Summer Training Opportunities

Summer is just around the corner, and if you’re anything like me or the teachers, counselors and administrators I know, you are ready to jump in and increase your knowledge to help you continue to do great things in your school….along with enjoying a bit of well-deserved time off, of course.

There are so many areas of your job to attend to, and I know that school safety isn’t typically at the top of most educators’ lists. So, I will make this easy for you.

Easy and Inexpensive Training

The easiest way I know of to learn something new is to do so from the comfort of your own home. I want to recommend a couple of training courses you can take online in a very short amount of time.

First, if you haven’t already taken the free course,  Increase Your School’s Safety in 5 Easy Steps, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea, and take this course! It’s free, and you can get it right here. In less than 15 minutes, you will know how to make your school significantly safer.

Second, for a more extended school safety training that is recommended for all school staff members and subs, spend around 90 minutes on this course – Everyday School Safety. This is the online version of the training I’ve delivered many times in person to schools across the country. I’ve lowered the price significantly to make it accessible to educators. You can get that course right here.

While you’re thinking of school safety, why not download some of the handouts on warning signs of violence and suicide, along with other school safety topics. Nearly all are offered for free, and you can get them at The School Safety Store.

If your summer work includes updating your school’s safety plan, this Template Pack will make your life much easier. It includes over 25 documents and templates for school safety planning and response!

It’s also not too late to schedule a Threat Assessment Training for your team this summer. I have a few dates still open, so give me a call or complete the online contact form if this is something you’d like to do.

As always, I want to thank all of the educators out there for the outstanding work you do.

Have an amazing summer!

Do Restorative Justice Practices Increase School Safety?

Restorative justice practices were put into place in many of our nation’s schools a number of years ago. These programs focus on alternatives to exclusionary discipline practices such as suspension and expulsion. They include conflict resolution, relationship-building, and fostering empathy, forgiveness, and self-reflection.

But, do they help create safer schools and a more positive school climate?

Chicago Public Schools adopted the program during the 2013-14 school year. Researchers at the University of Chicago Education Lab gathered and analyzed data from before the practices were implemented (2008-09) and after they were in place for 5 years (2018-19). They found that the practices resulted in a 35% decrease in student arrests in-school and a 15% decrease in student arrests outside-of-school. Out-of-school suspensions were reduced by 18%. Students perceived improved classroom behavior among their peers and a greater sense of safety and inclusion at school.

Philadelphia High School reported that in the year of restorative justice implementation, “violent acts and serious incidents” dropped by 52%. The following year, they dropped by 40%.

Denver Public Schools reported that over 7 schools, the number of expulsions dropped from 23 to 6, and in-school suspensions improved by 13% after 3 years of restorative justice practices implementation.

While there are many anecdotal accounts of success from these practices, there is little scientific research, and we could benefit from additional studies. To be fair, a Google search will reveal that some studies fail to demonstrate the effectiveness of restorative justice practices in schools. However, the potential benefits of restorative justice practices range from a decrease in discipline referrals and racial disparities to improved academic scores and an increased sense of safety among students and staff.

Is it worth trying in your school?

Studies suggests that the program may need to be consistently in place for 3-5 years before we begin to see the impact If you have been implementing these practices over a number of years and have noted changes, I’d love to hear from you, so I can share your successes (or challenges) with others.

Source material:

The University of Chicago Education Lab, https://educationlab.uchicago.edu/projects/restorative-practices/

Goodwin, B. ASCD, October 2021, Vol.79, No. 2 https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/research-matters-does-restorative-justice-work 

Davison, M. NWEA, December 2022 https://www.nwea.org/blog/2022/what-the-research-tells-us-about-restorative-justice-in-k-12/

Bob Dylan Was Right

The times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan was right

The past several years have brought tremendous change, and we are all affected by it. Weather patterns have shifted and extremes are becoming the norm. The political climate continues to be contentious. Our news provides a daily dose of war and atrocity. People remark that there is an increased air of hostility and entitlement in our society. AI has become a gift and a challenge. Student mental health needs have skyrocketed.

And, school violence continues to plague us.

A few years ago, I decided to work in the schools again. While I have worked very hard to acquire and share my expertise in school safety, I wanted to be back in the daily flow of school staff and student life. Then, the pandemic forced yet another change. During the time I was working in the schools, and nominally at my consulting business, many more individuals had entered the field of school safety, working hard to lessen bullying and violence in our schools.

Why, then, do our schools continue to have significant safety problems?

A few things got me thinking about this….school shootings continue, and some have claimed high numbers of victims. Sometimes, we don’t even hear about a shooting that claims fewer victims, and when we do, we may find ourselves trying to suppress our anger and frustration when the news details the tragedy. We’re seeing Department of Justice reports finding that our schools are not as prepared as we had thought.

And this, I believe, is the scariest thing of all.

We’ve worked hard to put safety measures in place. We rehearse and review our safety plans. But, do we do that as often as we should? Are we double-checking our own plans when a new tragedy occurs, to make sure we really are doing all we can? Are we continuing our training, and that of our staff and substitutes? Have we grown weary of hearing about school safety? Have we become at all complacent over the years?

In all honesty, I think I have.

And, I’m betting that I’m not alone. A few school staff members have confided to me that they almost feel like they’re waving a white flag and giving up. There are other problems to deal with on a daily basis. Social media has such an outsized impact on students’ daily lives that we struggle to combat it.

More creative and intrusive ways of taunting and bullying continue to creep up, and we have to keep up.

Which is why I am sharing information with you again. Full retirement wasn’t that fun anyway, and there’s work to be done. I know that your inbox is overflowing and I don’t want to add to that. You are overworked and there aren’t enough hours in the day. But, I continue to gain subscribers on my website who want information, and I’m going to provide it.

You have my word, no more than 1-2 updates per month. If you want to stay on my mailing list, you don’t need to do a thing. If this information is no longer applicable to you, or you just don’t want to hear about school safety anymore, I understand. You can click on the “unsubscribe” link and there will be no hard feelings.

We’re fighting a tough battle, doing our best to keep our staff and students safe at all times. We are in this together, and I will share what I know and continue to learn, to try to make that burden just a little lighter for you.

Suzanne

Can School Violence be Prevented?

school violence prevention

As we watch the news and hear of school violence taking place across the country, many of us have wondered, “can school violence be prevented?”

I know this is a busy time of year for educators, and while I hate to add something to your workload, this is really important.

We may not be able to prevent every act of school violence, but being informed and having the right practices in place can go a long way toward preventing the unthinkable.

If your staff hasn’t had training in the warning signs of suicide and violence in over a year, it’s time to revisit that training. To make this easier for you, I’ve created free handouts on the warning signs of suicide and the warning signs of violence. Simply download them here.

If you would prefer a more in-depth training, check out the online video course Everyday School Safety. It contains an extensive section on the warning signs of violence and the importance of setting up a threat assessment team. If you are just starting the process of setting up your team, I can help by providing training and consultation to get you started. I’ve spent the past decade training schools across the country to develop and mobilize their teams.

It’s also critical to train your students to report any concerns they may have. They are much more tuned in to what their peers are saying than we may be…and they have reasons for holding back. These lesson plans address and validate the reasons students are reluctant to report, and provide ways for them to safely do so.

If you haven’t already read this CNN article on leakage and warning signs, please do so, and feel free to pass it on to your staff. It’s a good, comprehensive overview of what we’ve been saying in the threat assessment world for over 20 years, but much of it is still not common practice. I think we’ve all learned by now that we need to shift our focus to preventing school violence in addition to responding to it. This information should help.

NASP (National Association of School Psychologists) has just released new guidance on behavioral threat assessment and it’s well worth a few minutes of your time to read it. You’ll find it, along with other helpful documents, in the Related Resources column on the right.

Finally, if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I am sitting here watching the news on school shooting after school shooting, and I have the knowledge, background and experience to help. All you need to do is contact me.

Have a restful and restorative winter break!

Suzanne

Time to Rethink Active Shooter Training?

Best-practice guidance

Those of you who have followed me over the years know that I have always been a strong proponent of preventing school violence, rather than focusing solely on after-the-fact actions and active shooter training. I firmly believe that a great deal of violence can be prevented by knowing what to watch for and having a process in place for reporting and assessing concerning words and behaviors.

Of course, I also believe that we need to be prepared overall, for all possible crises and emergencies. This includes knowing how to respond to fires, intruders, chemical leaks and many other hazards.

So, yes, we should know how to respond to an active shooter. But, we may have to rethink some of our current practices.

Research is beginning to support something many of us have believed all along: simulations of active school attacks can be frightening and traumatic for children and staff members.

The latest guidance on armed assailant drills comes to us from NASP, the National Association of School Psychologists and NASRO, the National Association of School Resource Officers. According to their joint report, Best Practice Considerations for Armed Assailant Drills in Schools, “schools should not use simulation techniques with students, and exercises should be appropriate to the participants’ development level and physical abilities. If sensorial exercises are conducted with staff, they should consent and be informed of the tactics being used, mental health supports must be available on-site during the exercises and after the exercises, and adult participants must be informed of the use and purpose of props and simulation aids prior to the drill. Drills should never involve props that interject or simulate physical harm (e.g., paintballs or rubber bullets) or physical contact with participants.”

So, what does this mean for your school? Training exercises should follow a progression of steps, beginning with basic activities. Going forward, lockdown drills should still be a critical component of training. Frequent nonsenorial/nonsimulation planning and walking through potential crises should comprise a great deal of your preparedness efforts. Options-based drills can provide alternative strategies for both staff and students to implement during an emergency situation.

For more detailed guidance in planning and implementing your preparedness and drill protocols, click here for the report referenced above.

Averted Targeted School Violence Report Released Today

The Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) released its 2021 report on Averted Targeted School Violence today.

I urge you to download and read this report now as it has strong implications for the return to in-person learning for many students.

The report summarizes the findings of a detailed study of 67 averted school attacks. A comparison of home life factors, behaviors and stressors of “plotters” of averted attacks with those who completed attacks, reveals many similarities and a few critical differences.

The primary difference that leapt out at me today is that the highest proportion of plotters planned their attacks for the month of April.

With the April return to school for many students, it’s imperative that we train our staff members on concerning behaviors, reporting procedures and intervention strategies so we can assist students experiencing increased stress during this time.

According to the Secret Service report, stressors experienced by the plotters were:

  • Family
  • Social
  • Academic
  • Criminal/judicial
  • Change in schools
  • General/personal
  • Physical health
  • Unknown

Home life factors experienced by the students who plotted attacks were:

  • Parents divorced/separated
  • Family financial difficulty
  • Parents or sibling arrested/incarcerated
  • Family substance abuse
  • Family discord, incl. domestic violence
  • Family mental health 
  • Abuse/neglect 
  • Non-parental custody/care

In many cases of averted attacks, others have witnessed objectively concerning behaviors – threats, bringing weapons to school, physical violence, suicidal statements.

Also detected in these students were a constellation of lower-level behaviors – changes in behavior, interest in violent topics, a concerning mental status.

I think we can all agree that students have experienced unprecedented stressors over the past year. It is likely that we can’t begin to comprehend the level of stress some of our students have been living with.

Now, more than ever, we need to be vigilant and spend time checking in with our students.

We need to provide resources and we need to report concerns to our student services staff and/or administration. We must have a process in place for identifying those in need of intervention and a method for following up and providing help. We need a trained multidisciplinary threat assessment team. We need to train our students to say something to an adult when they have concerns about their peers. And, we need to act on those concerns.

I have provided only the briefest of details from the Averted Targeted School Violence report in this article. Please download it and spend some time familiarizing yourself with it. Share it with all staff members in your school and make sure everyone knows what to watch for and what to do when they see it. Only then can we feel adequately prepared for our students’ reentry to in-person learning.

My job is to make sure you have the resources you need to make your school a safer place to learn. I want you to be able to make your school safer without spending a lot. I’ve made many resources available to you at no cost, and just a few tools at minimal cost. To see the school safety resources, click here.

For a quick, low-cost way to train your entire staff online, click here. This training includes an expanded section on the warning signs of violence.

If you’d like help determining how to train your staff, feel free to contact me here.

How to Conduct a Virtual Threat Assessment



Many schools are still operating remotely and need to have a plan for conducting threat assessments virtually when someone has concerns about a student’s behavior, words or threats.

  1. To begin, revisit your existing threat assessment team and members. These are the very same people you will want to have on your virtual threat assessment team. The work is nearly the same, with the exception that it must be done via a videoconferencing platform. If you don’t currently have a threat assessment team, click here for details on who needs to be a part of it.
  2. The next step is to pull your team together as soon as possible to review previously agreed-upon roles and practices, make sure someone on the team has access to assessment and tracking forms, and review any concerns that have come to your attention over the past several months.
  3. It’s critical that your teaching staff knows what to look for and how to report any concerns so they can be assessed and acted upon. Your threat assessment team can put together a plan for staff training or dissemination of guidelines to keep everyone in the loop.

Many of the stressors affecting students remain the same as those prior to the pandemic. But, virtual learning has brought unique issues to the forefront that should be explored with students:

  • Social isolation
  • Lesser or greater parental supervision
  • Loss of regular contact with coaches, clergy, school staff and other trusted adults
  • Increase in anxiety, depression, and hopelessness
  • Concerns about societal and political unrest that has been in the news over the past year
  • Increased exposure to family conflict or violence
  • Increase in cyberbullying due to time spent on the Internet and social media
  • Decreased engagement in school
  • Experiences of loss

When concerns about a student are brought to the team’s attention, the team will need to:

  • Meet to review the known facts
  • Complete a preliminary assessment, noting gaps in information
  • Assign responsibilities for gathering additional information
  • Meet again promptly to review new information
  • Determine level and type of risk for the student
  • Create an intervention plan
  • Implement the plan with the help of parents or others in the student’s life
  • Monitor student’s progress
  • Re-assess as needed

If you’re wondering what to consider as schools start to reopen, be sure to read this.

To learn more about the threat assessment process, click here to access Virginia’s model threat assessment program.

Stay safe!

Threat Concerns as Schools Reopen

Threat concerns as schools reopen

Will high levels of stress translate into high rates of violence?

As schools begin to reopen on either a full-scale or hybrid plan, there are questions about how students, who have been under unusual stress while learning from home, might react. Experts have concerns about the likelihood that stressors experienced while confined to home may exacerbate already existing mental health issues, anger, and behavioral concerns.

The 2019 US Secret Service Report on Targeted School Violence lists the top stressors experienced by students who have perpetrated violent attacks on their schools in the past. The graphic below is from the US Secret Service report, Protecting America’s Schools. You can access the full report here.

Stressors of school attackers

Many of these stressors could be seriously affecting our students at this time. All schools should have a plan in place to check in with students they already know are struggling as well as making sure all students know where to turn for help or to report concerns about a peer. This is all about prevention. We need to focus on identifying students who are struggling and intervene to help them before they ever get to the point of violence or suicide.

A second concern

Another concern I have about the potential increased risk of school violence upon returning to school, stems from the statistics below indicating the time of year prior attacks have taken place.

School attacks time of year

This graphic, from the US Secret Service report, Protecting America’s Schools shows that the highest number of school attacks have occurred during the months of return to school after a break. With the unprecedented break of being quarantined at home for months, we need to be extra vigilant and aware of what to look for in our students.

The resources Warning Signs of Violence and Warning Signs of Suicide can be helpful in increasing your staff’s awareness of these important topics. I encourage you to disseminate this information to all staff members and create a process for reporting concerns so you can act on them quickly and effectively.

Announcement & a quick favor

I’m putting together an updated online school safety training and want to make sure to include everything that would be most helpful to schools right now. Your feedback is extremely valuable and will help me get this right so it’s more useful to you. Please click on this link to complete a very brief survey letting me know your greatest needs.  Thanks so much!

School safety in the time of COVID-19

School Safety in the Time of COVID-19

There is a lot of fear among students, parents and school staff regarding the start of the 2020-2021 school year. The concerns are the same regardless of our location or demographics. We are all dealing with the same set of unknowns.

Parents want to know what to do, and they want to know now. How will they return to work? Do they have to be home to help with remote learning? What will the schedule look like when the students start to return to school? Will they be safe? Will they wear masks? Will they social distance? Will the school staff be consistent in enforcing guidelines? What will the bus ride be like? What if a student gets COVID-19? What if a teacher gets sick? Will I have to quit my job to be home if school closes? Can I afford to take time off work or quit my job? How will I answer my child’s questions and allay his/her fears? Will my child be psychologically scarred by all of this?

While we don’t have all the answers to these questions, there are some things we can do to address some of the fears and safety concerns.

In addition to the CDC’s very specific guidelines for schools that outline strategies for situations you may not even have considered, NEA has published an extremely helpful guide for reopening schools.

I also recommend meeting with your team now to implement some of the following:

  1. Communicate often and in a timely manner with parents. This will go a long way toward alleviating some of their stress.
  2. Make a video to send out to all students before school starts, letting them know you are there for them and can’t wait to be together again.
  3. Spend time during the first weeks of school, whether remote or in-person, allowing students to ask questions and process everything that is going on.
  4. Make parents/students aware of resources available to help them with fears, anxiety, depression, withdrawal and other reactions to this difficult time.
  5. Have a counselor and an administrator talk with students about expectations before  you open your doors to in-person learning – mask wearing, sanitizing, social distancing, appropriate and unacceptable behaviors and consequences – and let students know what to expect during lunch, passing periods, gym class and other activities.
  6. Consider how you will keep students safe if you have teachers doing instruction outdoors. Will students be located a sufficient distance from roads or passerby? How will they get back in the building quickly in an emergency? How will the teacher contact another staff member if he/she needs help? Will administration know who is outside and who is inside the building at any given time?
  7. Consider organizing all classrooms in a similar manner so students who have to visit multiple classrooms throughout the day have a sense of consistency.
  8. Have extra masks and other required items on hand for families who forget them.
  9. If you are still in need of safety supplies, consider some of these carefully curated companies that are working hard to meet the demand of schools and medical facilities and will ship quickly. You can even order your mascot on masks to boost school spirit!
  10. Refine your sign-in and visitor procedures, as you will not be able to see entire faces when people are wearing masks.
  11. Be consistent. Always be consistent in your enforcement of rules. If you slip up, acknowledge it to your audience before you lose credibility.
  12. Consider who is going to staff and monitor bus lines, lines of students waiting for temperature checks, etc. Do you need to hire additional staff. Do this now, before you open your doors.
  13. Where will you put a student who comes to school with symptoms while waiting for a parent to pick him/her up?
  14. Ramp up your drill schedule and make sure you include all types of drills. If you have more students and staff outside the building than is typical, add reverse evacuation drills and discuss them with your staff. Continue with lockdown drills because the threat of someone whose actions are the result of an emotional or mental struggle has not gone away, and may even be increased. How will you lock down while keeping everyone safe from COVID-19 transmission? It’s important to discuss this with staff and rehearse the actual protocol before it’s needed.

I know there are many things to attend to right now. It’s not easy for anyone, especially school staff members. Thinking about all of these additional safety aspects may be cumbersome, but it can only keep you safer in the event you need to act quickly. If you have any strategies you’d like to share, please email me and I’ll send them out to all readers in my next post.

Stay safe!

STOP School Violence Funding Opportunity

STOP School Violence GrantsThe Student, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence Act of 2018 (STOP School Violence Act) has announced a new funding cycle.

 

Applications are due June 9, 2020, and funding can be used for the following:

  • Training to prevent student violence against others and self, including training for local law enforcement officers, school personnel, and students
  • The development and operation of anonymous reporting systems for threats of school violence, including mobile telephone applications, hotlines, and internet websites
  • The development and deployment of:
    • School threat assessment and intervention teams that include coordination with law enforcement agencies and school personnel
    • Specialized training for school officials in responding to mental health crises

BJA’s STOP School Violence Grant Program is designed to improve school security by providing students and teachers with the tools they need to recognize, respond quickly to, and help prevent acts of violence.

Eligible applicants may apply under one or more of the following areas:

  1. Train school personnel and educate students on preventing student violence against others and themselves to include anti-bullying training. This can also include specialized training for school officials to respond to mental health crises.
  2. Develop and implement threat assessment and/or intervention teams and/or operate technology solutions such as anonymous reporting systems for threats of school violence, including mobile telephone applications, hotlines, and websites. Threat assessment and/or intervention teams must coordinate with law enforcement agencies and school personnel.
The National Center for School Safety is holding an informational webinar on April 30 for those interested in applying. You can register for the live webinar/Q & A here.