Open Letter: Where's the Discussion on School Security? - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Open Letter: Where's the Discussion on School Security?

Open Letter: Where's the Discussion on School Security?

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  • School Security Story Disputes: The Video Says It All

    School Security Story Disputes: The Video Says It All

    Moorhead schools say they won't talk to us about school security And in a recent article in a local newspaper, The Fargo school district says they dispute our recent report.  The Fargo school district
    Moorhead schools say they won't talk to us about school security And in a recent article in a local newspaper, The Fargo school district says they dispute our recent report.  The Fargo school district


This past week has certainly been an interesting one, probably one of the most interesting of my career. 

For those who haven't been following the story let's bring everyone up to speed. This week Jeff Rossen with NBC news aired an undercover report in which he tested the security of several New Jersey schools by walking in with a hidden camera. Rossen found some doors to schools locked and others that were not. In the schools that were unlocked he was able to walk freely inside the schools. Following the airing of that report a Fargo parent and school faculty member contacted our newsroom asking us to check out Fargo schools because she said she had witnessed some of the same lapses in security. Our reporter, Mellaney Moore, visited three unidentified area elementary schools with a hidden camera. At all three schools in West Fargo, Fargo and Moorhead she was able to walk through unlocked front doors and through the school. A Fargo teacher asked her if she needed help, Mellaney asked to be directed to the office and front door and the teacher pointed her in the correct direction but did not ask her if she had signed in nor did she walk her out.

In response to the story two of the three school districts have admitted to security failures within their schools. But now the schools, police and other media outlets want to make the story about whether or not Moore violated the law instead of focusing on the real issue… why someone was able to walk into and around a school in the first place. The schools say there are signs in their schools to prevent unauthorized access. When has someone who is planning on committing a horrible crime been deterred by a sign?

As I have said publicly no member of the Valley News Live staff would ever knowingly violate the law while investigating a story. We often have long internal conversations about what we can and can't do when investigating a story. This attempt to redirect the conversation is to be expected as there are many powerful stakeholders who have been embarrassed by these events.

But the discussion that is getting lost in the accusations of trespassing is the conversation about improving security within our schools. We have been overwhelmed by responses from parents, students and people who visit our schools who have thanked us for our story and are demanding change. One comment even came from a former school resource officer who said he was "disappointed" at the failure of the school to secure their properties. Many people have also reached out to us to say they too have walked into our schools and not signed in at the front office and have free access to the schools. 

These people want more accountability of our schools and their officials and they want to know what is going to be done to address these problems. We wanted to know too, so the day our story aired we contacted all three school districts before and after visiting the schools asking them to talk about school security and safety. A representative with West Fargo was the only one that contacted us minutes before the piece aired. Fargo schools didn't call until the following day and even now we are still waiting to hear directly from Moorhead. Strangely enough, a representative with Fargo schools said that we didn't receive a call back the day the story aired because our questions about school security and safety seemed "vague" and because of that our call didn't seem to be "high priority."

The issue of how best to secure our schools is not an easy one. Many of our schools were built during a time that school shootings were unheard of. Even more recently built schools weren't necessarily designed to keep out a gunman. But some proactive steps are simple. The security expert from NBC's story said it best, the first best line of defense is a locked front door. The front doors to the schools we visited were unlocked. No one wants schools to be prisons but there basic practices that can be employed to protect the most precious treasures inside schools, our kids.

Our story exposed the flaws in the system, issues to be fixed and now parents and community members it's your turn. Contact your school administrators and elected officials. Tell them you want change. Tell them too that you want to be part of the process and that you want a say in what they will do to keep our kids safe.

We stand behind our story and our reporter and that will not change. To everyone who have expressed your support we sincerely thank you. The police and prosecutors will decide whether or not a crime was committed and we will aggressively fight any and all attempts at prosecution as there are much bigger issues at stake here. If our story prevents one child from becoming a victim then it is all worth it.

Ike Walker
News Director
Valley News Live


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