In wake of school shootings, officials say it's not feasible to have an armed guard at every building
A week after the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., National Rifle Association Vice President Wayne LaPierre called for an armed guard in every school to help prevent similar incidents from happening again.
But in Washtenaw County, school officials said posting guards or police officers at schools is simply not financially feasible.
The issue of school security continues to be a concern for school officials and parents alike in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy. A teenager's shooting and critically wounding another student in a California school Thursday could thrust the issue further into the limelight.
Representatives from Ann Arbor Public Schools, Ypsilanti Public Schools, Lincoln Consolidated Schools and Saline Area Schools all said their districts are reviewing their safety procedures in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. However, at this point, adding more security — in the form of additional police liaison officers or armed guards — is not on the table.
Steve Laatsch, assistant superintendent of instructional services in Saline, said the district held a meeting last week to get the the review of school security started. At this point, increasing the amount of armed security in school buildings isn’t being talked about, he said.
“Financially, we aren’t in a position to house every school with a police officer,” he said.
Saline Area Schools splits the cost of the liaison officer at Saline High School with the Pittsfield Township Department of Public Safety. Laatsch said the total cost to the district to have the officer at the high school is $47,000.
Ann Arbor Public Schools was paying approximately $350,000 per year to keep liaison officers at Huron, Pioneer and Skyline high schools before ending the program before this school year to save money.
Ann Arbor schools spokeswoman Liz Margolis said the district is working with the Ann Arbor Police Department to review risk assessment plans at each of the schools in the district.
“I do not believe we would opt for armed guards at our schools,” she said.
Ellen Bonter, superintendent of Lincoln Consolidated Schools, said having a liaison officer in schools is not the only thing that determines the safety level of a building. Officers are just one level of the precautions districts take to protect their students, she said.
The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office has one deputy assigned to the school district. A new deputy was recently assigned to the district. The previous liaison officer had worked in the district for 11 years, Bonter said.
She said the relationships liaison officers develop with students, staff and the school community are more important to school safety than the gun holstered at the deputy’s waist.
“This relationship extends to our children, our parents, our staff and others that interact with our schools,” Bonter said. “That is so much more valuable, and provides much more security within our community, than any simple security guard function.”
Some officials are also concerned about the effect having an armed guard in every school would have on the students who are in the buildings every day.
Sharon Irvine, executive director of human resources at Ypsilanti schools, said the armed liaison officer is important to safety at the middle and high school levels. However, she’s not positive having an armed guard in the district’s elementary schools would do any good.
“Armed officers are critical for the safety of YPS students in secondary buildings,” she said. “However, it is not likely to make elementary buildings safer, except to handle a rare situation like Newtown.”
Laatsch said it’s possible to argue a school would be safer with an armed police officer in each building. But, Laatsch said district officials have to be careful to keep school buildings vibrant places of learning and having officers patrolling the hallways with guns could detract from that atmosphere.
“My own opinion is we have to be careful about what we turn schools into,” he said, adding officials have to consider “the overall impact of what schools become when you start doing that.”
Instead of making rash decisions in the wake of a tragedy, Laatsch said Saline officials want to make sure any new policy is measured and well thought out.
There are a lot of ideas being proposed and discussions will be taking place during the course of the month on how to improve security in schools, Laatsch said. There are safety plans for every building in the district and those are being reviewed as well.
“We’re being proactive about this and looking at policies and procedures, but we’re not going to enact some policy that doesn’t make sense because we’re being reactive,” he said.
Kyle Feldscher covers police and courts for AnnArbor.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2537.