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.


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.

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.

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.

Two Types of Violence in Schools

Two types of violence in schools

There are two types of violence in schools: impulsive and targeted. But, only one of them typically ends up on the evening news.

Targeted violence is premeditated and planned over a period of time. Because of the planning and preparation that precede it, this type of violence is considered to be predatory in nature. This is the one that stops us in our tracks when we see it on the news.

Impulsive violence is reactive and may seem to come out of nowhere, or it can be a nearly predictable result of ongoing conflict.

Differences between the two types of violence:

A pioneering study found distinct differences between impulsive and predatory violence, when that violence results in death. Here are some of the findings that can help increase our own awareness:

  • Compared to impulsive murderers, predatory/premeditated murderers are nearly twice as likely to have a history of mood disorders or psychotic disorders — 61 percent versus 34 percent.
  • Compared to predatory/premeditated murderers, impulsive murderers are more likely to be developmentally disabled and have cognitive and intellectual impairments — 59 percent versus 36 percent.
  • Over 90% of the impulsive murderers in this study had a history of alcohol or drug abuse and/or were intoxicated at the time of the crime — 93 percent versus 76 percent of those whose crimes were premeditated.

In schools, we need to be alert for both types of violence. We must pay attention to individuals and specific actions. Only then can we dig deep enough to assess a person’s mindset, coping skills, stressors, and intent to harm others so we can contain and manage the situation before violence takes place. To learn more about this process, see this.

For more on preventing targeted school violence, click here.

Liability Quotient (LQ) Revisited

LQ Liability Quotient

I’ve written previously about something I like to call your LQ or Liability Quotient. When I speak of your LQ, I’m referring to the level of risk assumed by your school or district regarding liability for injury, death or trauma to those in your care in the event of an emergency.

Several lawsuits against schools have recently been either filed by, or settled in favor of, those alleging policy omission, insufficient preparation or failure to act in accordance with safety policy when a threat to the school exists, or the unthinkable occurs.

When creating or updating a school safety plan, it’s vital to include all of the essential components of attending to prevention, school climate, threat assessment, physical security, drills, emergency response, and recovery measures. When we fail to cover all of these areas using currently established best practices, we not only expose those in our care to greater hazards, we leave ourselves open to the collateral damage of liability, lawsuits, insurance payouts with subsequent rises in insurance rates, and a tarnished reputation.

To help you evaluate your safety plan, I’ve written a report on The Essential Components of School Safety and you can access it simply by clicking on the link.

If you still have questions or concerns, consider booking a 1-to-1 consultation by either phone or Skype to discuss your concerns and develop a plan so you can keep everyone safe and minimize your liability risk.

Can Schools be Held Liable for Violence?


We are cognizant of covering all of our bases when it comes to school safety. We attend to physical security, school climate, crisis response plans, and prevention efforts. Even with all of those components in place, we wonder, “can we still be held liable if something happens in our school?”

A Colorado legislator recently introduced Senate Bill 213, which would allow the victims of school shootings or their families to sue schools when the violence is “reasonably foreseeable.” State lawmakers say they are “sending a directive to education officials to do more to keep students safe,” according to a recent article in Insurance Journal.

This bill would allow victims and their families to collect up to $350,000 from schools in a move legislators say will motivate education officials to improve school security. “It’s about holding them liable for providing a direct duty to care for those kids in their charge,” Republican Senate President Bill Cadman said.

Currently, schools have governmental immunity from being sued in Colorado. The measure allowing lawsuits would waive the state’s governmental immunity so schools could be sued for shootings.

While this bill has not yet passed, it is moving forward and is something to watch. We also want to keep an eye on the outcome of the wrongful death suit against the school board and city of Newtown, Connecticut that was filed in January by the parents of two students killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

The best way to protect ourselves from these types of legal concerns is also the best way to keep our students and staff safe – attend to all facets of school safety and be certain to review and update our practices and protocols regularly to reflect the most current research, practices and technology.

Seeing the warning signs before it’s too late

Warning signs

Each time we hear of another incident of targeted school violence, the following days bring news reports of warning signs that were missed along the path toward violence. Admittedly, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to predict violence. But, there are many signs of trouble that leave me nodding my head as I go through my mental list along with the reporter on the evening news.

Seeing the warning signs

In my workshops, I do not teach staff to predict violence, but to prevent it, by assessing dangerousness. Dangerousness is situational and fluid, and needs to be addressed when the signs are telling us that an individual is troubled and moving toward a decision to act in violence. Sometimes, we have a long window during which to act; other times, things move along rapidly. Knowing what to look for and having a plan in place to intervene can make the difference between life and death.

If you’d like to learn more about how to develop and implement this type of plan, simply click here.

How do I sort through the research, lists & checklists when assessing a potential threat?



Here’s how to sort through the research, lists and checklists used to assess a potential threat. There are a lot of different lists and checklists out there that tell us what we should consider when making an assessment of someone’s potential dangerousness.  It’s a lot to consider.

There are essentially two types of risk or threat assessment approaches: nomothetic and idiographic. In the field of criminal profiling, the goal of nomothetic study is to accumulate knowledge about general or average characteristics of offender groups.  The goal of idiographic study is to determine unique characteristics of a particular offender responsible for a specific crime (Turvey, 2012).

Essentially we are using nomothetic study when we assume that what has gone before is a reasonable gauge to determine what may come (Calhoun, 1998).  Many lists of potential school attacker warning signs and behaviors are based on this method.  We then look at an individual’s behavior and assess risk based on similarity to behaviors and patterns that have resulted in violence in the past.  We must remember, however, that “statistical information is based on what has happened in the past.  It cannot predict the specifics of any future threat beyond simply confirming that in the past, with threats of similar character, certain patterns held true” (Calhoun, 1998).

It is for this reason that I believe we also need to conduct an idiographic study of the individual at hand. What is this person’s behavior, language and writing telling us about his/her current state of mind? Has this individual first come to our attention when he or she has already begun to climb the ladder of escalation toward a violent act, perhaps by testing or breaching security?

We might look at a list that shows violent past as an indicator for for future violence, and decide on that basis that this individual is not a threat. But, there would be a flaw in this reasoning. Past violence is correlated with future violence in many situations, but it is not necessarily so in school attacks.

Does a checklist tell you what to do when a given individual makes you feel nervous, or when a teacher is overheard telling another teaching that this parent makes him or her uncomfortable but she can’t put her finger on what it is?

These are some of the many things to consider when assessing an individual of concern. The past does teach us a great deal, but we must still heed the signals of the present.

If you have concerns about someone’s behavior and aren’t sure what to do next, read this.

School Threat Assessment – What You Need to Know

School threat assessment

When you hear a student threaten another student verbally or through writing, email or social media, should you be concerned that violence will follow? The answer depends on several things.

School Threat Assessment – What You Need to Know

First, it is always imperative to conduct an investigation. You will need to gather information about the individual, circumstances, relationship between the threatener and the target and any previous threats or violence perpetrated by the threatener (subject). It’s critical that you include staff members, law enforcement and agency staff representing various disciplines on your threat assessment team. This will enable you to collect information from a number of individuals who have experience with the subject, and to view your data through multiple lenses.

Does the subject have a history of violence? Does he/she have a pattern of making threats or of inappropriate communication, with no action toward violence? A threat is like a promise – a statement that a future action will take place. But, promises are often easier to make than to keep. Sometimes, it is the same way with threats.

What we want to pay particular attention to are the behaviors engaged in by a subject of concern. Does the subject display a contextually inappropriate fascination with violence, weapons or previous attacks? Is the subject increasing his/her target practice? Has the subject been seen on school grounds at odd times and in unusual places? Has the subject spoken to others about a desire to inflict violence or a plan to do so? Has he/she taken steps to acquire weapons? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, make it your mission to find out. Convene your threat assessment team and gather information on any and all incidents and observations involving the subject of concern. To not do so risks letting critical information fall through the cracks.

If a picture of progressive actions toward violence begins to emerge, your concern should be elevated. Keep investigating, take appropriate safety measures and involve the student’s parents or guardians. Law enforcement will want to consider a search warrant if parents are not forthcoming with information or cooperative with a search of the subject’s home. If you see steps toward intended violence, an attack has already begun and it is vital to intervene before it’s too late.

Need help assessing a potential threat? Learn more here.