Gary L. Sigrist, Jr. retired after 30 years in education. In his retirement he started his own risk management company and continues to work with schools, colleges, and faith-based organizations around the country. He is a nationally recognized expert in school safety and continues to present at conferences throughout the U.S.
As I travel the country speakIng at conferences and working with school districts all over the united states, I am frequently asked, “are schools a safe place for our children?” overwhelmingly, the answer is, “yes!” But I also hear from many school administrators who believe that an act of violence could never happen at their schools. While I am not an alarmist, there is much that goes into making a school a safe and secure environment for all.
Schools are what the U.S. Department of homeland security calls soft targets. There is a name for facilities that implement the strictest practices and protocols to keep everyone inside the facility safe from outside harm and to make the facility a hard target: prisons. As we work to keep our students and staff members safe, we must create more of a castle than a prison. In medieval days, everyone wanted the safety of the castle, yet it was a place where everyone felt comfortable and invited.
Catholic schools provide a unique learning environment. There are eight siblings in my family and all of us attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Grove City, OH. My three children and most of my nieces and nephews also attend OLPH. I have seen firsthand the importance of an education centered on our faith and our church. The culture and atmosphere at my school were much different from the public schools where I taught for 30 years. Are catholic schools safer than public schools in terms of target school violence? Based on my own experience, Catholic schools are at less of a risk from the typical act of school violence because of the positive relationships between the students and staff and the amount of parental involvement with the school. But all schools have risks and so must engage in practices that significantly reduce the possibility of violence. Catholic schools are similar to public schools in that both are challenged by funding issues. It is important to balance costs of security measures with the likelihood of an event putting a school at risk.
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