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Parents Say School Security Has Increased Since Newtown Massacre

Most parents of elementary school-age children say their schools boosted security following last year's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., according to a poll from NPR in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

The poll was the first national survey since the 1999 Columbine tragedy to ask parents how schools reacted to a mass shooting. It found that 62 percent of parents with children in kindergarten through grade 5 reported increased school security precautions. Fifty-seven percent of those with kids in grades 6-8 saw changes, while that number fell to 41 percent among parents of students in grades 9-12.

The NPR survey also found that 72 percent of parents in the U.S. say they believe their child's school today is extremely or very safe. But that feeling of security is not shared by minority and low-income parents. Forty percent of African-American parents say their child's school is somewhat, not very, or not at all safe.

"That is a very large number of parents to get up every morning and send their child to a school with that type of anxiety and worry," says Harvard professor Robert Blendon, who co-directed the poll. "In African-American communities they may be very very worried that youngsters are not being protected."

Overall, 76 percent of families said they think their schools offer effective counseling to troubled students. But that number is unchanged from 1999, the year of the deadly Columbine high school attack.

One year ago today, a gunman killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary before committing suicide in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

Robin Hattersley Gray, editor of Campus Safety, a national trade magazine covering school security and safety issues, says she isn't surprised by the poll results.

"The fact that the targets were so young was very remarkable and really scared a lot of people," she says. "Generally school security incidents are in the middle and high schools, rather than the elementary schools."

Campus Safety's own survey of K-12 officials who implement security policy at some 600 school districts across the U.S. found that nearly 90 percent of them changed their security policies or facilities following the Newtown killings.

"It could be anything from adding locks to hiring more school safety and resource officers," Hattersley Gray says.

While some companies are selling bullet-resistant white boards and other new high-tech tools, she says school security spending is still largely focused on bolstering security measures such as adding classroom and entrance locks, access control systems, cameras, intercoms, buzzer systems and bullet-resistant glass on windows and doors.

Nationally, it's estimated that the Newtown rampage will push school security spending from $2.7 billion last year to nearly $5 billion by 2017, according to Colorado-based research company IHS.

The concept of crime prevention through environmental design (or CPTED) has also gained wider traction post-Newtown, according to Hattersley Gray.

"If you design a school properly, it's going to vastly improve the safety of a campus," she says. "If you design a front entrance so you have greater visibility, for example, so administrators can see who is coming and going, that will greatly improve security. We're seeing quite a bit of that, as well."

However, Hattersley Gray wonders whether the security expansion will prove sustainable.

"Once the fear and shock" of an attack wears off, she says, the funding often goes away. "So we always try to talk about implementing sustainable solutions and systems like new locks that don't require a whole lot of maintenance."

For more on the school safety poll, Here & Now spoke with co-director Robert Blendon, Harvard School of Public Health professor.

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Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.
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