COMMENTARY: More must be done to protect Delaware’s schools

Within the last week, a student brought a gun into one of our schools. Through the quick work of teachers and a school resource officer, any incident at Middletown High School was avoided. As a result, our Appoquinimink superintendent is forming a task force with school officials and parents to examine the totality of what we should do to make our school safe — all the time.

Months ago, I called on the legislature to do just that on a statewide basis. I asked for a joint meeting of the education committees of the House and Senate to bring together all the appropriate parties — school leaders, law enforcement, health advocates, and, yes, parents to examine all the options.

Unfortunately that has not yet happened.

Rep. Kevin Hensley

Santa Fe and Parkland high schools have captured the school shooting headlines. However, through May 18, there have been 22 school shootings (that’s one a week) across this country in which one or more students have been killed or injured. Perhaps, this incident at Middletown High School will spur action here in Delaware.

In Dover, we have spent hours debating the right responses to this epidemic as it relates to the weapons involved.

While we try to reach a consensus on these issues, we have not spent even 30 seconds on the House floor addressing the issue on which there is no debate — improving the safety of our schools to protect our children.

Most of us were raised in a different age. We played on the streets, or in parks and yards without our parents ever worrying about our safety. We walked to school. Violence in school never crossed our mind. We never went through a metal detractor to get on an airplane or into a sporting event. Unfortunately, the world has changed. Personal safety is never far from our thoughts.

I hate to see the necessity of metal detectors at all school entrances but that may be the only way to check everyone’s backpack. I hate the idea that we must have school resource officers (SROs) in every school at all times, but that may have become a necessity.

A better system to alert school officials of potential problems with individual students needs to be devised.

We have a surplus in state revenues and the money to make significant safety improvements now. Gov. Carney has said, correctly, that we should not build in more spending that will cause problems in out years. But one-time spending makes sense.

We should provide every high school and middle school with metal detectors so that everyone‘s backpack and personal belongings can be checked when entering the building. There will be initial challenges when implementing such a system; but to do nothing invites danger.

Many schools have school resource officers who are there to prevent incidents. All high schools and middle schools should have SROs and it should be clearly accounted for in the school budget.

Unfortunately, in the same way fire drills are part of a school’s monthly routine, active shooter drills must also take place on a monthly basis.

In addition, there are several other safety measures that should be considered, such as: installing bulletproof glass in the entrance lobbies, implementing a controlled key card system for all entrances, and placing video cameras throughout the buildings.

We need, as I suggested months ago, to bring all the players to the table — administrators, law enforcement, teachers, parents, and health professionals to create the best solution for this problem for all traditional and charter public schools.

No one has all the answers. But, there is no doubt about the need to effectively address this safety issue before the next headline reads: “In Delaware…”

We have had enough wakeup calls. We must act quickly and effectively.

State Rep. Kevin Hensley, a Republican, represents the 9th District, which covers Middletown, Odessa, Smyrna and St. Georges.

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