Most Idaho Schools Are Too Easy To Walk Into, Safety Report Finds

Feb 17, 2014

Boise elementary students wait for the bus
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho’s Department of Education Monday released the results of an independent assessment of safety and security at the state’s schools.

This assessment was recommended by a school safety task force assembled in 2012 after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Matt McCarter oversaw the task force work for the department.

“What’ we’ve found is that there are lots of inherent challenges that can be difficult to keep on top of,” McCarter says. “But that said there’s a significant commitment to school safety throughout the state.”

A pair of investigators looked at 74 Idaho schools (about 10 percent of all the state’s schools.) The investigators measured them against dozens of standards. McCarter says there were encouraging results and areas of concern.

Perhaps the biggest concern is access. In 71 of the schools, investigators got in through entrances other than the front door. A building's age is part of the reason for that. Many Idaho schools were built before security became a top concern and have multiple, easy-to-access entrances.

That could make it an expensive problem to fix McCarter says. But, he adds, large amounts of money to upgrade buildings is not likely on the horizon and schools will probably have to rely on other strategies, like assigning teachers to periodically check doors close to their rooms.

But access is not just about building design. In some schools, investigators entered through doors that had been propped open. And in some, once they were in the halls no one approached them to say they needed to go to the office and get a visitor badge. McCarter says that comes down to culture in the school.

“School safety is inconvenient,” he says. “Assuring every visitor comes through the front door, signs in, gets a visitor badge, adheres to the policy, that’s been a significant challenge for a long time, not only in Idaho but throughout the nation.”

McCarter says schools and parents need to work together to create a culture where security is taken seriously.  

Most encouraging to McCarter is that most schools in the report are working hard to prevent bullying. Sixty-eight of the schools promote anti-bullying messaging.

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