Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty set out a reasonable-sounding standard for school safety that could apply across Canada – “all reasonable measures.” He deems the locking of all front doors of elementary schools, which would require security cameras and front-door buzzers and intercoms, at a purported cost of $10-million, a reasonable measure. Is it?
One answer would be to dismiss it, in the wake of the massacre of 20 children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., this month, because the shooter in that case simply blasted his way in. But that seems facile. While history has shown that Canada is not immune to deranged shooters, there are other dangers to consider, and politicians are right to be alert to them.
What are those other dangers? One is of pedophiles who walk in off the street seeking to abuse or snatch a child. There have been some suspicious incidents in recent years, and schools in some regions lock all doors except the front ones. (Those who enter freely are supposed to sign in at the office.)
Another is of parents or guardians who have threatened school staff, or other parents, or former spouses, and who have no-trespass orders against them. A third is of older children from other schools who may come to bully younger ones. A locked door would give schools a means to keep unwanted visitors out.
But there are also arguments against the locked front door. In some schools that have it now, visitors tend to be buzzed in automatically. The lock provides an illusion of safety. Less vigilance may, perhaps, follow. Another is that the standard – “all reasonable measures” – seems aimed at external, unknown dangers. But the students with untreated mental-health problems are often known dangers, and yet school districts everywhere have cut back on psychologists and social workers in the past 20 years, and mental-health centres have long waiting lists. Prevention is more costly but more effective than a locked door.
There’s another problem, too, with “all reasonable measures.” The web of security around our children grows endlessly larger. Many children have become virtually housebound; the web has ensnared them. Mr. McGuinty’s plan would buy some peace of mind, until the next tragedy makes another measure seem reasonable.