The building that houses Alice M. Harte Elementary Charter School in Algiers, which opened just a few years ago, is ringed by a tall, black metal fence.
During school hours, every entrance is locked down except the one in front, where an armed security guard asks visitors to state their business on campus and provide a driver’s license that he scans into a computer.
He sits in front of two screens displaying feeds from more than a dozen surveillance cameras trained on every entrance and hallway, zooming in on any one in particular with the click of a button.
To get past the door nearby that leads to a suite of administrative offices, Jamar McKneely, the CEO of the charter group that runs Harte, swipes a security card with a bar code that lets him inside.
The shooting that took 17 lives at a high school in Parkland, Florida, last month has given new life to the debate about how to keep students safe, but school buildings and policies have been evolving along these lines now for decades.
Since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, since Virginia Tech, since Sandy Hook, school administrators and law enforcement have been thinking about how to prevent or at least mitigate the unthinkable, with features like electronic locks, surveillance cameras and annual training for staff.
“A lot of our parents will ask us when they see these national stories, ‘Is my child safe at school? What sort of protection are you providing?’ ” McKneely said.
Each new high-profile shooting provides a further impetus to rethink safety protocols.
In St. Tammany Parish, Superintendent Trey Folse held a meeting last week with the heads of local police agencies to discuss safety efforts, though a district spokeswoman said Folse was not available to discuss any particular proposals.
The recent spike in arrests around the metro area for school-related threats — thanks to copycat behavior on the part of some students or stepped-up vigilance from others — seems to have heightened the urgency to get a handle on potential dangers.
Since the Florida massacre, a half-dozen students have been booked by law enforcement in St. Tammany for threatening schools. The school board in St. John the Baptist Parish scheduled a special meeting to discuss how officials should respond to a similar uptick in threats there.
Some local officials seem open to embracing the idea being pushed by President Donald Trump: arming teachers with guns so they can fight back, a step that would take a change in state law.
James Hufft, the executive director of emergency and risk assessment for Jefferson Parish schools, noted that many districts in Ohio already provide teachers with guns.
And he pointed to the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, who was killed running toward Adam Lanza as he began his shooting rampage inside the school in 2012. “If she had been armed, it may have been a different story,” Hufft said.
That idea aside, Jefferson has already taken steps recently to improve security. “After Sandy Hook," Hufft said, "we realized that we could not have soft campuses, if you will, like a typical store where you can just walk in.”
He said Jefferson public schools now have a single point of entrance, instructions directing visitors to sign in after they’ve been buzzed through the door and cameras that can be monitored from the district’s central office, as well as by law enforcement.
Hufft said every threat over social media is taken seriously and discussed with police.
Every year, administrators go through a two-day training program put on by a company called Safariland Group on how to handle different hazards and threats. Schools do drills with students and staff on their crisis plans, the details of which typically aren’t publicized to avoid giving potential intruders any advantage.
That’s a requirement at every Louisiana public school since the Legislature passed Act 50 in 2013, requiring administrators to have contingency plans for a shooting or similar emergency.
The opposite danger, as some educators see it, is that schools may start to feel more like prisons than places to learn. That’s why McKneely, the charter group's CEO, would like to see lawmakers do something to take assault weapons off the street, rather than arm teachers.
“We don’t want the school to have the feel of an incarceration center,” McKneely said. “We don’t want the first thing our students to see is a teacher with a gun on their side.”