IEMA grant encourages baseline security precautions for all schools

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

School is supposed to be a safe place — a haven where children are able to leave their worries from home at home, and enter a secure learning environment where they can grow, learn and thrive. It’s supposed to be a place where parents can send their children and not have to worry about whether they will make it home safely.

However, the association between school and safety isn’t as strong as it used to be. It seems that lately, school shootings and threats aimed at schools have become more prevalent and deadlier than ever. 

And it’s not just colleges that are falling victim to these violent attacks — it’s elementary schools, high schools, even preschools. Many of these attacks are being committed by students within the schools, many of them committed by complete strangers.

Time and time again we ask ourselves, “How could this happen?” And more importantly, “How could this happen here?” Truth is, many of us think nothing bad can happen at our school, with our exceptional students, faculty and values — until it does. 

And by that time, the precautions that could have potentially saved lives or reduced a perpetrator’s ability to commit a violent act are out of reach. 

But if schools — regardless of their history with violence — have the possibility to take any precautions that will increase student and faculty safety, then they should be taken.

And that’s a step the Illinois Emergency Management Agency is taking. The IEMA announced last week that $25 million in grants will be made available to public elementary, secondary and post-secondary school districts, community colleges and state universities. 

Eligible schools can begin applying for the grant, which will provide elementary and secondary schools with security equipment such as physical locks, reinforced doors and shatter-resistant glass at their public entrances. Secondary schools that receive the grant will also be able to use it to fund inspection and screening systems along with physical security equipment.  

The grant program aims to assist schools in establishing baseline security levels, which aren’t optimal, but even the basics can help save lives, too.

Though this is limited funding, hopefully in the future, more funding will be made available to make sure every school is equipped with consistent security measures, not just the ones that are perceived as needing it.

Tools as simple as a buzzer, in which someone inside the school’s office must clear you before you are able to enter, can be an easy way to greatly increase security. 

Unfortunately, for many schools, they likely would not have the funding to afford these extra security measures if it weren’t for the IEMA grant. Additionally, because the grant is administered on an application and need-basis, schools that already enforce hefty security measures and are well-funded will most likely opt out of applying. 

The under-funded schools, then, that don’t even have the basics, such as reinforced doors and shatter-resistant glass, will hopefully be left to receive a majority of the grant’s funds.

Yet, at the same time, we must realize that safety should be an innate part of the school infrastructure, not just an opportunity available through grants and funding. In other words, these grants shouldn’t be a response to the rise of violence in and around schools, they should have been preventative measures implemented from the beginning.

What this grant emphasizes is that schools aren’t exempt to violence because they are rural or urban, elementary schools or preschools, private or public — all schools need to consider school safety and precautions. 

In the end, we hope that initiatives such as the one proposed by the Illinois Emergency Management System will deter violence within our schools and keep these acts of violence from becoming a norm in society and in our schools.