Published in NT Suns newspaper January 2017.
SCHOOLS AND THE FORTRESS MENTALITY
It is a sad thing that open environments, once a feature of child care and school precincts are being consigned to history. Fenceless, physically borderless boundaries have all but gone.
Schools started off with outer perimeters marked by knee or waist high fencing that was no more than railing stretched between vertical uprights. However, more and more have fences being upgraded to two metre plus high, impenetrable barriers. All are aimed at protecting schools from damage and vandalism.
A sad thing for schools is the need for this fortress like mentality. Students and staff members shouldn’t be confronted with teaching and learning environments surrounded by two metre high fences. They should not have to go through gates that open in the morning, are locked at night and require pass keys at other times. They should not have to walk around school precincts under the survelliance of CCTV cameras or sit in classrooms where security systems are turned on after hours in order to afford protection. They shouldn’t have to enter and exit classrooms through doors with double locking and deadbolt systems in place to secure against unlawful entry. Neither should they be made to feel like prisoners, looking out from classrooms through windows reinforced with security mesh.
Teachers and students leaving schools at the end of each day, wonder whether violation occasioned by unlawful entry will occur overnight, at weekends or during holiday times. Will walls be graffitied, windows smashed, doors forced, rooms trashed and property stolen? Worrying about the susceptibility of workplaces to violation is always on the back-burner of thinking.
An irony is the apparent reluctance of some school leaders to follow through on issues of wanton damage to premises and property. That may have to do with school leadership groups somehow feeling a misplaced ‘shame or blame’ for these happenings. The fact that schools are broken into is not their fault.
The issue needs to be aired in the public domain. Offenders should to be dealt with in other than a trivial fashion. They are fully aware of what they are doing and deserve to face realistic consequences.
Students and staff who are the victims of property crime need to know that offenders will be dealt with appropriately, not handled with kid gloves and let off lightly.
Schools used to be happy and open places of learning, not enclosed fortresses separated from their communities by security devices. Sadly, that era has been consigned to history and may never be restored.