Category General Liability and Safety Issues
Title School Mass Shooting Viewpoint: Dock Mennonite Academy
Author/s Dr. Conrad Swartzentruber, Superintendent
Preview School Mass Shooting Viewpoint: Dock Mennonite Academy

School Mass Shooting Viewpoint: Dock Mennonite Academy
Dr. Conrad Swartzentruber, Superintendent

Demographics: Suburban Pennsylvania school. Seven hundred seventy students in early education through 12th grade. Mennonite denominationally connected. Two separate stand-alone school campuses.

1. What kind of feedback have you received from parents and how has that driven some of the school's thinking/responses?

We have completed extensive surveys of our stakeholders, including parents. This is an annual practice but more extensive this year in preparation accreditation review from AdvanceED and Mennonite Education Agency. Multiple questions from the surveys related to the stakeholders' sense of safety. The Early Education-8 campus is one building that is locked throughout the day. The High School campus is on 7- acres and has multiple buildings with students moving between buildings for their classes. This campus is similar to an open college campus. Parents and students described a sense of safety on both campuses. There was as strong a feeling of safety on the open campus as the locked campus, although the open campus houses older students.

2. What is the school's viewpoint on or response to mass school shootings (pedagogical/theological/philosophical responses)?

School shootings have been a reality for schools for decades. While certain shootings create a more widespread community response, depending on the extent of news coverage, many school shootings are scarcely noticed today. At Dock, we take a long-term approach to safety rather than a reactionary approach, albeit a specific community response can necessitate a school to respond to a particular event.

Dock is a Mennonite school with a theology that emphasizes the sanctity of life and our role as followers of Jesus in bringing reconciliation to those around us. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is key in shaping our understanding of the life of reconciliation to which God calls us. The loss of student life exemplifies the fallen nature of humankind. A recognition of this brokenness is critical in finding a way to step into the work of reconciliation. In our brokenness, we have damaged our relationship with God and each other, to the point of taking the lives of others. We believe our work of reconciliation includes repairing these relationships.

Even in the immediate question of school shootings, our greatest opportunity for safety may come from a strong community. Rather than a sole focus on building barriers, that are often not effective agaist someone with evil intent, we have shosen to focus on the aspects of community that may deter an event. Long term, this would include building positive relationships and networks within our school community, including with church leaders as well asl law enforcement. We encourage faculty and staff to be aware of their surroundings and to talk with new people on campus, something we already valuse in terms of being an inviting campus. While we pay close attention to locked doors and places of entrance and access, building a community that is constantly aware of surroundings is  equally critical.

Schools face a significant challence in balancing the trade-off between investing in traditional security measures and preserving the communuty feel of a campus, holding to the trust our faith brings. We recognize that safety is not always provided by a locked facility with metal detectors for a young child. One needs to be cognizant of the meaning of safety for all children in the school. Well-meaning actions we take as schools to make our students safe may actually increase their fear and damage their sense of well-being. This erodes the goal of caring for the whole child. This is not a philosophical posture to excuse carelessness, rather a suggestion that we must be aware of all aspects of mental and physical safety as we develop plans for our schools.

Arming teachers or staff would not be consistent with our theology, relating to the sanctity of life. Furthermore, it would not align with out philosophy of equipping teachers to best focus on their primary task of inspiring students. This additional task would not be a reasonable expectation to add to the already challenging role of the teacher.

We are thoughtful in the balance we maintain of faith and reasonable measures to ensure a level of safety. Ultimately, our faith perspective demands an element of trust in God to protect. It is our responsibility to do all we can to create the safest environment for our students by physically managing our campuses and by creating a place where students feel safe. At that point, we surrender our fears to God who watches over us all, a distinctive that only a faith perspective can realize.

3. What measures is the school taking to address concerns over safety and a potential mass shooting (practical responses/actions taken)?

One year ago we began working with a police officer from the local police department to develop a comprehensive Emergency Preparedness Plan for our school system. This consultant had worked with other local schools in coordinating common terminoloogy and approaches that would enhance the ability of local emergency services to respond quickly and efficiently in the event of an emergency.

Our police consultant is working with our faculty and staff to prepare them for potential responses for various emergemcies. We practice emergency drills that prepare students and staff for various responses. We keep parents informed of the ways we strive to keep our campuses safe.

LLU 28.3

Notice: This article is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It has been provided to member schools with the understanding that ACSI is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional services. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. Laws vary by jurisdiction, and the specific applications of laws to particular facts requires the advice of an attorney.

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