Special Report: How safe are our schools?

Over the past decade, school safety has become an unprecedented nation-wide issue following numerous instances of shocking classmate and intruder-led attacks on students, teachers and administrators.

According to data provided by the National School Safety Center, there have been 410 deaths in America related to school violence since 1992, with 324 of them from shootings. School gunmen started to gain national infamy in the late 1990’s, beginning in 1997 with a calculated onslaught in Pearl, Miss., carried out by several disturbed teenagers who left two students and one of the killer’s mothers dead. The violence in Pearl was followed by a rash of other high profile school massacres, including shootings in West Paducah, Ky., Jonesboro, Ark., and the horrific attack in 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where two students killed 13 of their classmates and teachers, and then turned the guns on themselves.

“Kids have found more lethal ways to settle arguments,” said Dr. Ted Feinberg, an expert with the National Association of School Psychologists. “In years past they were maybe settled with a bloody nose or bloody elbow on the playground.” In a phone interview with The Evening Sun, Feinberg said bullying, alienation and a general feeling of disconnection to society has allowed some students to rationalize committing horrific acts of violence that were unthinkable before. “Certainly we know drug issues, parenting issues, a lack of education, and a lack of cohesive community relationships can be contributing factors,” he said.

Earlier this year, hostage situations perpetrated by middle-aged gunmen at Platt Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo., and an Amish School in Quarryville, Pa., which in separate incidents left several female students dead, have now brought school safety from outside forces into question.

The Experiment

On Monday morning of last week, in light of the recent violence, five Evening Sun reporters tested the outside and inside security at nine schools in seven local districts by attempting to enter the buildings through unlocked doors – and then finding out how long they could travel the halls without being recognized and stopped as strangers. Coincidentally, the tests occurred the day before a walk-through security assessment at Sherburne-Earlville High School was to be conducted, and on the same day as an incident at Norwich Middle School where a student reportedly intending to injure others with a knife was stopped and detained prior to causing any harm.

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