There is one thing you can do

There is one thing you can do
It has happened yet again. Today marks the 18th school shooting this year. Each and every one of them is devastating. As educators, we mourn with the families, students, and school staff members who have suffered. We look at our own schools and workplaces and wonder whether we’ve done enough. I don’t know what each of you has done to create a safer school, but I do know there is one thing you can do.

If your school hasn’t yet trained and developed a violence threat assessment team, maybe now is the time. We can’t prevent all mass shootings, but we can decrease the number by knowing what to watch for, identifying struggling individuals, and linking them to help. We can connect the dots that spell out warning signs and disrupt the pathway to violence before it reaches a harrowing conclusion.

For a snapshot of what setting up a threat assessment team involves, read this.  If you have considered taking action to train your staff in violence warning signs, threat assessment, and threat management, could there be a better time?

Youth Risk Prevention Specialists provides schools nationwide with the peace of mind that comes from knowing they have done everything they can to create a safe school environment. To learn how the comprehensive SafeAware© program delivers that, simply click here.

I’m very concerned right now

school shooting

Today, there was a school shooting in my home state of New Mexico. Two students were killed, along with the gunman. This is the second shooting perpetrated by a teenager in New Mexico in the past 4 months. I’m worried there will be more, devastating communities across the country.

Not long ago, I reviewed research on the copycat effect of mass shootings. Mark Follman from Mother Jones has researched and written about something many are calling the Columbine Effect. Dr. Sherry Towers and her team found that mass shootings increased the incidence of similar events within a period of 13 days. It was noted that this effect is present in 30% of mass shootings and 22% of school shootings.

I’m very concerned right now.

We are fast approaching the 5-year anniversary date of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and we’ve recently seen some devastating mass shooting incidents in our country. In these next few weeks before holiday break, we need to be exceedingly vigilant. We already know that being home for an extended period of time can be highly stressful for some students. We also know that the holidays, often fueled by alcohol and family issues, can be a time of strain and conflict. These stressors can intensify the vulnerability of a student or adult who is struggling.

If you’re not sure what you should be looking for, take a look at these resources for information about the warning signs of violence and suicide. Be sure everyone on your school’s staff is adequately trained to report concerns and that there is a team in place to evaluate, assess and intervene when necessary. If you need help with any of this, please don’t hesitate to contact me here.

Let’s all do our part to ensure a safe and peaceful holiday season.

 

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.

End of School Year Vigilance

With everything else on educators’ plates right now, we need to remind ourselves to practice end of school year vigilance. The spring months typically have the highest number of school violence incidents, and we have seen an increase in school threats and attacks over the past few weeks. While many are transient with no substantial plan, we must evaluate each one to ensure safety.

What to watch for

If you’re not sure what you should be looking for, you can refresh your memory with this list of warning signs.

We also want to watch for students who may dread the summer months and loss of structure and support that school provides. Unfortunately, the spring and summer months are also host to a high number of suicides. If you’d like to send some information out to parents along with other end-of-year correspondence, here are two options for you: warning signs of suicide and tips for parents.

If you are yearning to learn something new this summer, Youth Risk Prevention Specialists offers a free online school safety course that takes about 20 minutes to complete. A longer, more in-depth course is also available for individuals, and to train your entire staff. It takes about 2 hours to complete.

I want to thank you for all you do to help keep kids safe throughout the school year. I wish you an amazing, relaxing summer.

Mass Shooter Contagion

Mass Shooter Contagion

When you review your school safety practices this summer, be sure to consider the phenomenon known as the mass shooter contagion effect.

We’ve already learned that it’s best not to extensively memorialize deaths that were caused by suicide. The reason for this sometimes unpopular practice is that we don’t want to encourage suicide in those individuals who may view it as a method of getting the recognition and sympathy they desire.

There appears to be a similar effect operating with regard to mass shooting incidents. For this reason, we also want to minimize the recognition of mass violence perpetrators.

Dr. Sherry Towers led a research team from Arizona State University to apply a statistical model for detecting contagion in disease to shooting data previously collected by the Brady Campaign and USA Today. The researchers found that mass shootings increased the incidence of similar events within a period of 13 days. It was noted that this effect is present in 30% of mass shootings and 22% of school shootings.

This type of clustering may have roots in a similar copycat effect regarding suicide that was noted by sociologist Dave Phillips in 1974, and termed the Werther Effect. The Werther Effect uses social learning theory to explain that vulnerable individuals may see or hear of the suicide of someone with whom they identify and make a decision, either consciously or unconsciously, that suicide is an appropriate choice for him/her as well. This effect is thought to be responsible for cluster suicides.

Mass shooter contagion and schools

There is some indication that the national media is beginning to review and act on this information. Our job is to do the same in our own schools and communities.

Here’s what we need to do:

  • Make our staff aware of both the suicide and mass shooting contagion effects
  • Become increasingly vigilant when either suicide or violence occur in our geographic area, or anywhere in the world, if there is national media exposure.
  • Train school staff members in the warning signs of suicide and violence. For a list of each, consider taking this free online school safety course, which contains both lists.

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School Violence Rates Increase in the Spring

School Violence

In a recent post, I wrote about the reality of higher suicide rates in the Spring. We also need to be exceedingly vigilant about the warning signs of violence during the spring months. Here’s why:

School Violence Rates Increase in the Spring

In my research, I found a total of 100 confirmed injuries or deaths by shooting or stabbing in secondary and post-secondary schools during the months of April and May in the United States. Of course, we want to be vigilant at all times, but even more so during this time of year. Whether the factors responsible for these high springtime rates parallel those involved in increased spring rates of suicide is unclear. Further research may help to clarify the role played by social and biological factors in these high rates of violence.

Below is a list of April and May dates that have witnessed the tragedy of a school shooting (it may not be exhaustive). Some of the incidents have included the suicide of the perpetrator. Because individuals who are contemplating an act of targeted violence often identify with, and wish to emulate, previous attackers, specific dates may be significant to a given individual. Research has established that there is such a thing as a copycat effect, so it’s wise to familiarize your school staff with the dates below. This is a time to be particularly vigilant, especially with persons of concern. If you notice something that causes concern and aren’t sure what to do next, read this.

April 2, 1867, 1921, 2012
April 5, 1975
April 6, 1904, 1918
April 7, 1977, 1982
April 9, 1891, 1952, 2014
April 10, 1996
April 11, 2014
April 12, 1919, 1982, 1887, 1994, 2013
April 13, 2015
April 15, 1908, 1993
April 16, 1974, 1987, 1999, 2007, 2013, 2015
April 17, 1981, 1956, 1984
April 18, 1918, 2013
April 20, 1984, 1961, 1999
April 21, 2014
April 23, 1991
April 24, 1890, 1998, 2003
April 25, 1950
April 26, 1978, 2009
April 27, 1936, 1966, 2015
April 29, 1920
April 30, 1866
May 1, 1920, 1992 (2), 1958
May 4, 1956, 1970, 2014
May 5, 2014
May 6, 1930, 1940
May 7, 1935, 2004
May 8 2014
May 9, 2003
May 12, 2015
May 13, 1969
May 14, 1992 (2), 2013, 2014
May 15, 1920, 1954, 1970
May 16, 1986
May 17, 1889, 1984, 2001
May 18, 1906, 1927, 1979, 2009 (2)
May 19, 1998, 1936
May 20, 1988, 1999
May 21, 1998
May 22, 1930, 1968
May 23, 1940, 2011, 2014
May 24, 1878, 1879, 1979, 1993, 1998, 2015
May 26, 1994, 2000, 2012
May 28,1931

In addition, both the Oklahoma City Bombing and the Boston Marathon Bombing occurred during the spring, on April 19, 1995 and April 15, 2013, respectively.

I would not suggest that you disseminate this information to students or parents but I do recommend reminding all staff and parents that this is a time of year to increase vigilance regarding signs of both suicide and violence.

A Mother’s Reckoning

A Mother's Reckoning

“By telling my story as faithfully as possible, even when it is unflattering to me, I hope to shine a light that will help other parents see past the faces their children present, so that they can get them help if it is needed.”

This is how the book, A Mother’s Reckoning, begins, and it is a  courageous effort that will leave you with a heightened sense of empathy and an emotional mix that eludes a label.

This is how the book begins, but the story begins in another way. It shatters our security and every sense of what we believed, with the unfolding of theretofore-unimagined horror.

Sue Klebold begins her story with the phone call from her husband Tom that changed everything. She takes us on a profound journey from that long horrific day in April 1999 to near-present day. She allows us to know her: to hear her questions, witness her grief, and feel the dawning of her realization that her beloved son did in fact destroy many lives. By sharing so much, we are able to experience perhaps a tiny sliver of her sadness, grief, shame, incomprehension and loss; and come away with an undeniable “there but for the grace of God go I” sentiment that will echo through our days.

Sue Klebold allows us to scrutinize her parenting as she details the life of her son, Dylan. She takes full responsibility for missing signs of a troubled young man. But Dylan was not always troubled. In fact, Sue shows us the Dylan who was gifted, sweet, caring and worked with young children. As she so eloquently states, “the disquieting reality is that behind this heinous atrocity was an easygoing, shy likable young man who came from a ‘good home’.” His parents eschewed guns, were careful about the movies they allowed their sons to watch, and “put them to bed with stories and prayers and hugs.” This offers little comfort to the masses. It exposes the vulnerabilities in all of us.

The reality is that we will never stop all of the suicides or violence in our society, but by being exceedingly aware and vigilant, we can change some outcomes. We can trust our sense of anything at all being “off” and take actions that can help an individual in untold ways. Often, this will interrupt the pathway to suicide or violence. This, after all, is Sue Klebold’s mission, and her hope for all of us.

Regardless of your feelings about the Columbine High School attack, A Mother’s Reckoning is a humbling and enlightening read. I encourage you to make the time to read it. If you’re looking for additional reading material on school safety and violence prevention, you can find my carefully curated reading list here.

How to Prevent School Violence

These days, we are all focused on how to prevent school violence. First, it’s important to note that there are multiple types of school violence. This post focuses on preventing targeted school violence.

The motivation for a targeted school attack is related to many factors and often makes no sense to observers. With this type of violence, we are looking at a multitude of factors including marginalization from peer groups (or perception of marginalization), societal scripts for violence, fascination and experience with violence and weaponry, possible personality disorders and/or mental illness, recent or long-held grievances coupled with a lack of alternatives to solve them, a default to coping through violence, recent humiliation, and a number of other aspects.

Individuals responsible for school violence have been studied extensively. Most share a number of the characteristics noted above. Any approach to prevention and intervention must include a process for identifying troubled and troubling individuals and sharing information with others who have knowledge of the person.

Taking away the weapons helps, but it is not a cure. Mental health treatment can help avert a crisis, but mental illness is not the sole cause of violence and the majority of mentally ill persons are not violent. Sometimes individuals with a grievance are determined to exact revenge and will intentionally resist therapeutic efforts.

Many variables determine whether a rigid and hateful view of something in the world will be turned into action. Easy access to weapons, lack of mental health treatment options for many, violent video games, television and other media, loss of funding for prevention programs and overly strained social service systems all contribute to the problem.

You can be a part of the solution by applying these simple strategies:

  • Build relationships with staff and students
  • Identify troubled individuals and provide appropriate resources and monitoring for those who need them
  • Teach your students and staff to report concerns about someone’s words or behavior
  • Connect with students one by one and let them know that you take their concerns seriously and will follow up with appropriate action

Once they trust you to do that, word will spread and the student network will open up to you. This is vital. In 80% of prior school attacks someone knew about the plan before the attack. Be the person students want to tell, and you’ll be able to keep your school much safer.

Violence Threat Assessment Tools: Which are the best?

Violence threat assessment tools

I would love to be able to tell you that there is one definitive violence threat assessment tool that will give you all the answers. Unfortunately, it simply isn’t true. Threat assessment tools, grids and checklists are a method of organizing your information. A good tool will help guide your inquiry and investigation so you’ll know what’s important. Some tools will help you discern what is most important by assigning weight to each question or variable. But, your threat assessment team will still need to do the work.

Violence threat assessment tools and teams

Your team needs to be made up of individuals with a clear goal and the training, practice and belief system to achieve it. It should include staff members in various roles because each of them will bring something different to the table in terms of training, experience and knowledge of the person of concern.

Together, your team will walk through the threat assessment tools they’ve selected and determine what is currently known about the subject, information that still needs to be gathered, which team members are best suited to gather specific information, preliminary conclusions and an immediate plan. It is critical to agree on a time to meet back together to review additional information gathered. At that point, a more thorough assessment will take place and a careful, well-thought-out plan will be developed and implemented. It’s important for you to remember that threat assessment is not a one-time thing. It is constantly evolving and changing as new information is gathered and discounted. Your team will need to continue to monitor and review the situation, making adjustments as needed.

The practice of violence threat assessment is itself one of the best tools we have to identify and help individuals who are struggling. Your assessment may not reveal a serious or imminent threat of danger, and that would be an ideal outcome. But, you may find someone who needs your help. Helping that person with his/her struggles, mental health issues or grievances will improve his/her life immensely and keep all of you much safer.

Spring = High Rates of Violence

B & W Flower

Earlier in the week, I wrote about the increase in suicides during spring months. We also need to be increasingly mindful of indicators of potential violence at this time of year.

Spring = Higher Rates of Violence

In my research, I found a total of 96 confirmed injuries or deaths by shooting or stabbing in secondary and post-secondary schools during the months of April and May in the U.S. Of course, we want to be vigilant at all times, but even more so during this time of year. Whether the factors responsible for these high springtime rates parallel those involved in increased spring rates of suicide is unclear. Further research may help to clarify what role, if any, is played by springtime weather, social, and biological factors in these high rates.

Below is a list of April and May dates that have been host to the tragedy of a school shooting (it may not be exhaustive). Some of the incidents have included suicide of the perpetrator. Because individuals who are contemplating an act of targeted violence often identify with, and wish to emulate, previous attackers, these dates may be significant to a given individual. It is a time to be particularly vigilant, especially with persons of concern.

April 2, 1867, 1921, 2012
April 5, 1975
April 6, 1904, 1918
April 7, 1977, 1982
April 9, 1891, 1952, 2014
April 10, 1996
April 11, 2014
April 12, 1919, 1982, 1887, 1994, 2013
April 13, 2015
April 15, 1908, 1993
April 16, 1974, 1987, 1999, 2007, 2013
April 17, 1981, 1956, 1984
April 18, 1918, 2013
April 20, 1984, 1961, 1999
April 21, 2014
April 23, 1991
April 24, 1890, 1998, 2003
April 25, 1950
April 26, 1978, 2009
April 27, 1936, 1966
April 29, 1920
April 30, 1866
May 1, 1920, 1992 (2), 1958
May 4, 1956, 1970, 2014
May 5, 2014
May 6, 1930, 1940
May 7, 1935, 2004
May 8 2014
May 9, 2003
May 13, 1969
May 14, 1992 (2), 2013, 2014
May 15, 1920, 1954, 1970
May 16, 1986
May 17, 1889, 1984, 2001
May 18, 1906, 1927, 1979, 2009 (2)
May 19, 1998, 1936
May 20, 1988, 1999
May 21, 1998
May 22, 1930, 1968
May 23, 1940, 2011, 2014
May 24, 1878, 1879, 1979, 1993, 1998,
May 26, 1994, 2000, 2012
May 28,1931

In addition, both the Oklahoma City Bombing and the Boston Marathon Bombing occurred during the spring, on April 19, 1995 and April 15, 2013, respectively.

I would not suggest that you disseminate this information to students or parents but I do recommend reminding all staff and parents that this is a time of year to increase vigilance regarding signs of both suicide and violence.