The woman behind the reception desk at the elementary school I visited this morning was obviously overworked; she barely glanced at me as I stood waiting to sign in. After several minutes, without looking up from her paperwork, she asked, “Can I help you?”
I told her my name, that I was a performer sent by a local company to tell stories to the students, and told her the name of my contact at the school. “Fine,” she said. “Just sign the visitor sheet. The library is around the corner.”
“Would you like to see my driver’s license?” I asked. “No, just sign in, please,” she said, as she turned back to her work.
“She will never identify me in a line-up,” I thought as I signed the sheet.
I sauntered into the school hallway, a complete stranger to everyone there, able to roam the halls at will. No one had checked my identification — in fact, no one had even looked me in the eye. I had no name tag to identify me, and I was lugging two enormous handbags (that could have held an arsenal of guns and ammunition!) which no one had bothered to inspect. Not a single person stopped me to ask why in Thunder I was wandering around among these children.
I later discovered that NONE of the school doors were locked during school hours. Any visitor could come and go without passing the reception desk!
What is wrong with this picture?
Y’all, it hasn’t even been a month since the tragedy at Sandy Hooks Elementary School, yet the folks at this school had a lackadaisical attitude about visitors. Some folks are ranting about putting guns in the schools (which sounds like a recipe for disaster on many different levels) while other people rave about gun control (not being a gun owner, that would be my inclination). Before we do any of that, however, maybe we should take a long hard look at the “security” levels of the schools?
I would love to tell you that my reception at this school was an anomaly, but it is the reception that I get at least half of the time. It is true that at some schools there are two doors I have to get through before I have access to students, I have to show my identification, and I am escorted through the halls (even when I have to step to the bathroom during the day!). Those are the exceptions to the rule.
The most disturbing thing to me is that in twenty-seven years of storytelling, no one has EVER checked to see what I am carrying in my handbags! Usually the most dangerous thing in my handbag is a knitting needle, but just because I smile sweetly and look like a benign grandmotherly type doesn’t mean you should automatically trust me. That grin of mine could be masking a stone cold killer.
When I arrive at your child’s school to tell stories, I should discover that I can’t be admitted without the receptionist buzzing the door open. That is a security measure that would cost the school district some money, but would be well worth the price. In addition, the receptionist should have a set of safety procedures to follow before admitting me to the campus. This should include checking identification, examining my handbags, and (perhaps most of all) observing me in order to notice whether I am acting like a “normal” person. If I seem agitated, for Heaven’s sake don’t let me near the kids! Those same procedures should be followed for parents, grandparents, and all visitors (including children of the teachers) WITHOUT EXCEPTION.
Now, I readily admit that heightened security at the front door won’t change the scenario much if a lunatic comes to a school with guns blazing from the get-go. However, better security will make the school a less attractive target. As long as the nut cases can get their hands on an arsenal of guns, “security” won’t stop them from shooting at malls, restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, churches, or schools. But, before we start arming teachers shouldn’t we make schools as secure as we possibly can? Shouldn’t we make sure that the folks at the reception desk are at the very least paying attention to who walks through the doors?
Parents, do you know the procedure for receiving visitors at your child’s school? Perhaps, it is a good time to inquire about that in order to help prevent your school from being the next tragedy.