ST. PAUL-How well-fortified do Minnesota's more than 2,000 ­public school buildings need to be?

Should they all have armed guards? Locked entrances with bulletproof glass? Teachers with weapons and tactical training to intercept a violent intruder?

After 17 students and staff were killed on Valentine's Day at a high school in Parkland, Fla., lawmakers across the nation have a renewed sense of urgency to make schools as safe as possible.

Yet students and staff who spend their days in Minnesota's public school buildings warn there is a fine line between improving school safety and militarizing places of learning. They've largely rejected proposals that would put guns in the hands of teachers and non-security staff.

"It definitely sends the wrong message to students," said Dennis Draughn, an Apple Valley High School civics teacher and National Guard infantryman. "It sends the message we are in a police state. It sends the ­message that we are a society of fear."

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

Focus on security and mental health

In the coming weeks, the state Legislature will finalize new funding and policy proposals to try to keep the next school shooting from happening in Minnesota.

"I have a mission to prevent school tragedies from occurring," Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday when he unveiled new school-safety proposals. "With our schools, one failure is catastrophic."

Republicans who control the House and Senate have expressed support for ideas similar to what Dayton is proposing. Lawmakers have already introduced bills to increase funding for building security, expand access to counselors and mental health care and improve school leaders' disaster preparedness.

"We owe it to our children to advance meaningful solutions at the Legislature, and I am committed to working for our children, families, educators and our schools," Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, who chairs the House education finance committee, said last week.

Students and educators like Draughn liked all of those ideas better than putting more guns in schools.

"Arm teachers with more resources (to help students)," Draughn said.

Gun-control push stalled

But one thing that likely will not get serious consideration is what students in Minnesota and much of the nation have demanded: new gun-control proposals.

Students left classes Wednesday to march to the state Capitol in St. Paul in support of new gun restrictions. Next week, students nationwide plan to leave classes for 17 minutes, one minute for each of the Parkland victims, to protest Congress' inaction to stop mass shootings.

Gun-control measures requiring universal background checks and allowing police to temporarily restrict access to weapons for people deemed dangerous stalled in a House committee March 1. Gun-rights advocates said the changes violated their rights and would make it harder for law-abiding Minnesotans to obtain guns.

Roland Berg, a senior at Highland Park Senior High School in St. Paul who helped organize Wednesday's demonstration, said it was disheartening that Minnesota's gun laws are not likely to change in the near future. But he and his classmates were not ready to give up.

"We are done pretending this is an issue that can be solved with ­secondary solutions," Berg said. "We just need to keep showing up."

Are we creating a 'lockdown culture'?

Berg and other students who rallied at the Capitol last week had mixed feelings about what a few called the "lockdown culture" they are living in. Schools have added lockdowns and "active shooter" drills to the fire and tornado drills that were routine a few decades ago.

Sarah Munson, a sophomore at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul who also helped organize students to march to the Capitol, said lawmakers and school leaders have long promised that better preparedness will result in safer schools and fewer shootings.

"But that isn't happening; everything is getting worse," Munson said. "It is intimidating to go to school. It is intimidating to feel that way. We shouldn't have to feel like we need an armed guard."

Other students acknowledged that tight security can also provide a sense of security. But they questioned the unknown psychological impact it was having on their lives.

"It's become a normal thing," said Berg. "What bothers me is it doesn't faze me."

Skyal Tommie is a bit more pragmatic. The Highland Park freshman said he supports arming teachers with proper oversight. And the lockdown drills don't really trouble him.

"I think we should have an armed guard outside the school. At least at the entrance," Tommie said. "If we don't have lockdowns, how are we supposed to be prepared?"

How secure are schools now?

Minnesota schools already have many safety measures in place, but how robust those protections are varies by district and school building.

State law allows districts to raise local tax dollars for safety improvements, with local property owners expected to put about $35 million into school-safety programs in the coming fiscal year. Lawmakers have proposed boosting that aid by as much as $16 million a year in money from the state's general fund.

In the Twin Cities metro area, many school districts won voter support for new capital levies to improve building safety by adding secure entrances and better monitoring and communication systems.

A flood of those projects came after 20 students and six staff were murdered in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The Sandy Hook perpetrator shot his way through a locked glass door to enter the school.

Most east-metro schools already have some type of security or armed police officer present every day. Many schools have staffers who check in students and visitors, and middle schools and high schools often have one or more police officers on staff.

These officers, typically called school resource officers, carry weapons and are responsible for addressing crimes committed in school buildings as well as building positive relationships between students and law enforcement.

The officers' national advocacy group released a statement after the Parkland shooting that "strongly recommends that no firearms be on a school campus except those carried by carefully selected, specially trained school resource officers."

There was an armed officer on campus at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, but he reportedly failed to engage with the shooter.

Students continue their push

Students who rallied at the Capitol last week said the unlikelihood the Legislature will approve new gun-control measures this session will not dampen their resolve. They need only to look to Florida to find some hope that their priorities resonate.

The state Legislature there recently approved legislation that would raise the age to 21 for purchasing rifles like the AR-15. It also implements a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases and bans "bump stocks" like those used in the Las Vegas concert shooting that allow rounds to be fired more quickly.

The Florida law also allows teachers to be armed. It omitted other priorities championed by Parkland survivors such as banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Similar proposals have been made in Minnesota, but gun-rights advocates have been strictly opposed to any changes. They argue new rules violate the Second Amendment and restrict only law-abiding citizens because criminals don't follow gun laws.

Madelynne Kestner, a Cretin­-Derham Hall freshman, thinks she and her classmates can change those views one day.

"I think young people are really going to make a change in this world," Kestner said. "We need to step up and fight for what we believe in. If we don't, more people are going to end up dying and getting hurt."