Student on LA school closings: Threat to student safety always exists, whether we notice or not

In light of what occurred today in Los Angeles, Andrew Liang takes on a critical topic, school safety.

Andrew is a high school junior in Fulton County. He is a former reporter for the Scholastic News Kids Press and has appeared as an education commentator on the Today Show, CNN, and MSNBC.

By Andrew Liang

Today, a threat of violence closed schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest with more than 640,000 students. The electronic threat, which warned of a possible bomb attack and mass shooting, prompted Superintendent Ramon Cortines to ask law enforcement to search all 900 public schools in the district. He cited this month’s mass shooting in San Bernardino as a factor in his decision to close and search all schools.

Whitehead-Caitlin-Fal14-ILLU410-Burns-A1-AJC_Marching Into the SCortines has reason to be concerned, as the issue of student safety becomes more important than ever. Since this semester began, fatal shootings have occurred at high schools and colleges from California to South Dakota to Texas to Georgia. Two months ago, Oregon experienced the deadliest mass shooting in its history when an armed student killed 10 of his classmates at Umpqua Community College. These shootings have intensified and renewed the debate over gun reform, and likewise should also prompt us to begin reevaluating the safety of students in schools.

Ensuring student safety is a vital to creating a comfortable learning environment where students can focus exclusively on learning. But students and parents have generally been unconcerned with this issue, as most view school shootings as isolated incidents. While this may be the case, the closure of Los Angeles schools shows us a threat of violence can have a highly palpable impact on students and schools. In an almost identical case only three weeks ago, the University of Chicago was forced to cancel all of its classes and ask students to stay in their dorms after the discovery of an online post threatening a massacre at the college.

Andrew Liang

Andrew Liang

In April, my high school experienced a similar threat. Countdowns to a mass shooting were scribbled on bathroom walls, and rumors circulated among the student body about a possible imminent attack. The school responded very seriously and identified the student who started the rumor a day before the countdown was set to end. That afternoon, our principal also emailed parents to reassure them, stating that extra police officers would be “on hand” the next day “out of an abundance of caution”. Because of the lack of official information apart from that email, we didn’t know how credible the threat was.

The following day—a Friday—I attended school, but around half of the students in my classes did not show. By the end of the day, close to two-thirds of my classmates were gone. Over the weekend, we heard new rumors that the countdown was set to end on Monday, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine school shooting. Although most students chose to return to school that day, many of us felt very uneasy and highly alert.

For those four to five days, nearly all students were on edge. The countdown was constantly on our minds, and we could not fully concentrate on schoolwork knowing that someone had threatened our safety. Since then, additional permanent security officers have been posted at our school. Beginning last year, the school’s front doors were locked during the day. Students coming in late now have to buzz in to the front office to identify themselves. Administrators frequently warn us not to open side doors for other students, and remind upperclassmen who park on campus to remember to sign in and out at the front office. Our educational environment and comfort zones at school have definitely changed, whether we notice them on a daily basis.

Today, most of our school’s students and parents have forgotten about the April incident and the fear students felt that week. The likelihood of violence may once again seem minute, but it is important not to forget that the threat to student safety always exists, whether we notice or not. We tend to ignore the possibility when it’s not obvious and wait for a threat before taking action.

To effectively address this issue, our community must be proactive rather than reactive. In the long run, our society needs to seriously assess the value of firearms and whether their benefits really outweigh their risks. Nearly all violence in schools—and most attacks with multiple fatalities—involve firearms, many of which are legally obtained. Meaningful gun reform and stronger gun regulations are essential to improving student safety.

However, we must understand that consequential legislation may take decades and that no quick solution exists. In the short-term, schools should be allocated more security officers, and those officers and administrators should make a greater effort to connect with students, in order to encourage kids to be their “eyes and ears” around campus. For example, Tuesday’s threat in Los Angeles mentioned “backpacks” as part of a potential attack; in such situations, mindful and vigilant students are in a much better position to identify threats than the few officers and administrators at each school.

Student safety is too important for us to relegate to the back burner of our priorities. Our inaction only allows mass shootings and the fear of violence to continuously repeat themselves. We must urgently take steps as a community to minimize these threats and make schools as safe and conducive to learning as possible. It is always better for us to be overly prepared than to become part of the statistics. In an era in which senseless, random gun violence regularly rocks schools around the nation, our community’s students deserve no less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 1

16 comments
Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Young Mr Liang would benefit by studying the Constitution. The Founding Fathers were among the best learned men of their time and there was a reason they placed the 2nd Amendment in support of the freedom of speech

A lot of Patriot blood was spilled to secure those rights for us and there are forces at work, even today, who are working to deny them.

Ben Franklin said it best, "Those who would give up a essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither".

gg74
gg74

Kudos to Mr. Liang on a well articulated article expressing the concerns of him and some of his classmates. Further, his thoughts are wonderful and well considered. However, this article lacks fact checking. For one, the anniversary of Columbine was on a Sunday last year, not a school day. Again, it's great what he has written, but rumors create hysteria and this article should clearly state that these were the events as he knew them as a 10th grade student and not necessary how things actually occurred. I cannot imagine a countdown to a mass shooting at a school not getting some sort of news coverage. That may be what he thought was occurring, but I would like to think that if the powers to be in Fulton County Schools had any information about a "mass shooting", far more than a letter would have been the response by the school district.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@gg74 Andrew sent me a note about your comment.  


Hi Maureen, 

I happened to read the comments below my piece on the blog, and noticed a reader suggested that my facts were inaccurate.
The reader wrote, "This article lacks fact checking. For one, the anniversary of Columbine was on Sunday last year, not a school day." The anniversary was in fact on Monday, April 20, 2015. I think the reader mistakenly referred to last year, 2014.
The reader also wrote, "I cannot imagine a countdown to a mass shooting at a school  not getting some sort of news coverage." WSB-TV tweeted about the threat and countdown in April. The reader probably does not know that.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I remember well that before I retired from a large state university, a common occurrence right around Finals week was that suddenly someone pulled the fire alarm and emptied the classrooms. After the third time, I just went to my office and worked there when the alarm rang (though worrying that my windows didn't open, so I couldn't jump out if the alarm proved accurate); and I'm still here. And that was my thought for the LA and the NYC alarms, for isn't it right around test-time?  Evidently, that was also the thought of the NYC Superintendent.


Those false alarms around test-times were as predictable as clockwork. I fear these system-wide alarms will be too.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I think we all need to think about terrorism (domestic as well) when schools are designed.  All but one of the schools in my county are grouped close together. By targeting two groups of schools, almost all the school-aged kids in this county could be wiped out!  So not only is the entire town at a stand-still from 2:50-3:20, but it poses a risk of crazy people harming most of the next generation.


In addition, high schools, with their large parking lots, would be fair game for car bombs.  If we forbid students bringing cars onto campus, what would happen?


And then we have untreated, mentally ill people in the schools. I have had years when I feared elementary-aged kids because they are well on their way to being a deadly threat.  Just a Columbine waiting to happen.

class80olddog
class80olddog

When my son was at Cherokee county, he went to class in unprotected "mobile classrooms"

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Wascatlady 

And think about the college-aged kids! I was always sure that was how I'd leave this life: shot by someone in my class to whom I had just given a failing grade. 

redweather
redweather

Metal detectors at entrances to the school house might be a good idea.

class80olddog
class80olddog

That didn't help in Atlanta where someone just let the girl with the gun in a side door

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@redweather 

Possibly for K-12 schools, which already have security officers at hand. But who would man the detectors at the University buildings on campuses?

class80olddog
class80olddog

Society needs to better address the PEOPLE who commit these shootings. Often it is a known crazy such as Adam Lanza or a known terrorist (should have been known) such as Tashfeen.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Or like the Perimeter mall shooter years ago. Went to psychologist and told him he thought he would feel better if he shot someone.! Then the psychologist DID NOTHING

Bitcoined
Bitcoined

No, this newspaper column isn't just a mouthpiece for the teachers' union. Other causes favored by liberals, such as repealing the Second Amendment, also get regular coverage.

CSpinks
CSpinks

Not that I agree with him on all his points, but Liang's parents, teachers and school administrators as well as Fulton County school-taxpayers should be proud of his skill in presenting them.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@CSpinks Absolutely. Andrew's piece needed minimal editing. He's a talented kid. And an accomplished one. He provided a modest bio, but he has other notable achievements.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

@MaureenDowney @CSpinks  He is unfortunately misguided to the political left, which suits the AJC fine. Had he taken the opposite opinion we would never have seen his work here.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I am delighted to share a new piece by Fulton County high school student Andrew Liang. He is a former reporter for the Scholastic News Kids Press and has appeared as an education commentator on the Today Show, CNN, and MSNBC. You can read an earlier Get Schooled essay by him here. […]