In recent years, the question of how to ensure the safety of students and staff within school premises has become a critical concern. With various tragic incidents highlighting the vulnerability of educational institutions, the debate about the most effective methods of school security has gained prominence. While there are certainly complex discussions to be had involving the roles of mental health and what parts of our current culture contribute to mass shootings, one proposition that often arises in these discussions is the idea of hiring veterans to protect schools. School Resource Officers already exist in some schools, so why not expand the program to those with combat and first aid training?
First, the benefits of this plan.
Training and Discipline
One of the most compelling arguments for hiring veterans as school protectors is their extensive training and discipline. Veterans, particularly those with backgrounds in law enforcement or the military, often bring a wealth of experience in handling high-pressure situations. Their training equips them with the ability to remain calm and focused during emergencies, which is crucial when dealing with potential threats to school safety. In addition to this training, veterans are often highly capable in the field of first aid and emergency medicine. While some veterans consider their level of medical expertise to be average at best, when dealing with traumatic injuries it is leaps and bounds above that of the average civilian.
Veterans are no strangers to security protocols and procedures. Many of them have received training in threat assessment, surveillance, and risk management – skills that are directly applicable to maintaining a secure school environment. By leveraging their security expertise, schools can potentially enhance their preparedness and response capabilities even among those in the staff who aren’t as fluid in those areas.
It would be easy to say veterans can serve as inspirational figures for students. Their dedication, commitment, and sacrifice can instill important values in young minds. More importantly, veterans have a distinct place in society that rides the line between protector of their community and total anarchist. The veteran dark humor (properly tempered of course) and experiences with authority can aid them in bonding with the students and showing them a path forward they may actually decide to walk.
Inexpensive Alternative to Contract Security
As a government initiative, either state or federal, this sort of program would be in some cases dramatically cheaper than hiring a dedicated private security firm and come with regulations and training that are more conducive to the mission as assigned. This passes savings on to the taxpayer (not considering other avenues, of course) that would allow the program to be spread over more districts than would otherwise be possible.
These all sound good, don’t they? As a veteran, a decent paying job securing my son’s school doesn’t sound like a bad deal at all. As with all things, however, there are downsides.
While veterans bring a sense of security, their presence might also inadvertently intimidate students and staff. To those of us who have lived the military lifestyle, guarding a school is child’s play, but to random civilians, the sight of armed individuals within the school premises could create an environment of fear, hindering the learning and teaching experience. Striking a balance between security and maintaining a welcoming atmosphere is crucial both for the learning of the students and in not fostering the very attacks they would be there to stop.
Limited Skill Transition
Most veterans possess valuable skills, though not all of them directly translate to civilian security roles. Some veterans may require additional training to adapt to the specific needs of a school environment. It’s also important to avoid the assumption that all veterans are experts in security matters. There is no shame in being a Fire Protection Specialist in the Air Force, but that’s not the same as being an experienced infantryman.
A Holistic Approach to Safety
Not to sound like a dirty hippie or anything, but relying solely on veterans for school security might overlook the importance of a holistic safety approach. Building strong relationships with students, implementing programs that deal with bullying directly, fostering a sense of community, and investing in mental health resources are equally crucial aspects of ensuring a safe school environment.
At first it does seem cheaper than hiring, say, Constellis, this program would be prohibitively expensive. Consider the math. There are 98,755 public schools in the United States. If only a quarter of those are funded for veteran security, that drops to 24,689. Multiply that by an average salary of $50,000 a year (not high, but not nothing either), and the number you get is $1.234 billion dollars.
That figure doesn’t include training, equipping, or arming the veteran guards, providing annual or semiannual quals, health benefits, or even having more than one veteran per school. In light of that math… There is no reasonable way the United States could accomplish this goal without going broke.
Where Does That Leave Us?
As much as we would like to make this program work, it simply does not function under the current suggested model. A volunteer only organization wouldn’t alleviate the problem either, as annual training and insurance costs would still eat the already abysmal education budget. Simply put, we need another solution. To truly address the issue of school safety, it's essential to bring together multiple stakeholders, including educators, parents, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and community members. Until we identify and root out the underlying causes of youth violence in schools, the issue will continue.