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As a parent of school-age children, I am just as concerned about school security as anyone.  I can only imagine the grief of those parents who lost their children in the school shootings in Lancaster County.  In an emotion filled news conference, Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller stated why everyone was so gripped by what had happened, “We all look at this and see innocent victims and it could easily be our children.”  One Amish man who was waiting for word of the victims said, “Things like this, you just can’t comprehend.”  Our hearts and our prayers go out to those families and the first responders who were called to the scene. 


Now that the initial shock has diminished, and the national press have moved on, a lot of people are asking how we can make our schools more secure.  According to the author of the book, Profiling the School Shooter, Jared Lewis, a retired police officer, 2006 is already the worst year for school shootings.  There have already been seven fatal shootings, and seventeen non-fatal shootings.  Just a few days before the Amish school killings, Duane Morrison, a 53 year old, went into a school in Bailey Colorado, and took six girls hostage.  He sexually molested a number of them before murdering 16 year-old Emily Keyes.  Before being shot, Emily sent a text message to her family, “I love U guys.”  Two days later, on September 29, a school principal named John Klang, was killed by a 15 year-old student at a school in Wisconsin. 


Certainly there are a number of common sense steps schools can take.  Having the local police review security measures, making sure alternate means of entry are secure, proper lighting and the addition of security cameras all some of the steps schools are taking.  Administrators can update emergency preparedness plans, practice them with school personnel, put together a school crisis team, and develop close partnerships with police, fire, and EMS.  Parents can also take some steps to make sure their children are safer.  Make sure your child knows what to do if a stranger approaches, or an adult familiar to them tries to take advantage of them.  Talking to your child about what to do if someone goes on a rampage in their school, what to do if school is dismissed early, having an alternate meeting place if your home is inaccessible are suggestions for parents by security experts. 


I don’t know about you, but I am still left feeling a certain measure of insecurity.  If there is one thing that the murder of these children in Lancaster teaches us it is this:  if it can happen at a one room Amish school house in rural Lancaster County, it can happen anywhere!  I live just outside of Philadelphia where there is plenty of crime and mayhem.  The murder rate in 2005 led the nation among the 10 largest cities and this year will be well over 350 deaths.  The Philadelphia Inquirer often reads like a police blotter.  Action News always finds at least 2 or 3 shootings a night.  But this was Lancaster, not the city of Lancaster, but rural Lancaster County, at a place most people never heard of. 


So what do we do?  Turn our schools into armed fortresses?   Even prisons, the most secure, technologically rich environments we can devise, have problems with drugs and weapons.  Home schooling is starting to look pretty good, but wait, there is still plenty of crime in the neighborhood.  What home schooling mother is going to be able to stop a gun wielding maniac?  


I remember returning for a visit to my old high school in Northeast Philadelphia, one of the safer sections of the city.  I was surprised to be greeted metal detectors and a security team at the front door.  It really felt odd, and reminded me of what you do as you pass airport security.  Yet metal detectors won’t stop an armed maniac like Charlie Roberts or Duane Morrison. 


So where do we turn for true security for our children?  While we can and should take reasonable steps to make our schools more secure, I think the shock over these kinds of incidents causes us to miss areas where the security of our children is under greater threat.  The greatest threat to our children’s security isn’t a gun wielding maniac, but the breakdown of the traditional nuclear family. 


While the chances that your child will be harmed in violent attack at school are almost zero, the divorce rate is 50 0/0.  As studies repeatedly demonstrate, the greatest threat to a child's health and security is the breakup of his/her parents.  When a child’s mother and father fail to build a loving and continuing marriage, the cost is astounding.  All of the indicators point to increases in illness, academic failure, dropping out of high school, substance abuse, suicide, sexual promiscuity, abuse, poverty, criminal activity, gang involvement, mental illness, delinquency, and even death.  As the research organization Child Trends states, “Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.”  So if you want to keep your child secure, work on strengthening your marriage! 


While many people criticize our public schools for failing our children (and I share many of those views, just look at how our schools stack up compared to other industrialized nations), schools are simply a microcosm of our society at large.  I submit that if our society would put as many resources into strengthening the family and protecting it, we would have far less violence to worry about in our nation, thereby reducing the need for high tech security measures.  Let’s build up the family so we don’t have to build walls around our schools. 


And even if we do turn our schools into armed camps, how do we keep kids from harming each other or their teachers?   I have personally spoken with teachers in Philadelphia about the incidence of intimidation, threats and violence on them. I am waiting for the day when the School District of Philadelphia and other urban school districts provide helmets and flack jackets as standard equipment for teachers.  What is the root of this violence?  The roots are not only found in a multi-media culture which glorifies violence.  Its deepest roots are found in the break-up of two parent families.  Kids need a mom and a dad, they always have and they always will. Whenever I face a counseling situation with a child who is delinquent or violent, the first question I always ask is, “Where is dad?”  The answer I normally get is, “Dad isn’t in the picture.”  Kids don’t need a village, the need a mom and a dad. 


I would also like to address a couple of ways parents (married couples and single parents both) can do to make their children more secure and prevent many of the problems which entangle today’s youth.  A number of studies have shown there is something every parent can do to greatly reduce the chance that your child will become sexually active, abuse drugs or alcohol, or do poorly in school.   Want to know what that something is?  Have dinner together as a family on a regular basis.  It doesn't need to be every night, just a majority of nights. There is something about eating together as a family that reinforces family identity.  It also gives parents and kids a chance to talk, encourage, joke around, talk about likes, dislikes, etc. 


Would you like to reinforce your chances of success even more?   Go to church as a family.  Families who go to church together are stronger and more secure compared to families who don't.  And don't make the mistake of just dropping your kids off at the door.  You all need to go together or your kids will stop attending when they get older. 


Is your marriage struggling?   Seek out marriage counseling, get help, don’t give up!  In a survey of teens whose parents divorced, teens consistently communicated this message: they wished their parents had worked harder to keep the marriage together.  No-fault divorce may have made the legal requirements easier, but no-fault does not mean no-hurt. 


Are you a single parent?  Maybe you are thinking it is too late to do much about it.  Wrong!  Too many divorced parents put their kids in the middle and use them as a football.  Don’t pump them for information about your ex-spouse, send messages through them, or force them to take sides.  The less you and your ex-spouse argue and bicker, the better it is for your kids. 


I guess you can figure it out that I believe that if you want to keep you children secure, you need to start at home.  The issue of school security is simply an issue of life security on a smaller scale.  You can make the biggest difference in the life of your child.