Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Anti-ballistic whiteboards for the classroom? Will Safeboards really make us safer?

Remember when the only projectile you had to worry about in the classroom was a nun hurling an eraser on someone’s head? Or some slimy boy hitting you in the back of the neck with a spit ball? (Ewwwww.)

Well, Columbine, Newtown, and the myriad school gun incidents in between, have certainly put those sorts of worries to a rest.

And now a company with a long history in the armored vehicle biz is bringing out bullet-proof bullet-resistant white boards for teachers and kids to get behind to protect themselves. (While reminiscing a bit here, remember a kinder, gentler time when sticking your head under a desk – good old ‘duck and cover’ – was going to protect you from a nuclear attack?)

Two school districts—one in Arizona and one in Utah, where IAC [International Armoring Corp.] is based—approached [chief executive Mark] Burton more than a year ago concerned about armed intruders. This, alas, was before the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The districts asked IAC to provide them with some kind of armored protection that would be discreet, functional, and affordable for use in elementary schools. “They didn’t want the classroom to look like a fortress,” says Burton.

IAC designed special walls it calls Safeboards that can be used as whiteboards—and can also withstand the firepower of handguns, automatic weapons, and nearly every shoulder-mounted weapon. When teachers hear an alarm or suspect trouble, they can slide the whiteboards over the doors to their classrooms. IAC can install corner partitions made up of sliding walls for more protection, a feature Burton calls safe havens. Each one can hold 37 kindergarteners. “We’re buying time until the authorities get there,” says Burton. (Source: Business Week.)

“Each on e can hold 37 kindergarteners.” This has to be among the sadness things I’ve read in a good long time.

Personally, I’d rather see more money go into mental health (including early detection of sociopathic youth) and trying to keep guns out of the hands of the sort of psychos who would shoot 37 kindergarteners as soon as look at them.

But you can’t blame schools and parents for being worried.

So now, no doubt, having pumped-up school security will become a budget line item, knocking out old-school things like books and student enrichment.

And we’ll get even more inured to the notion that guards carrying submachine guns, commando-suited SWAT teams (snarling German Shepherds optional) and – now! at last! - safe cloakrooms in classrooms = SECURITY.

The sliding whiteboard starts at $1,850, and each corner partition costs about $5,800. Elementary schools have an average of 25 classrooms, and Burton knows not all school districts can afford his products. For administrators, he says, deciding which schools, or even which classrooms, get the security systems can be a touchy subject.

As in “is a kindergartener’s life worth more than a third-grader’s life” kind of touchy subject. Not to mention as in “is the life of a kindergartener in a leafy suburb right out of a John Hughes movie more valuable than a kindergartener in a run down blue collar exurb” kind of touchy subject.

Because let’s face it, although “Safeboard™ is designed with functionality and cost in mind,” IAC will be catering to well-to-do, albeit paranoid, school districts.

The well-to-do and governments are natural constituencies for IAC.Their core business is armoring expensive vehicles – Mercedes, BMW, Range Rover, Lexus, Cayenne  - so selling into posh local governments should be relatively straightforward.

They’re already polishing up their messaging:

Safeboard is a cost effective solution to protecting those in the classroom.

Giving peace of mind to parents.

No need to worry about losing classroom space. Safeboard is right up against the wall and blends in with the rest of the classroom.

Blending an anti-ballistic wall in with the rest of the classroom is exactly what I do feel the need to worry about.

How can any of us enjoy peace of mind while living in a world where armor-all-ing kindergarten classrooms seems like a reasonable and prudent idea?

On my last day of kindergarten, we all wore party clothes to school, and had some ginchy little ceremony where we all wore mortarboards we’d made out of construction paper. It was a big day: next stop, first grade!

It was a warm late spring afternoon, and we were sitting around in our final semi-circle, basking in the affection of Mrs. Julia B. Hackett, perhaps the finest and kindest kindergarten teacher in the history of mankind. (If our other kindergarten teacher, the crabby Miss Bowen, was there that day, I’m blocking her out.) While we were sitting there in our finest, listening to Mrs. Hackett for the final time, some loud-mouthed young men were walking by Gates Lane School, heading over to Bennett Field to do their loud-mouthed hanging out, and one of them tossed a lit cigar into our classroom. They weren’t the usual suspects – grammar or even high school boys who might think it was a fun idea to harass a bunch of five-year-olds. They were, as we saw when we ran over to the windows to see for ourselves just who would do such a despicable thing, college boys.

Since we were on the second floor, whoever tossed the cigar in must have had a pretty good arm.

But what were they thinking?

Obviously not that the cigar could have hit – and burned (however minimally) – a kid.

Fortunately for all of us, the cigar landed safely in the middle of our story circle,where it sat stinking and smoldering for a few seconds until Mrs. Julia B. Hackett disposed of it

And that, my friends, is how kindergarten should be: the worst that can happen is some lout tossing a smelly cigar your way.

Anti-ballistic whiteboards.

God help us.

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