I was just about to ask…..

Are we becoming too complacent

I was just about to ask, “are we becoming too complacent?” In fact, that was the original title of this article. I recently noticed that we, as a society, might have allowed ourselves to put some aspects of school safety on the back burner because we hadn’t seen any major safety breaches in the past couple of years. I had begun to receive fewer requests for school safety and violence threat assessment training. Friends and acquaintances who work in schools had been commenting that security was getting a bit lax in their respective buildings.

And then, it happened. Before I could finish this article, there were 2 incidents…the stuff of our worst nightmares. Honestly, I knew it would.

On August 28, a 16-year old boy shot and killed 2 women and injured 4 others in a small community library in Clovis, NM. On September 13, a 15-year old boy shot and killed another student and wounded 3 others before being subdued by a heroic school employee.

I suspect we aren’t complacent anymore.

My phone has started to ring. But, it is not school administrators who are calling me. Rather, the calls come from reporters around the country who want to know how we can prevent this from happening again.

A recent Gallup poll called the Work and Education poll, was conducted in early August with a random sample of 233 parents of K-12 children. Gallup has administered this poll annually since 1977. This year, 24% of parents reported worrying about their child’s physical safety at school. The percentage has not been this low since August 2012, just a few months before the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. After the Sandy Hook tragedy, parental fear rose to 33%.

Historically, this particular poll has shown that parental fear has increased following a school shooting:

  • After the Columbine High School shooting, parental fear rose to 55%, the highest in the history of the poll
  • After the Santana High School shooting in Santee, CA, parental fear rose to 45%
  • After the shooting at a Pennsylvania Amish schoolhouse, parental fear rose to 35%

The poll also asked parents, “Have any of your school-aged children expressed any worry or concern about feeling unsafe at their school when they go back to school this fall?” Just 6% of parents reported that their children expressed concern regarding their safety while at school, the lowest number in 18 years of survey administration. The average has been 11%.

I am certainly not saying that I want parents, school staff members and students to live fearfully. I simply want to encourage those connected to schools to be mindful that we must continue to employ the school safety and prevention measures we have adopted, even when we are experiencing a positive, less violent cycle.

Perhaps now is a good time to review your tolerance and bully prevention policies and programming, and take a hard look at school climate. This might be the year to administer a school climate survey to students, parents and staff members. We have recently witnessed several high-profile incidents related to hate and intolerance. While we cannot always control what happens in the larger world, we can foster a sense of belonging and ownership within our school communities.

Has your school assembled and trained a threat assessment team? A referral to this team is vital when students or staff members have concerns about behavior or threats. When asked whether warning signs had been missed in the recent Washington shooting, Sheriff Knezovich commented, “they are always missed.” While I’m not in complete agree with the sheriff, here’s how this can happen:

When we don’t have a process in place to gather extensive data and compare notes with others, each behavior witnessed seems like an isolated incident. We must put all the pieces of the puzzle together to make a true and accurate assessment of violence risk.

Do you have your threat assessment team in place? Have all team members received high quality training? I train school staff members using the very model employed by the FBI and Secret Service to assess threats. If you’d like to know more, simply contact me here.

For a quick recap of some key warning signs, you may want to listen to this recent radio podcast. For an extensive list of warning signs, read this.

FERPA & School Safety

FERPA & school safety

Keeping students and staff safe is of utmost importance. But, what are the parameters around disclosing information that our school, or someone in it, may have been threatened?

What is your responsibility when you have someone in your building who may pose a threat to others? Confidentiality and individual rights are protected by FERPA, and we can get into hot water if we don’t follow the guidelines.

Fortunately, FERPA provides guidance for this type of situation.

Under FERPA, students have the right to limit the disclosure of records covered by FERPA to third parties, with several important exceptions.

FERPA permits disclosure of information from student records “to appropriate parties in connection with an emergency if knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.”

Also, for the purposes of health and safety, FERPA expressly permits the disclosure of information from a student’s education records to officials of other institutions at which the student seeks to enroll.

When discussing exceptions to confidentiality, we commonly use the terminology “if someone is at risk of harming him/herself or others.” Thus, any breach of confidentiality is for the purposes of preventing suicide, preventing harm to others, and assisting the person of concern.

In schools, we may feel more comfortable waiting for a direct threat. But, threats occur in a minority of cases. We do not want to wait for a threat to determine whether others’ safety is at risk. If you have concerns that someone’s behavior indicates a violent mindset, and believe that others are at risk, it’s critical that you share the information with those who can help contain the threat and assist the individual.

Remember, it is far better to face a possible, but unlikely, lawsuit for sharing information, than to do nothing and have to face the consequences of that decision.

Post-incident report shows how to increase school security

School Security post incident report

My last post detailed what we learned about threat assessment from the 2013 Arapahoe High School shooting of 17-year old Claire Davis. As stated previously, I never want to place blame or criticize anyone’s safety efforts, as we all face challenges when it comes to putting the best safety practices in place (or even knowing what they are, as this field is constantly evolving).

The report, produced by Michael Dorn of Safe Havens International, was based on the findings of 11 experienced analysts. It cites a number of properly implemented safety practices at both Arapahoe High School and in the Littleton Public School District. It also details areas of school security that warrant attention. For the purpose of learning and further enhancing the safety of all schools, this post will address those safety practices that we need to implement in our own districts. Failure to do so can expose us to danger and liability.

Post-incident report shows how to increase school security

  • A more thorough law enforcement investigation of the attacker’s prior threats may have decreased the likelihood of an attack. Best practice dictates investigating, interviewing the student about threats made, and gathering additional information from parents and others who interact with the person of concern.
  • The attacker’s mother did not report her son’s threats to kill a female student to the school administrators, deputy, or her son’s mental health providers. Educating parents about warning signs and the process of reporting concerns can help prevent this from occurring.
  • Although the school had extensively promoted its Safe2Tell hotline, no student or staff member reported the shooter’s threats to it, despite multiple students having concerns about his behavior. A student later reported that he did not call the Safe2Tell line because he did not realize that the attacker was a danger. This is consistent with one of the reasons students don’t report concerns as identified by the 2008 Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education Bystander Study. It is critical to provide student training that clarifies reportable concerns and reporting procedures.
  • The Arapahoe High School campus was left unsupervised during lunchtime on the day of the shooting because all school safety and security personnel ate lunch at the same time, clustered in two groups. It is recommended that lunch times be staggered so security is monitored at all times, and that school security staff be supervised by a qualified district-level security director.
  • The attacker entered the school through an unsecured door that should have been locked. The door was propped open about once a week despite staff and students having been instructed repeatedly not to prop doors open.
  • There is no record of the school having a security assessment conducted by an outside team. It is recommended that such an evaluation be conducted every 3-5 years.
  • The many policies, guidelines and procedures regarding school security and safety may have overwhelmed administrators in light of their other important responsibilities. This is not at all unusual and underscores a need for districts to carve out adequate time dedicated to training, discussion, rehearsal, and review of safety plans and protocols.
  • The security camera system in place at the time of the shooting was in need of improvement and updating. It is recommended that security equipment maintenance be assigned to specific staff positions and occur on an ongoing basis.
  • Confusion around the “lockout/lockdown” protocol activated on the day of the attack resulted in a number of classroom doors not being locked in areas where gunfire could not be heard. According to Michael Dorn, this type of protocol has resulted in a “high fail rate” during simulations. It should be noted, however, that Littleton Public Schools “met or exceeded the normal standard of care for school-level emergency drills at the time of the incident.”

The report contains much more detail than this post and I encourage you to review these recommendations with your own safety team to ensure that you are making your school the safest it can be. If you need assistance, or just want to discuss whether you’re on the right track, consider an inexpensive 1-to-1 consulting session. To learn more, simply read this.

Arapahoe report teaches about threat assessment

Report

Unfortunately, we often learn the most about how to improve our own levels of school safety by studying tragic incidents that have devastated lives. I never want to place blame or criticize anyone’s safety efforts. We all do the best we can with limited resources, knowledge, and power to implement change.

I do want to reflect for a moment on the recently released report regarding the 2013 Arapahoe High School fatal shooting of 17-year-old student Claire Davis, only because of what we can learn. The field of school safety is continually evolving. We are learning and improving every day.

The Arapahoe report teaches us about threat assessment

The report’s author, Michael Dorn of Safe Havens International, found that many effective school safety practices were in place at Arapahoe High School and in the Littleton School District. In addition, 11 analysts cited the following concerns that leave room for improvement in the area of threat assessment:

  • A systematic, “integrated systems approach” that involves collaboration with public safety partners to assess and make decisions regarding potential threats, was not in place at the time of the incident. It’s important to define roles and keep MOU’s (Memoranda of Understanding) between agencies on file in the school district.
  •  The threat assessment process used prior to the shooting focused more on establishing evidence that the student of concern “made” a threat rather than on assessing whether he or she posed a threat.
  • There was no defined multidisciplinary threat assessment team at Arapahoe High School at the time of the incident. All threat assessments were conducted by the school psychologist and assistant principal, and it appeared they may not have received adequate training on the threat assessment process.
  • It is unclear whether the team responsible for initiating the threat assessment had the professional knowledge and training needed to determine whether to conduct a threat evaluation of a student of concern. Threat assessment teams must include members of administration, pupil services and law enforcement, and all members should be professionally trained in violence warning signs and threat assessment practices.
  • There is no record that individual schools were provided with adequate resources or direction to train staff on recognizing violence warning signs and the specific actions to take. A district training presentation instructed schools to provide annual staff training on suicide and violence warning signs, but it is unclear whether this was done.
  • District staff may not have properly understood FERPA guidelines for information sharing.
  • There are concerns about decisions around disciplining the attacker after he made threats. School administrators had the option to suspend or expel him, but did not do either. In addition, a more thorough law enforcement investigation of the attacker’s prior threats may have decreased the likelihood of an attack.
  • The assessment form listed limited options for police response.
  • The assessment form did not provide a prompt for the threat assessment team to follow up to ensure that recommended safety strategies had been implemented.
  • Some of the procedures on the assessment and action plan forms were not followed.
  • Often, there was no explanation of the rationale for decisions made as part of the assessment.

The report contains much more detail than this post and I encourage you to review these recommendations with your own safety team to ensure that you are making your school the safest it can be. If you need assistance, or just want to discuss whether you’re on the right track, consider an inexpensive 1-to-1 consulting session. To learn more, simply read this.