East Greenwich School Superintendent Ricca recently made a passionate plea for us to finally step up and protect our children. It is apparent he cares deeply about school safety as do parents, grandparents, teachers, and community members. The 24-year anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting was April 20, and the debate over 2nd Amendment rights and the need for mental health interventions continues. However, until those arguments are settled, until all people with mental health issues are treated, until all weapons are removed from society, we still need to protect our children. Through the non-partisan group in which I have helped create (and which is comprised of parents in East Greenwich and across Rhode Island)—School Safety NOW—I propose that all Rhode Island schools should have the benefit of a law enforcement officer who can be the final layer of protection in a multi-faceted approach to school security.
It is important to understand that physical barriers and technology are just part of a comprehensive threat strategy. At the Covenant School in Tennessee, the building was locked, cameras were working, and after the attacker shot out the entrance door glass, lockdown alarms sounded. These barriers and enhancements did not stop the assailant from entering the building and killing six, innocent people. Furthermore, human error is sometimes responsible for people breaching an otherwise secure school campus. Doors are left propped open; visitors are not properly screened; protocols are not followed. As Dr. Ricca clearly pointed out, the only thing that stopped the suspect and limited the death toll was law enforcement.
By Dr. Ricca’s own words, law enforcement has the ability to stop school shootings. He stated that at the Covenant School, “[Police] engaged the suspect, and within two minutes of their arrival, the suspect was dead.” However, while students and staff were waiting in terror for 11 minutes for police to arrive, the shooter was able to murder six people without being challenged. Eleven minutes of terror. Eleven minutes of children sitting in a room helpless against a monster. Eleven minutes of teachers helping children remain calm and being terrified themselves, while thinking of their own families. We can all agree, arrival by police at that school was extremely quick.
Response time of a law enforcement officer stationed at a school is far superior to waiting for help to arrive from off campus. A 2019 report entitled Protecting America’s Schools: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Targeted School Violence (https://www.secretservice.
Dr. Ricca also argued that, at Covenant, there may have been a teacher who was armed. Perhaps that is the case, although it has not been substantiated by any authorities. What we don’t know is whether that teacher may have been killed in the attack, was absent, or was too afraid to leave their students to neutralize the assailant. But we would prefer not to guess. What is evident is that schools cannot rely on arming teachers to protect our children, nor should they. Our schools should depend on trained, experienced law enforcement officers whose sole responsibility is to safeguard our children while in school.
School security should not be an either/or situation. School Safety NOW’s non-partisan mission is not to battle with those who are advocating for gun legislation or mental health services but to work together with the Rhode Island General Assembly to renew and expand funding for law enforcement protection in schools. I agree with Senator Leahy: “We must protect our children. If we do nothing, we are not protecting them.” Let’s put law enforcement in all our schools now because tomorrow may be too late.
Kelly Santos, who lives in Warwick, has two children.