Today's students not only worry about reading, writing and arithmetic but how to safely navigate social media, deal with cyberbullying and where to hide if a gunman enters the building.
It's a disorienting world that is being addressed in a variety of ways, not all of them appropriate. On the positive side, a new state law requires middle and high schools to teach lessons on mental health. That is surely worthwhile. Safety from gun violence, though, remains a challenge.
School districts are grappling with how to deal with ever-present worry over shootings. The Columbine High School massacre in 1999 changed the landscape and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown back in 2012 taught the horrible lesson that not even the youngest are safe. Then, in February, Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., saw its name added to that awful list.
Too many young people are dying when they should be learning, playing and growing up. School officials must strengthen safety measures. Visitors must be vetted. Escape routes must be planned and security enhancements implemented. These are all necessary steps.
But it is a balancing act. Increased security should not overtake education as the main mission and taxpayers shouldn't have to fund what may be an overzealous reaction.
Lockport City School District is a case in point. The district is using state aid from the 2014 Smart Schools Bond Act for a $3.3 million system called Aegis, which includes facial recognition and shape recognition software. The district chose SN Technologies, a Canadian company, to supply the system.
Lockport is already using security cameras in its schools, its practice for more than a decade. The new system adds roughly 300 new digital cameras in the school district's 10 buildings.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has been determined to stop what it views as a potential invasion of privacy of staff and students, not to mention data collection that could be used for any number of future tracking purposes. The company and district insist that is not the case.
Lockport is not the only district re-examining safety strategies.
Officials in Cheektowaga's Maryvale School District have reconfigured the entrances at its primary, intermediate and middle school buildings; City of Tonawanda schools require visitors to show a state-issued ID that is scanned into a national database and schools across the country are considering requiring students to use clear or mesh backpacks as a security precaution.
Parents, teachers, staff and administrators are all on high alert, as they must be. The challenge for adults in charge is balancing necessary security enhancements with what should be an inviting learning environment that provides positive memories. These goals can be achieved. Part of making that happen is to use available funds wisely.