With all the hubbub about the Facilities Master Plan, you might have missed the discussion of the Safe Schools Plan, whose preliminary draft includes plans to build a fence around our campus. Although it won’t be implemented until at least June 2018, now is our time to give input, Director of Facilities Pete Palmer said. Since nothing is set in stone yet, we should take this opportunity to consider the implications of a fence and to decide whether it is truly the best option.
Admittedly, our reaction to the proposition was somewhere between a cringe and a shudder, a hybrid of ideological concern for our privacy and selfish worry for our convenience, not to mention apprehension about being reminded that we are children in need of protection every time we shimmy off school grounds for a Mulberry’s run between classes.
Yet we must look beyond the discomfort of unfamiliarity and make a decision that takes into account both these reservations and the safety of our community. Safety and convenience are apples and oranges, and while we cannot evaluate them equally, the increased safety bares a significant cost, in both convenience and in dollars.
Fencing the campus entirely would cost an estimated $300,000 — far more than any college education — even before implementing monitoring systems that could actually keep dangerous individuals off the property.
Frankly, a fence alone will not be effective in deterring an active shooter, the fear of which has been a key motivation behind the push for revamping the district’s safety measures. In the wake of tragedies like Sandy Hook, this desire to proactively increase safety is understandable, but the decision to build a fence would be reactive and incomplete. Instead of actually improving our safety, we would be cultivating the mere illusion of security, a incremental measure not worth the significant cost.
Should the community commit to prioritizing safety over convenience, we should establish an identification system and security cameras at the entrances and exits of the campus. This comprehensive approach would also address the secondary goal of the safe schools plan: to implement a system that allows the administrators to know who enters campus, which would serve the dual purpose of monitoring extreme dangers like active shooters and deterring the far more likely occurrence of vandalism or theft.
As much as we appreciate the aesthetics of our campus and the ease of wandering to class through the park, we realize that our campus is unusually vulnerable, with a ravine directly behind us and an inward-facing administration office that cannot see who enters and exits the school.
Palmer said that most schools have some kind of fence or at least a designated entryway. Sure, Piedmont is a relatively safe neighborhood, but the proximity to the park and the relative lack of security open us up to potential dangers.
None of us were enthusiastic about the proposition of a fence, but we were willing to accept it — provided that it protects us against credible threats rath er than standing symbolically against an extremely unlikely tragedy that we cannot prevent.