The Insecurity of School Safety

Sofia Pierson

In designing and moving into the new Sehome building, many things had to be taken into consideration, such as accessibility, functionality, and especially safety. Students live in a time where safety is often at the forefront of their high school experience. One in five parents have reported their children were fearful of going to school in 2018. So what has Sehome done to ensure safety in the new school?

Gym-side Entrance: This entrance is unlocked in the morning until 8:45 AM for students getting to class in the morning. The doors are locked during all other times, including lunch hours

“I think the main thing in this school is that we have less doors open and available to the public,” Peggy Fogarty, campus monitor said. “In this building you’re only allowed to enter through the front.” There are three main entrances in the school:

Library “Fishtank” Door: This door is opens as kids are entering the school and closes at 8:45 AM. Students have placed rocks in the door to keep it from locking but administration advises students not to do this. “The door down there has to be locked, it can’t be propped open” Marty Atkins, Assistant Principal said.

the front visitors entrance, the library “fishtank” door, and the gym door. Though all unlocked in the morning, as school begins, the fishtank and gym door are locked.

“The number one way to secure a building like this is to make sure there’s eyes on the front door.” Marty Atkins, Assistant Principal said. He adds that in the old school there were 140 exterior doors, which posed as a major safety concern. The reduced number of access points is an improvement, but ideally he says there needs to be just one door open during school hours. “During the school day we don’t want someone to be able to sneak into our private sector- the classroom section,” Atkins said. “we can’t have people that want to do harm on campus. The door down there has to be locked, it can’t be propped open.”

Fogarty stresses the importance of coming in the front door and wants students to think about their own safety and wellbeing. “Yeah you have to walk a longer distance, but it’s good for your heart. Exercise a little more,” Fogarty said. “Keeping that shut makes a big difference.”

In light of recent nationwide events regarding gun violence, the Bellingham School District revised its emergency response procedures to include an ‘Active shooter’ procedure. Administration understands the complexity and sensitivity of this issue and are hesitant to go forward with educating students on it’s new drill revisions.

Aleah Holland (12) says she didn’t know there were instructions in the case of an active shooter. “An emergency procedure has not been shown to me,” Holland said. “I think it’s good idea to know what the procedures are because I obviously didn’t know what they were.”

Every classroom has a sheet with emergency procedures on them, including an active shooter procedure. The instructions are as follows

Current Bellingham Public Schools Emergency Procedures.
  • RUN if safe to do so. Leave the building quickly
  • HIDE. If you can’t leave, go to an area that can be locked or secured. Stay quiet, hidden, and spread out,
  • DEFEND. As a last resort, counter the aggressor. Swarm, yell, throw, tackle, distract. Commit to your action.
  • If safe to do so, call 911
  • If you encounter the police, show your hands, follow their commands and don’t make sudden [movements]

“What we’re finding is switching to a run-hide-fight mentality is more effective,” Atkins said. “We want a couple locations where everybody knows where to run to so that our buses could get you to civic [stadium] so mom and dad can pick you up, which is our protocol. We haven’t communicated this with the community yet and we have to be careful about how we do that.” Atkins acknowledges this is not an easy subject to talk about and there is no perfect way of doing so.

Along with just knowing the procedures comes the suggestion of running a practice drill, which in itself could be controversial. “there’s a lot of people that may have had a traumatic experience and they don’t want to have to go through that again.” Fogarty said. The biggest issue with running an active drill is that while informative, there’s the possibility of the experience being traumatizing and harmful to students or staff. Atkins, Fogarty, and Holland all agree that there are pros and cons to running a drill like this.

“You have to weigh student impact, trauma, community involvement, and what’s best for kids,” Atkins said. “You try to emphasize the trauma that will happen so that the parents can process their thinking on that before we go through it, if we decide to do a drill like that.” He states that in order to do an active shooter practice drill, the school would have to start by making sure the staff is comfortable with doing so. Then community members, like parents, would be alerted and would be given many opportunities for their input to be heard. Fogarty adds she would want students and their parents to be able to choose whether to participate in the drill or not.

“Maybe we could do like a workshop,” Holland said. “Like people that want to come could. I think there definitely needs to be at least one person in each class, other than the teacher, that’s informed about what to do in that type of situation because we’ll definitely need leaders in like a time like that to help guide people.”

The idea of running a practice active shooter drill poses difficult for both staff and students of Sehome. “If you run a drill like this, there will be people upset with you,” Atkins said. “If you don’t run this drill, there will be people upset with you. We have to think about your safety. It’s the priority. When everybody is ready– although not necessarily agrees– but are aware, then we can actually talk about running a drill where you have someone pretending to be intending to harm and make sure people know what to do.”