Alarmed by the terrible tragedies that have occurred just this year in Parkland (FL) and Santa Fe (TX), the Texas Society of Architects has undertaken a strategic initiative, through Texas School Safety Workgroup to provide policy considerations and best practice recommendations to improve efforts to make schools safer for students and teachers. To date, a lot has been learned about the nature of the problem and potential solutions. Our group has put considerable research into studies concerning the nature of school violence across the country and potential remedies, various state (Texas) laws, and regulations, including discussions with state officials, amassing a substantial volume of materials on the subject.
Yet the deeper we dive, the more we get into the topic, the list of plausible causes for the problems seem to grow, and the potential for quick, simple remedies diminishes. At first, we sought articles and explored ideas focused solely on ‘hardening’ school facilities to protect students and faculty. But we repeatedly encountered volumes about how the environment for individual students and teachers is shaped by instructional methods and materials. As we worked, we found remedies with the potential to help in one area…but that exacerbated problems in another—in short, no single ideal option.
Some fundamental realities were universally accepted:
- Needs differ by community, so responses must be determined locally. There is no single, right answer, no “simple quick fix” for Texas—or education generally.
- The broadest possible community input is critical when those decisions are being made. Those providing direction should include, at a minimum: students, parents; teachers; administrators, staff; security professionals, first responders; mental health professionals; and, architects and other, designers/planners.
- Whatever choices are made, additional resources will be required. And today’s fixes may not meet tomorrow’s needs adequately so adaptability built in now will be a plus later.
We’ve drafted some initial recommendations that we believe should be incorporated in the State’s overall response. We’ve also initiated dialogue with Texas School Safety Center personnel to see how we can use data TSSC has already gathered, and possibly offer facility-focused refinements to the current security survey. We’re giving additional assignments to our workgroup members to provide state leaders and the education community helpful tools they can use to make informed decisions within appropriate schedules.
To help everyone seeking to address these issues, we offer the diagram below to explain the unique nature of our schools and all the issues they entail. The elements of schooling are integrally related—we cannot understand or make changes in any one of them without considering and impacting, and in turn, be impacted by, all the others. As architects, facilities are our area of particular interest, but we clearly recognize our role in working with others to shape the environments students and teachers experience in our schools.