NASHVILLE (BP) – As shootings on school properties hold the nation’s attention, school administrators are focused on how to stop such a tragedy before it starts.
“I don’t think private Christian schools or churches or any faith-based organizations are immune to the inevitable violence that is permeating our society,” said Caitlyn Harding, a spokesperson for the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). “I’m proud of our Christian schools in the U.S. and around the world for the safety precautions they take both for the well-being of children and the physical safety that they integrate into their facility.”
Wesley Scott, executive director of the National Alliance of Christian Schools (NACS), formerly known as the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, says Christian schools have been beefing up their security for decades now.
“Due to the increase in school violence, Christian schools have seen the need to increase security for student safety over the years since Columbine,” he said in written comments to Baptist Press. “There is both a desire to keep students and staff safe and a need to show due diligence from a legal perspective to protect the schools and related churches from legal liability.
“Most accrediting agencies, including NACS, require various emergency management plans ranging from fire drills to lock-down procedures to active shooter plans. As well, facilities are inspected for fencing, keyed and keyless entry/exit doors, visitor ID scans, and video surveillance. All staff and volunteers are required to be background checked as well. All of these have developed and improved since the ‘90s and continue to evolve as the needs arise to keep students and staff safe during the school day.”
ACSI also requires security protocols during its accrediting process, Harding said. Among other requirements, the schools must prove that a written security and crisis management plan has been developed, regularly reviewed and implemented and staff and students have been trained in the plan.
“While the physical safety of students is of the utmost importance, we believe that it begins with the well-being of each individual,” Harding said in written comments. “ACSI has invested significantly in researching and strategically supporting flourishing school communities.”
Of course, like anything at a non-profit entity, funding can be a concern.
“Most schools are doing a good job of securing facilities during the school day,” Scott said. “Schools that are the ministries of churches are seeking creative ways to secure school facilities, while the church facilities maintain an open-door policy. Many schools are hiring armed security guards or utilizing school resource officers if the county makes that available to them. Some schools are investing in door-blocking devices that can be activated by teachers to keep harm out of the classroom. …
“The church that hosts a school ministry can fund the facility upgrades needed to provide limited and surveilled access to school buildings and grounds. As well, when the church needs school facilities during school days for special events, making provisions for students and staff to be safely sequestered away from the events takes cooperative planning. When the church and school work together to provide the safe facilities, students can learn and grow as God intends.”
Scott did list a few practical tips that all schools should follow.
“The best way to keep students and staff safe during the school day is to keep all entry/exit doors locked and funnel all visitors to the school through one ingress/egress point that has video surveillance and ID verification capabilities,” he said. “As well, roaming security guards or personnel provide more ‘eyes’ around school grounds for potential dangers. Local police and sheriff offices have programs available to private schools and they should be consulted when planning for security measures. As well, local law enforcement should be informed about the facilities and ingress/egress points in case they are called in the event of an emergency.”
Harding listed similar tips and had a few extra like adding safety film to doors and windows to prevent their being broken in and conducting regular, ongoing drills for fire and active shooter training.
“Statistically, Education Week reports that ‘there were 51 school shootings in 2022 resulting in injury or death,’” Harding said. “This stat is the most in a single year. This points to a growing mental health concern that must be addressed. As Christians, we know our true hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“We believe that prayer is our first defense. Psalm 127:1b tells us, ‘Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.’ Yes, we need to be prudent and work toward reasonable ways of caring for our communities, but ultimately God is our protector and our refuge. Let’s not forget, nor forgo, that our strongest defense is prayer. We are stronger together.
“We believe that the future of Christian education is bright. There are no foolproof plans to prepare a school for this type of situation, however, there are many steps that can be taken to make sure you are more prepared in case of an emergency. As Christians, we know our true hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”