There was a provocative article in The New York Times this past weekend, pulling together a number of events I’ve been following over recent months: Journalists walk into public schools unannounced to test security measures.
What they’ve found I find astounding, but the flak they’ve received is equally astounding, in my opinion.
A reporter for KSDK entered a high school in suburban St. Louis in January and walked around the hallways for several minutes before the office staff noticed him. Eventually, the school was put in lockdown.
No doubt, that’s exactly what the school should have done upon finding an intruder in its midst, but how did the reporter saunter into the school and wander around for several minutes in the first place?
The lockdown resulted in police response and stress on students and staff, not to mention parents’ worries. “It terrified my kids and a lot of other kids,” one parent told the newspaper.
I get that. As the parent of a high schooler, I, too, would be more than beside myself if there was a lockdown at his school.
Granted, the KSDK reporter, after, I repeat, wandering for some time, made a few qustionable decisions. He went to the front office, gave his name and phone number and asked to speak with someone about school security, the NYT said. He did not identify himself as a reporter, asked where a bathroom was, then left in another direction. That's when the school called the number he provided and got his voicemail, identifying him as a reporter. When the school called his TV station, employees there would not confirm he worked there, the NYT report said.
The school did the right thing in initiating the lockdown—but only after an unknown person was in the building for a matter of minutes when anything could have happened had the reporter been a bad guy.
The question remains: How did he get into the school unchecked in the first place? Isn’t that the most important point here? Maybe he was armed. Maybe he was a non-custodial parent, a pedophile or a drug-addled passer-by looking for a bathroom or at least someplace warm. Who cares? The point is, an unknown, unauthorized person entered the school and wandered around before any one in charge took notice.
In Fargo, N.D., a TV correspondent entered a school in December. She was investigated for trespassing but her station agreed to keep her away from school-related news coverage for 90 days, the Times said.
In New York, a WNBC journalist gained “unimpeded access” to seven of 10 city schools it approached.
Opponents of these journalistic tactics cite the fact that an armed security guard could have pulled a gun on the reporter, that they caused undue panic at the schools and, at the very least, the journalists were irresponsible. I understand those points. I don't, however, get the comments from the St. Louis superintendent, Thomas Williams, who the NYT said "was outraged" by the journalist's visit.
“Is it OK for them to set a fire and see how fast the fire department responds? It’s a safety issue. It’s not responsible. It’s the wrong way to do it,” he is quoted as saying.
Obviously, the journalist did no harm, and had no intent to set a fire. How, Mr. Williams, did he get into your school in the first place?
After the horrific Newtown tragedy and the others we’ve seen at schools nationwide in recent years, wouldn’t you want to know if an unannounced person/suspect was able to enter your child’s school?
I would want to know if there were holes in the security at my son’s high school.
I don’t want anyone entering any school without being vetted from the very start. Schools shouldn’t be prison-like fortresses, but unknown persons should not be allowed in the front door, including surprise journalists.
All schools don’t have budgets for top-notch surveillance cameras and the most-up-to-date access control, but no one should be allowed on their premises without a school official knowing about it, even if that means sitting someone at the door to check IDs.
These journalists were doing a public service.
What do you think? I’d like to know.