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Superintendent Rodriguez: Can guns make our schools safer?
For many students, parents and politicians, the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, was a wake-up call on just how vulnerable schools can be to major acts of violence. So we begin again the public square debate on all the questions that keep coming up since as far back as the Columbine shooting in 1999.
 
What makes our schools safe? Should we have metal detectors? Armed Guards in every school? Guns for teachers? What about mental health? Should we monitor social media?
 
As the leader of Pottstown School District, the weight of responsibility for the safety of over 4,000 souls has never been heavier. Our school leaders wrestle with how to prepare facilities and procedures for all sorts of emergencies.
 
This October, we completed Armed Violent Intruder drills with the Pottstown Police Department and began the 4th year of training students and staff in the “Run, Hide, Fight” model of emergency preparedness. Meanwhile, we, like many Pennsylvania school districts, have submitted an ACT 44 Grant in the hopes of upgrading and adding to our security infrastructure.
 
Yet, we must all keep in mind that the most important element to keeping both schools and communities safe isn’t a product that can be bought or armed security guards. Safety is about good ole’ fashioned positive relationships. When we know each other, trust each other, and communicate with one another, our level of safety and security is greatly improved.
 
Readers may remember a school shooting attempt that was foiled here in Pottstown almost 10 years ago.
 
On December 9, 2008, everyone from The Mercury to major news stations like CNN broke the story of a 9th grader named Richard Yanis who had plotted to murder and maim students whom he disliked. He had access to weapons and a plan to use them. But it was not a metal detector or a teacher with a gun that averted this tragedy. It was a trusting relationship between a student who knew something important and a teacher in whom he confided.
 
As a result of information provided through that relationship, school district officials and police department detectives were able to intervene before a deadly plot was carried out.
 
I was the principal of Pottstown High School at that time and remember investigating, worrying about where those guns were and what was going to happen. I also remember when a teacher came to the office and told us that a student had given him a critical piece of information that led to the missing guns and the uncovering of the planned attack. That student trusted his teacher to help him. That teacher built a positive relationship with his student, which in the end, kept us all safe. We need to recognize and value the relationships teachers, coaches and staff make with our students, as much as, if not more than, we value metal detectors or armed security guards.
 
—Stephen Rodriguez
Superintendent, Pottstown Schools
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