The Developing Norms for Reopening Schools After Shootings

When students from Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas—where eight students and two teachers were killed in a mass shooting on May 18—went back to school last week, their school looked different from the last time they saw it. Metal detectors and a security vestibule made of bulletproof glass greetedthem at the front doors, and every classroom now also contained a “panic button” to trigger an alarm system. Students also passed more police officers in the hallways than before.

The opening of the new, heightened-security Santa Fe High School marked, in a way, the school’s second reopening since the shooting. Eleven days after the shooting, students and their parents were welcomed back to campus with an event commemorating the dead; after that, the students went back to class. (The classrooms affected by the shooting were closed off by newly built walls.)

Santa Fe’s response to the school shooting closely resembles that at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where students came back to class two weeksafter a gunman killed 17 people on Valentine’s Day, and at Marshall County High School, where school started back up three days after two students were shot and killed in January. They more or less followed the same three-pronged itinerary: a short school closure, a memorial event to welcome back students and their families, and then a beefing up of security measures during students’ summer break.

All told, school shootings are statistically rare; the vast majority of American schools have never been and never will be sites of mass violence. Still, mass shootings at schools are, unfortunately, more common than they’ve ever been before in the United States: In the first five months of 2018, The Washington Postfound 17 incidents of school shootings, the most since at least 1999. Which means a certain set of best practices for when and how to reopen schools is emerging.