The sky is not falling when it comes to school security

As a member of Souhegan’s Community Council Security Committee, which spent the summer performing a comprehensive review of security at Souhegan, I was surprised to see a “sky is falling” letter to the editor from a member of WFGS in the last edition of the Citizen. Unlike the writer of the letter whose conclusions were based on one presentation by School Resource Officers, our committee wanted to explore all of the possible ways that security could be improved at Souhegan. Comprised of all the stakeholders, the committee not only conducted research, distributed a survey to staff and students, looked at past security reviews and met with administrators (including high school and SAU administrators), but we also met with Souhegan’s School Resource Officer (SRO) and obtained 10 years of incident data directly from him.

At the Sept. 7 Board meeting, I presented a summary of the data and asked board members if there was any other data that contradicts our data, or if board members were aware of any additional data that our committee should be looking at. There was not. So here is what was presented based on 10 years of history from the SRO:

Mental health incidents, which include suicidal thoughts or self harm – current data shows the number of incidents to be the same as, or lower than, 7 out of the last 10 years. 2008, 2009, and 2013 were slightly lower.

Substance abuse incidents – only 2 of the last 10 years had a lower number of incidents than the most current data.

Property Damage which includes theft, vandalism, trespassing, and arson – the only other year that had a lower number of incidents was 2014-15

Violence which is defined as assault, sexual assault, disorderly conduct, defiance, and threatening, and intimidation – current results show the third lowest number of incidents in ten years.

The latest results of a Youth Risk Survey (which is given every 2 years) that were presented to the board also showed risk-taking behaviors going down. Most of the behaviors were below state averages, some well below. My intent is not to minimize ANY risk-taking behaviors or safety issues, but to say that the sky is NOT falling.

When forming our recommendations to the school board, some of the questions we asked ourselves were:

How can we maximize safety and minimize risk?

What current issues are we trying to solve or prevent?

Specific to the 90 cameras recommended by the SRO (which would only cover 30 percent of the school since they cannot be in classrooms, bathrooms or locker rooms), some of the questions we asked were:

Will cameras stop the minority of people who engage in theft at the high school, or will these people find the other 70 percent of the school in which to continue this behavior?

Will 30 percent camera coverage prevent intruders or might a buzz in system or other security measure be a better option?

How effective are cameras at stopping substance abuse or suicide attempts? Or should we be looking at other preventative and educational solutions?

Please join the committee and the School Board on Oct. 16 at Souhegan High School to hear more about our work and to provide feedback.