Opinion: A Teacher’s Perspective On School Safety

By John Cabascango

Our schools can be dangerous, but not in the same ways as they were in the past. Bullying, and isolation manifest differently in an age of the smartphone. The difference here is that many who are targeted will fight back through posts or exchanges online. Cruelty from peers exists, just as it always has. However, the risk of taking the fight online means you don’t know entirely who it is you are fighting, or who your supposed allies are. If it isn’t bullying, but idealized violence, it is now virtualized. The real world is not safe, and the cyber world is not real. But the consequences of accepting what is online as reality, or the greater reality, has real world consequences.

Although our devices are useful, they are so ingrained that they dictate our actions in times of crisis. If a group of high school students are locked in a room and need to be quiet, the only way a teacher can keep them quiet is to allow phones to be out. Parents rightfully want to know if they are safe, and miscommunication is inevitable. The alternative of not allowing phones during such a time could mean too much noise, when silence may be a matter of life and death. However, it is obvious that those who are glued to their phones are not aware of their surroundings, which is also dangerous in such a situation. I’ve answered questions during a lockdown, regarding what students are hearing from other classrooms. An average high school might have at least 1600 students. If you assume that most are on phones, the complications are obvious, if not obviously solved.

Since North Carolina’s population is growing we are going to continue to have more schools. Metal detectors might help, but let’s assume that kids will continue to value their peers over adults (a normal part of life) and that they may either prop open or leave doors open from time to time for convenience sake. That does constitute a risk, but having fewer entrances means having fewer exits. At some point sheltering in place may not be the safest option. If there are fewer exits, escape is limited. As a teacher I have told students that I will not barricade the door because we are on the ground level with a large window. If someone came in through the window, people would need to go out the door. My explanation makes sense on the ground floor with two points of entry, which are consequently also two points of exit. In a multilevel school, exiting the window is obviously not the same option.

In addition, crisis instructions to high school students are different from children. Children are not going to overpower an adult or a teenager. Smaller bodies should either shelter or run. A smaller moving target is harder to hit, even for someone who is trained. It’s sickening to say that, but it might save lives. For high school students, fight or flight are both options. A group of teenagers can take down even a larger adult. I’m not advocating training teenagers in a school setting, but rather actual strategies for teachers who have to make split second decisions giving options to their students.

Teenagers can handle such instructions better than children. Simply running through a drill quickly and preparing the adults for the crisis is much more effective than scaring children for something that is still unlikely to happen. Children will not be better prepared by constantly talking about things which will give them nightmares. It may be that regular emphasis on such drills will not prepare them, but will create anxiety which affects many areas of their lives.

Gun related deaths of children and adolescents rose 50% in two years during the pandemic. Some might argue that this proves schools should have been open but it is more obvious that guns in the home were the greater risk and schools were the safer place. In addition, the handgun is still the most commonly owned weapon in urban and suburban residences, and as a result the greatest home threat. It also remains the greatest danger in a school shooting because it is more easily concealed. Stricter penalties on parents who do not secure weapons is a reasonable measure. There are going to be exceptions, but in most cases, legislating according to the exceptions makes for bad policy. It may sound cliche, but the exceptions often prove the rules.

AR-15 and military style weapons should be an easier ban. A responsible gun owner might have a handgun for self defense, or a rifle for hunting. Arguing for rapid fire, magazine weaponry isn’t self defense. It is paranoia that is stoked by groups like the NRA and politicians who want to keep their supporters clinging to the idea of defending themselves against their own government. (even though many such politicians have long lucrative careers in government work) The mentally ill who fantasize about themselves in a sort of video game-like violence setting would also use assault rifles in mimicking the fantasy setting. Those who say criminals are going to get weapons anyway, demonstrate the sort of reasoning which could be employed against any sort of law and is an example of fatalism rather than an actual thought out argument.

Common sense gun laws would not get rid of guns, but would universalize licensing standards, and databases. We are disturbed by sexual predators who are able to move from state to state because the databases don’t cross over. But we are somehow not bothered by a background check which would flag guns across state lines.

Finally, many Americans have a religious zeal for gun ownership. Our refusal to address that aspect of violence in our own society can only be called religious in its force. In a blog entitled “What a Stupid Bumper Sticker Can Tell Us About American Christianity.” Russell Moore, former President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Church recalls reading a bumper sticker that said “If Jesus Had a Gun He’d Still Be Alive Today.” Moore’s response is that Jesus is alive, but he admits that whoever put that on their car may go to church and profess to believe in Jesus. American culture uses religious terms to back up their political view. This makes it clear that the force of religious terminology is preferred, but the political belief is the point. This is obvious in political speeches and advertisements where gun ownership is your greatest freedom. If we place our ability to defend ourselves as our greatest virtue, then of course we will not have any restrictions on that which gives us hope. But religious convictions demand sacrifice. Eleven of the original disciples of Jesus were martyred. American abolitionists risked their lives to smuggle slaves to freedom, as did Christians like the Ten Boom family that hid Jews from the Nazis. If gun ownership takes on a religious position, it will demand sacrifice. We have to ask ourselves what we are willing to, or have already sacrificed to such a jealous god?

John Cabascango is the author of Throwing Moses Under the Bus: A High School English Teacher looks at the Ten Commandments, and Off the Rails: Evangelicals, Power and Politics


  1. These schools allows these bad kids to do whatever they want. Schools do not do crap when it comes to thuggery behavers

    • I can only speak for the school where I teach, but we hold students accountable and discipline them for making poor behavior choices.

  2. Liberal English Teacher! This is why public schools are going down the drain! If your kid has this teacher, I hope you are paying attention. No teacher should be writing opinion columns or political cartoons for that matter!

    • @See: Preach it brother! Here in America we only let certain people write opinion columns or political cartoons! #VoteOutIncumbents

  3. Mandatory firearm registration – owner has registration card that lists all weapons
    No transfers unless done through a registration office
    New purchases must be picked up at registration office
    Mandatory firearm safes; only registered owner will have combination
    Waiting period for firearm purchase extended to indefinite to allow all paperwork to pass
    People under 21 prohibited from owning firearms (Hunting under supervision of the registered gun owner is allowed)
    Extensive mental evaluation
    Mandatory liability insurance for firearms
    Ammo purchases made only for the caliber firearm specified on registration
    Max pistol magazine capacity of 8 rounds.
    No detachable magazine fed, center fire, semi-auto rifles allowed. Only fixed internal feed of 8 rounds or less.
    80% gun kits banned. (No serial number)
    Required reporting of stolen firearms within four hours of discovery

    And if a firearm registered to you is used in a crime, you do the time for the crime.
    Unless it was stolen from your gun safe and you reported it within 4 hours of discovery.

    • I don’t think I know everything but I can tell this writer sure doesn’t like guns. I do teach my own kids everything they need to know as well as all about gun safety just as every parent should whether they have guns in the home or not.

  4. When I was in elementary school outside of Fayetteville (1970’s), we had a class in 4th grade: Hunter’s safety. Sponsored by the NC Wildlife Commission. Taught firearms handling and safety, ethical hunting, etc. Even got a fancy patch to show off. Fast forward to high school when I (and numerous other students) had hunting rifles in our vehicles, many attached to the rear glass of trucks. No one stole them, no one used them (although there might have been a very rare outlier somewhere in America). The point is that something about society has changed. I’m no more inclined to use a gun for violence than I was in the 4th or 12th grades. As with so many things these days, mental health is the central issue. To commit murder is: a) Against the law, and b) Immoral. Having one’s head buried in a cell phone doesn’t promote good mental health, nor do the shoot-the-zombie games that don’t teach anything about the costs of using a weapon to do harm. How deranged does someone have to be to believe that violence is a reasonable answer? Mental health.

    • You are 100% correct that mental health issues are the prime concern. Less meds, less phones, less social media, more God, more good counseling and stop making people think it’s taboo to talk to someone about your issues.

  5. As usual, there are those that promote their wet dr***s regarding gun safety that penalize law-abiding gun owners. Do you think that the criminals will follow any gun laws? The short is “No.” Put the blame where it belongs-with the murderous filth that does the shootings.

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