Fort Apache, The School

If you've ever visited a prison, you're probably accustomed to the sight of surveillance cameras, motion detectors and unscalable fences. But for the 2,000 students who attend the Townview School Center in Dallas, Texas, these security devices are all too familiar. Correspondent Jim Stewart reports for CBS Evening News' Eye on America.


Welcome to the Townview School Center, the Fort Apache of American high schools. While the ultimate answer to such horrors as Columbine and other school massacres may lie in better parenting and counseling, in Dallas, School Police Chief Donovan Collins has decided to put his faith in technology.

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"I'm actually getting down to the nuts and bolts," says Collins. "People can philosophize all day long, but you got to put some things in place, and you got to make sure those things are working. Basically we want to keep the insiders in and the outsiders out."

At Townview, they work hard to maintain this equilibrium. Forty-six cameras are monitored constantly from a central security base. There are 17 emergency exits but just two entrances, both with magnetomoters. Each classroom can be locked down, and each has an emergency phone.

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So, how successful is all this new technology? In 1991, before Dallas added all these bells and whistles, 160 kids tried to sneak guns into schools. Last year, it was down to 11, and in this high school, it has never happened. Not even once.

It may feel like a jail at first, but many students say it beats the alternative.

"Something like Columbine could happen anywhere, I feel. But I feel there's less chance of it here because of all the security," says one student.

"And that's the point. While no one likes it, security and education must now go hand in hand," says Principal Louise Smith. "Teaching and learning cannot occur in an environment where people are afraid for their lives."

More and more educators seem to agree. Sales of hand-held detectors and even $5,000 floor models have quadrupled at one Garland, Texas factory since Columbine. Orders from 15 more schools arrived even as CBS Evening News visited the premises.

"If we got used to it in our airports, then we can get used to it in our schools," argues Collins. "When you walk up and see all the metal detectors and you see the officers and you see the high walls and the rought iron fences on the side, it gives that feeling, 'if I go in, am I going to come out?' We want them to have that feeling. Yes, you are going to come in and yes, you are going to come out. Every student is going to come out alive. Everybody comes home alive."

And before the first lesson is taught next fall, that simple assurance may be the first thing every parent will demand to hear.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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