Stories

The scramble to keep schools safe

A gun with school pencils
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced last week that the state would invest $500 million to protect its schools with metal detectors, bulletproof glass, steel doors and upgraded locks. But that's just part of the buildup of school safety measures that was underway even before the Parkland shooting — everything from lockdown drills to bulletproof backpacks and even bulletproof shelters in the schools.

The bottom line: Parents and officials are scrambling to find ways to protect students in an era that's endured 273 school shootings since Newtown. The Parkland shooting is intensifying the debate over which safety measures really work.

Where it stands: Sales of bulletproof backpacks have gone through the roof since the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14.

  • Guard Dog Security began selling Kevlar backpacks after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, according to ABC News. The company declined to release exact sales numbers out of respect for the victims, but president Yasir Sheikh said its entire line of bulletproof backpacks was bought up within three days of Parkland.
  • The Florida-based company has pledged to donate all proceeds to the families and victims of the shooting.
  • Bullet Blocker, which sells backpacks ranging from $200 to $490, saw a 30% spike in sales in the week after the shooting, per WSJ. The products are certified by the National Institute of Justice and can withstand "10 shots from just over eight feet from a 44 and nine-millimeter gun."

Yes, but: Nearly every bulletproof backpack on the market is designed to defend against pistols. In a test conducted by ABC-7, shots from an AR-15 completely shredded the bulletproof plate.

The big picture: 95% of public schools conducted "lockdown drills" with their students in 2015-16, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2009-10, that number was just 62%. Safety drills are now a fact of life for children in public schools — but some are going way beyond that.

  • School Guard Glass sells affordable, bulletproof windows designed to stop a gunman from getting inside a school for at least four minutes — "conceivably enough time for police and emergency crews to arrive." The company has installed its glass in about 900 schools since 2014.
  • In Oklahoma, some districts have installed bulletproof storm shelters that double as safe rooms.
  • Gunning Bedford Middle School in Delaware has 121 bulletproof whiteboards that can be used as shields, a last line of defense for teachers.
  • Southwestern High School in Shelbyville, Indiana, has been dubbed "the safest school in America." Its $400,000 safety system includes panic buttons for teachers, smoke cannons in hallways and real-time tracking of shooting suspects.

Reality check: The majority of these measures are not new. Sales of bulletproof products and barricades spiked after Parkland, as they do after every school shooting. Millions in funding has been requested by state and local governments to help bolster school safety in the last two weeks, but it remains to be seen what else — if anything — has a realistic chance of preventing the next shooting.