To Washington state schools chief, security upgrades important, but something else more vital

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Chris Reykdal is in the business of schools as the Washington superintendent of public instruction.

Q13 News wanted his perspective on physical school security at a time when mass shootings have been ingrained in our conscience.

Schools have individualized safety plans but there are no requirements of what it should look like.

“We are very much a local-control state, so we don’t tell them (the individual school districts) how,” Reykdal said.

For example, most schools now do the run, hide, fight drills for active shooter scenarios, but some schools practice it more than others.

“There is that balance of practicing it and not creating the anxiety,” Reykdal said.

But the question is why isn’t there a standardized rule for drills and other security measures?

“Well, I do think that’s the prerogative of the state Legislature; they can make decisions that they want a certain profile of every school when it comes to how to enter the building, or how we secure the front of the building,” Reykdal said.

But even if the Legislature were to set universal standards and pump more money into securing schools, Reykdal questions if that’s the answer.

“There is a legitimate debate. I think you can put a lot of money in infrastructure and still find ways for students to bring weapons to school,” Reykdal said.

Although more security is never bad, Reykdal said, his priority for the 2019 legislative session will be less about the physical and more about the mental.

“We are going to push them on issues on mental health and child safety. We are going to do the stuff that we think develops a kid so they are more resilient and ready to be in a safer, healthier place,” Reykdal said.

He wants more resources to identify threats and more counselors to help kids mentally.

“We think that has a far better impact long-term, and that goes beyond school violence, beyond shootings,” Reykdal said.

The focus is beyond mass shootings because the reality is that more kids are dying by their own hands.

“So to say it’s just about an active shooter, when the probability is very low on that relative to the reality of suicide, (that) tells us that we should have a comprehensive mental health strategy that addresses both,” Reykdal said.

In 2017, 84 teens died by suicide in Washington state, that’s almost double the number for 2010.

Reykdal has some theories on why this is happening.

“That is the persistent anxiety that stays with a child. So if your kid goes to school and has a conflict 20 years ago, they went home and the conflict at least temporarily ended. Today, that comes home with them in text messages Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat,” Reykdal said.

Reykdal says the 24-hour media cycle is also playing a role.

“It’s always in front of us. It’s in hyper-drive because it’s not just the 24-hour news networks, but it’s the custom delivered by our devices all the time,” Reykdal said.

He says we have to find a way to mitigate the sensory overload and conflict that technology sometimes exacerbates.