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.