Safety without security guards

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Some parents and educators worry that too many security measures create a scary, prison-like environment in schools. But others argue that such tactics do keep students from bringing weapons inside and let them know that wrongdoing will not be tolerated.

School officials, activists, students and parents do have other ideas about how to make schools safer without more metal detectors and security guards. Here’s a sampling:

* Adopt a restorative justice approach to discipline. Currently used by Cook County’s juvenile justice system, this approach emphasizes showing misbehaving students the hurt that they’ve caused and developing a punishment that has them repair the damage; for instance, by returning or paying for stolen items. Peer juries, currently used in 43 schools, are an example of restorative justice. Also, some schools use ‘peace circles,’ where students talk out their conflict. CPS policy encourages schools to use restorative justice for non-violent offences.

* Hire more counselors, social workers and psychologists. Principals, students and administrators all agree that schools need more staff to work with angry, troubled students. But in a district as large as Chicago’s, providing more such staff on a system-wide level is costly.

* Offer more activities for student engagement during and after school. Many argue that students who love to come to school and are excited by what they do there won’t cause trouble. Extracurricular activities—whether band or football, drama or chess—keep students engaged. An added bonus: these programs also keep children busy after school, during the hours when many of them are unsupervised and get in trouble. The district recently announced plans to spend an additional $14 million on these programs.

* Reward positive behavior and offer character education. Several schools in Chicago have grants for programs to reward good behavior. Sometimes students or classes earn points or tickets that they can use for prizes, such as a pizza lunch. Some schools also have teachers do lessons on how to be respectful and responsible toward others.