School safety ideas aired

Legislator proposals include armed guards, armed teachers

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- State Supt. of Education John White, right, told legislators Thursday that Louisiana needs to be vigilant about school safety. Next to White is new BESE president Chas Roemer.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- State Supt. of Education John White, right, told legislators Thursday that Louisiana needs to be vigilant about school safety. Next to White is new BESE president Chas Roemer.

As state officials debated the safety level of Louisiana’s schools Thursday, state Rep. Greg Cromer made a suggestion.

Cromer, R-Slidell, raised the possibility of training and arming teachers since they were the only wall between schoolchildren and a gunman last month in Newton, Conn.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, urged legislators not to mix functions. “I was an English teacher. You don’t want me having a gun,” he said.

The Louisiana House Select Committee on Homeland Security met to review laws and procedures following the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Adam Lanza allegedly shot and killed his mother before driving to the school and opening fire. He later took his own life.

Twenty schoolchildren and six adults died in the shooting spree as law enforcement scrambled to respond.

At the State Capitol on Thursday, committee members spent several hours identifying possible flaws in Louisiana’s school safety plans. Legislators heard from education officials as well as law enforcement officers.

They were told that drills, vigilance and strong law enforcement ties are key. They debated how to secure classroom doors without hampering the ability to evacuate in the event of a fire. They fielded a suggestion of putting an armed guard in every school.

State Police Col. Mike Edmonson reminded members that Lanza blasted his way into a locked down school by shattering a window. To prevent the tragedy, something needed to happen before Lanza reached the schoolyard, Edmonson said.

“We’ve got to have candid conversations about violence in the community. That’s where it starts,” Edmonson said.

The committee’s chairman, state Rep. John Schroder, said recommendations need to form quickly.

The legislative session begins in April.

“I’ve got to believe some type of legislation is needed,” said Schroder, R-Covington.

Every public school in Louisiana is required by law to prepare crisis management and response plans that detail security measures in the event of a violent incident or emergency.

State Superintendent of Education John White said the plans could be sitting on shelves when they need to be rehearsed.

He said law enforcement needs to help design and implement the plans. Parents, he said, should know the contents.

“The events of last month clearly reinforce the need for vigilance,” White said.

Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said local schools, communities and school systems need to examine the specifics of their situations. He said customization will be required.

School systems outlined what they already are doing.

Security cameras are mounted on school buses in St. Charles Parish. Prospective employees are fingerprinted in Bossier Parish.

LSU, which is home to a laboratory school, child-care center, day-care centers and a college, stepped up bike patrols and launched a “See something, say something” campaign.

Monaghan said there is a thin line between keeping students safe and fanning the flames of paranoia.

He described growing up in New Orleans during the height of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when schoolchildren were drilled in the practice of ducking and covering. It was a false sense of security, Monaghan said.

“We have to be realistic about what the role of an educator is versus the role of a security enforcer,” Monaghan said.

The governor formed his own study committee to look at school safety.

Recommendations requiring legislative action are supposed to be ready for consideration in the session that starts April 8.

Schroder said he is willing to call another meeting of his committee if necessary.

State Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, said she plans to introduce legislation requiring armed security guards in elementary schools.

Multiple legislators agreed that the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness should coordinate efforts to ensure safety in schools.

Edmonson said State Police already monitor social media since many people talk about violent acts before they commit them.

“It’s not a matter of is something going to happen in Louisiana. It’s when,” he said.