In the aftermath of the Connecticut shooting, districts in the Philadelphia area are assessing their preparedness and, in many cases, making changes. The only option not on the table: Doing nothing.
In the Philadelphia School District, safety officials said they were reviewing policies and would emphasize prevention. Staff will check that doors are locked, perimeters are secure, and safety drills are performed, said Chief Inspector Cynthia Dorsey, the city police officer in charge of district safety.
Philadelphia has a force of unarmed school-police officers inside all secondary schools and some elementary schools. Armed city police are stationed inside some high schools, all of which have metal detectors or handheld scanners.
Moorestown schools in Burlington County are having local police drive by more often and are considering automatic door locks. Several other districts in New Jersey are reviewing safety policies, but have not made substantial changes.
In Delaware County, the Garnet Valley School District has hired six additional security officers and brought in a second security consultant. The William Penn district is now doing lockdown drills monthly instead of sporadically.
In Upper Merion Township, police are making random foot patrols inside public and private schools. "Our main goal is to make these schools a less-appealing target," Chief Tom Nolan said, "because any potential actors will be aware that the police are often at the school and may arrive at any moment."
Similar ideas were discussed in the North Penn forum, where police said routine patrols of schools have become slightly more frequent.
Lt. Gerry Dougherty said Montgomery Township police would also continue to connect with students and teachers through the DARE program.
DARE - an antidrug program that has fallen to budget cuts in other districts - opens a line of communication with students that "carries long past their elementary days," Dougherty said. "We get all kinds of tips and information as that happens."
Security experts say prevention is still the best solution to mass killings. But over the years, such tragedies have brought lessons about physical security and containment methods during an attack.
Before the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, "the schools were looking at lockdown one-dimensionally," said Steve Beck, safe schools coordinator for Montgomery County. Now, he said, "we're looking at lockdown as just one aspect to an active shooter or intruder within our building. It really has become a multipronged approach."
One post-Columbine improvement is the practice of "intruder" drills in addition to fire, hurricane, and earthquake drills.
After the forum, Amanda Norwitz, 10, described one part of such a drill at Gwyn-Nor Elementary School in North Wales: The students squish up against a corner wall so an intruder can't see anyone through the window.
Many parents at the forum asked whether drills should teach two and three courses of action for students. What if the intruder came before the alarm was set off? What if the first exit route was blocked? Are there cases when it's safer to flee than hide?
Wilson said that there were cases when it would be better to flee and that teachers have been trained to evaluate various conditions and to decide the best course of action. In the wake of Sandy Hook, he said, they would reevaluate training and adjust as needed.
They are also considering replacing glass doors and windows, prevalent in school architecture. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, entered the locked school by shooting out a glass door with an automatic rifle.
Eric, a Lansdale parent who didn't want to give his last name, said he was satisfied with the district's efforts: "I feel like there was a lot of good questions, and they were addressed well."
Still, he said, he would feel more comfortable if someone at his son's school could be armed with a concealed weapon.
Ken Norwitz, the father of Amanda, was also more at ease after the forum.
"No matter what you do, bad people will do bad things," Norwitz said. "But the fact that they're having this meeting, that's proactive."
Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117
or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @JS-Parks.
Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Kristen A. Graham, Kathy Boccella, Rita Giordano, and Aubrey Whelan.