What’s so uniquely tragic about the the intrusion of the police state into America’s schools, is it appears the parents themselves are the ones demanding it. This is in contrast to an overbearing surveillance state implemented by government in secret, as well as by private corporations via lengthy terms of service agreements nobody actually reads.
What follows are excerpts from a very important article published at The Nation, The School-Security Industry Is Cashing In Big on Public Fears of Mass Shootings:
“Security was the number-one factor for me in choosing a school,” explained one of the mothers I met late last winter at a Montessori preschool in an affluent suburb of Salt Lake City. A quality-control expert at a dietary-supplement company, the woman said she vividly remembers the jolt of horror she felt when she first learned of the Columbine massacre in 1999. So when the time came to send her child to preschool, she selected one that markets itself not only as creative, caring, and nurturing, but also as particularly security-conscious.
To get the front door of the school to open, visitors had to be positively ID’d by a fingerprint-recognition system. In the foyer, a bank of monitors showed a live feed of the activity in every classroom. After drop-off, many parents would spend 15 minutes to half an hour staring at the screens, making sure their children were being treated well by their teachers and classmates. Many of the moms and dads had requested Internet access to the images, but the school had balked, fearing that online sexual predators would be able to hack into the video stream. All of the classroom doors had state-of-the-art lockdown features, and all of the teachers had access to long-distance bee spray—which, in the case of an emergency, they were instructed to fire off at the eyes of intruders. The playground was surrounded by a high concrete wall, which crimped the kids’ views of the majestic Wasatch Mountains. The imposing front walls, facing out onto a busy road, were similarly designed to stop predators from peering into the classrooms.
“I fear a gunman walking into my child’s school and gunning up the place,” the mother continued. (I have withheld her name, and that of the school, upon request.) “And I fear someone walking onto the playground and swiping a kid. And I fear an employee of the school damaging my child. These things happen more commonly than people expect.”
Actually, they don’t. Despite the excruciating angst suffered by this woman and so many other parents, school violence is a rarity in America. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 34 children in the United States were murdered while in school during the 1992–93 school year. From 2008 to 2013, the most recent years for which the NCES provides data, the average annual figure was 19. In recent decades, the numbers have waxed and waned, hitting 34 again in 1997–98 and going as low as 11 in 2010–11. Generally, the trend has been downward.
There are approximately 55 million K–12 students in America and roughly 3.5 million adults employed as teachers. There are, in addition, millions of support staff—janitors, nurses, cooks, after-school-program providers, and so on. Even in the deadliest years, the chance of a student or adult being killed at school is roughly one in a million. By contrast, roughly five out of every 100,000 American residents are murdered each year. Extrapolating from this, schools are somewhere in the region of 50 times safer than society overall.
Now here’s the most tragic part…
And yet you’d never know that from the level of fear that exists around schools—or from the vast amount of money we spend attempting to make them more secure. The research company IHS Technology recently estimated that schools and universities spent about $768 million on security measures in 2014—a sum that it predicted would rise to roughly $907 million for 2016. That’s an awful lot of money to spend at a time when state and local budget cuts are limiting educational opportunities for students across the country.
As schools came to resemble prisons—which, perhaps not coincidentally, were also expanding during these years—an increasing number of students ended up being arrested on school grounds. In cities like Stockton, California, where even nonpolice “resource officers” are granted arrest powers, thousands of kids have acquired criminal records for minor offenses. Students in these districts are arrested at rates far higher than those reported in places where resource officers aren’t given such powers. The construction of this “school-to-prison pipeline” has disproportionately affected minority students—who, in turn, face harsher penalties once they come into contact with the criminal-justice system. Sometimes the confrontations with security officers can be horrendous. Last October, for example, students in a South Carolina school filmed an officer violently dumping a teenage girl out of her chair and dragging her across the floor before arresting her—all because she used her cell phone during math class.
I covered this incident last year. See: Shocking Video – Cop Flips Female Student From Desk, Slams Her to Ground and Drags Her Across the Floor.
In recent years, the school-security industry has expanded to include high-tech surveillance among its offerings. The school district in Las Vegas has been installing surveillance cameras in schools since 2000, and they are now standard in new schools. All told, according to a 2014 article in the Las Vegas Sun, more than 12,000 surveillance cameras are recording in Sin City’s schools, complementing the hundreds of cameras in school buses and on major thoroughfares, and the tens of thousands of cameras in the city’s giant casinos. The Sun didn’t report on how much this system cost, but a much smaller project at St. Mary’s High School in St. Louis reportedly cost the school $500 a month to lease two cameras, or $15,000 to buy them outright.
Newark Memorial High School, in the San Francisco Bay Area, has embedded ShotSpotter technology, an advanced sound-recognition sensor system deployed by police departments in many urban neighborhoods to identify when and where gunshots are occurring. Although the school hasn’t had to pay ShotSpotter for the technology—the company views it as a testing ground for how such a system could be used in a school setting—police departments around the country pay anywhere from $65,000 to $90,000 per year for each square mile covered by the sensors.
And then there’s the Indianapolis suburb of Shelbyville, where school superintendent Paula Maurer recently became so worried about the possibility of a shooting that she installed a $400,000 security system in the town’s high school. The entire campus, located in open countryside just outside of town, is now saturated with cameras linked into the nearest police station. Every teacher wears a panic button around his or her neck, and pressing it sends the entire campus into instant lockdown. For good measure, police officers watching from miles away can set off blinding smoke cannons and ear-splitting sirens at a moment’s notice.
Much as anticrime advocates convinced government agencies in the 1990s and 2000s to fund an increasing array of punitive programs, today school-security companies and trade associations are lobbying legislators in several states to change building codes so that schools will be mandated to spend more on their security systems. If they get their way, the Shelbyville experiment could well be a harbinger of things to come.
Lately, America’s school-security fetish has reached a whole new level of bizarre. In the wake of the December 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, one company after another has rushed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the epidemic of fear that emerged in response to school violence, and to exploit the emotional vulnerabilities of terrified parents. As a result, a huge number of utterly inane products have entered the market.
Take, for example, Bullet Blockers, a company working out of Lowell, Massachusetts, that manufactures bulletproof backpacks for elementary-school children. The ones for young girls come in raspberry pink or red plaid; the ones for boys come in red, black, navy blue, and more. The company also markets bulletproof jackets, bulletproof iPad cases, and bulletproof whiteboards for use in classrooms. It even sells a “survival pack and safety kit,” complete with fire starters, first-aid guides, cold compresses, and other items that would allow a child to survive a prolonged school lockdown.
In Hauppauge, New York, Derek Peterson runs a tech start-up called Digital Fly, which enables school officials to monitor all social-media postings within a radius chosen by the school. The intent, which would be eerily familiar to government spy agencies the world over, is to drill down into communications used near schools as a way to identify potential shooters, bombers, bullies, or would-be suicides. The postings of everyone within that catchment area—whether they’re students, local residents, or simply people passing through—are monitored. “My software will identify it,” Peterson enthuses, seemingly oblivious of (or indifferent to) the extraordinary privacy implications of his work. “The school administrator will get e-mails. At that point, every school has a different policy—they get the parents, the police involved. I provide you with a hammer: Here’s the tools to build the house.”
Yep, teach children to behave like livestock from the moment they go to school. This is gonna result in a truly special crop of addled adults someday.
Ronald Stephens, the executive director of the California-based National School Safety Center, who teaches a graduate course on school-safety issues at Pepperdine University, recalls talking with the superintendent of a school near his home in Oak Park, one of Los Angeles’s many affluent suburbs. The superintendent explained that he was under tremendous public pressure to put security fences around the district’s schools, at a cost of $1.6 million. He was resisting it because he believed the schools had bigger needs: The teachers hadn’t received a pay raise in five years.
Unfortunately, this is the sort of circular reasoning that our society is increasingly trapped in when it comes to raising and educating our children. Television, newspapers, and social media focus on sensational but statistically anomalous horror stories about school violence. Parents and the broader community work themselves into a panic, prompting politicians to vow that they will do “whatever it takes” to make everyone safer. Security technologies emerge to fill the perceived need for stronger safety measures, and schools end up spending money they don’t necessarily have to implement solutions they almost certainly will never need. The presence and the media coverage of these heightened security measures increase the public’s sense of fear, and the spiral descends even further.
Just another example of how twisted, irrational and, quite frankly, pathetic American culture has become in the last couple of decades.
* * *