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In the six years since his last public television appearance, a Portage resident has observed and researched the growing billion-dollar school security industry.

David P. Perrodin, a professor in the School of Education at Viterbo University in La Crosse, will present some of his new findings about school safety this week for Wednesday Nite @ The Lab, a public science series held on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, in partnership with Wisconsin Public Television.

“We are on the cusp right now where if there’s a perception that a device, an app or a program might increase school safety, people will go all in and buy it, and there’s no check on that,” Perrodin said. “The parent is the customer and the school is responding to what the customer wants. It’s not sustainable.”

The Wednesday event is an encore to his first presentation on school safety, which explored the history and timeline of school attacks. That one aired in May 2013, less than six months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Perrodin, who has a doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis, said his second presentation will be the result of “well over” 100 hours of research and will challenge the idea that fortifying schools makes them safe.

Schools across the U.S. spent $2.7 billion for security equipment and services in 2017, according to an IHS Markit analysis, and Perrodin said that number keeps rising.

He takes the uncommon stance that the public doesn’t need to spend almost $3 billion per year on school safety. Instead, schools should scale back spending on fortifications, put more money into research and try to break the “code of silence” that keeps students from telling adults when they know of a planned attack, he said.

They also need to teach situational awareness and address student anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, Perrodin said, recommending Congress pass a bill to set up a funding structure and protocol for mental health services in schools.

Perrodin said he found in his research that while spending on gadgets, fences and security staff continues to rise, school shootings haven’t decreased in frequency.

“So, we’re spending all of this money, but we still have the same issue we had in 2013 with school safety specific to intruders, and that’s where all of this money is going, $3 billion,” he said.

Very little of that money — less than 1%, according to Perrodin — goes toward researching why school violence continues to happen. Across the U.S., state legislatures are on track to propose more than 500 school safety bills this year, yet the federal government hasn’t done anything on the issue in years, leaving states without guidance, he said.

There’s very little testing on security devices to make sure they work and are safe before being sold to schools, he noted, nor any license or certification needed to claim the title of “school safety expert.” Rather than testing new devices with the scientific method, Perrodin said developers tend to have theatrical demonstrations that satisfy parents’ desire to “see safety.”

Perrodin said other issues, such as cybersecurity, present a greater danger to students than possible intruders. During the presentation, he plans to introduce “something that is right on our doorstep for school safety that everybody is missing.”

WPT will broadcast the presentation live, which also will be available online as a live-streamed video. PBS affiliates in other areas also plan to air the presentation this fall, according to Perrodin. The broadcast schedule is available at wptschedule.org.

“This is me putting a presentation specifically so people can try — parents and taxpayers, educators watching this — can try to understand what’s really happening in school safety right now,” Perrodin said.

Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

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