildings. The goal is to arm those who are charged with watching over our children not with guns, but with procedures, tools and public policy that enables them to create and maintain practical and meaningful measures of safety.

The first area of procedure is the shelter-in-place. Originally used as a term to describe a temporary, emergency measure to protect people in a chemical, nuclear or natural disaster, the dangerous world we now live in has added a new meaning for policy makers. Teachers and administrators can be immersed in a variety of procedures that will allow them to isolate children in relatively protective areas if a building’s security has been compromised by a harmful person.

Closely related to shelter-in-place is the lockdown. Similarly, teachers need to know exactly how to protect our children during dangerous situations and whether to use a partial lockdown, where there is limited movement to a safe building with barricading procedures, or full lockdown, which is isolation and barricading.

Evacuation procedure is another vital area of rigorous policy formulation, protocol and practice. Who orders it and what process is followed to ensure that children are safeguarded during a movement from a dangerous area to a safer one is vital. We can all recall those poignant photos of that defining day when crying children who held onto each other in single file were led away by brave teachers.

Some practical devices are essential too. Security cameras, locks, safety doors and windows with sensible security check-in procedures are the basics. There is also a relatively inexpensive device called the Durkin Door Latch that allows a classroom teacher to quickly lock a door without the need for keys or any action of turning a lock.

With focused effort and the will to work together in collaboration with law enforcement officials, fire departments and school security personnel, we can at least reach a level of enhanced safety for our children that was not the norm for most schools in the past.

Advocacy is the act of lending a voice to those who don’t have one. The children in our public schools should be the focus of our new advocacy and rebirth of public calls for enhancing protection of our public buildings and schools.

If we achieve this as a society we will provide a splendid legacy to the innocents who lost their lives on one of the darkest days in recent memory.

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Joe D’Amore writes from Groveland.