Safety at schools has always been a concern. Parents, teachers, and administrators continually evaluate and reevaluate safety procedures and operating policies to keep students safe from harm.
However, an incident in Long Island brings yet another dimension to the equation: safety of the teacher.
In mid-April, a female teacher at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School in Hempstead, NY was assaulted by a parent and a juvenile cousin. The teacher, Catherine Engelhardt, was beaten unconscious to the ground by 34-year old Annika McKenzie, her 14-year old niece, and several other students, because Engelhardt allegedly “put her hands on” McKenzie’s daughter.
While the motives are still unclear, the fact remains that McKenzie walked into the school building and got to Engelhardt without security clearance.
Brett Lechtenberg, family safety expert, shines light on a typical school situation. “School security has been a dramatically overlooked concern for a very long time. Although most schools have a policy where visitors to the school are supposed to ‘check in’ at the office before they are allowed into the main area of the campus, it is very easy to bypass these type of inefficient security points, especially if the office staff is busy.”
While most examples of parents or visitors bypassing security when walking into a school are without incident, this assault on a teacher highlights the need for change.
Elias Mestizo, Classroom Teachers Association President of Hempstead, says, “Many teachers throughout the district and in this school…do not feel safe in the building, and there are reasons for that.”
School districts often cite budget constraints and restrictions as the reason why security measures aren’t up to speed. However, Lechtenberg disagrees with this evaluation.
“School security is a fairly straight forward situation that can be dramatically improved in a very short period of time and for a relatively small amount of money,” he says. “Especially if you consider the amount of money that could be spent on potential lawsuits that could arise from a situation where a teacher is assaulted to the point of unconsciousness because the security measures at their school are far too lax.”
Lechtenberg offers these simple steps to any school or school district wanting to increase security:
1) Simple check-in measures based on the honor system are just not enough. The visitor must check in with a member of the office staff, with photo identification and be given credentials to enter the halls.
2) Security doors that require a person to be viewed on a closed circuit camera and then buzzed into the building would be a big help.
3) A simple funnel system can easily be implemented so a person entering a school has to go into the office for clearance could easily be installed in most schools for very little money and time.
4) For the unfortunate schools that do have a much bigger security problem and need guards or full time security staff on site. Those security personnel should be trained at a much higher level than most of them are now. Someone you pay $9 dollars an hour for being a guard is probably not of the highest quality. When security is needed, the people responsible for that security should be highly trained and well paid.
Brett Lechtenberg is a family safety expert and best-selling author of The Anti-Bully Program. For more information on safety in schools, visit: http://www.brettlechtenberg.com.