When a shooting occurs at a school the focus immediately turns to safety and what can be done about active shooters, with educational institutions adding fortifications or armed response plans. While these measures should be part of a school safety plan, security experts are encouraging educational institutions to also focus on smaller, day-to-day student issues as well, which can sometimes be the root cause of bigger tragedies.
“As a society we have gotten a tunnel vision focus on active shooters,” said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services. “There are many potential scenarios such as non-custodial parent concerns, bullying, and other threats that are lower-impact but have a higher probability of being faced by school administrators. School safety planning requires a balanced and comprehensive approach.”
In the first years after the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut shooting, schools across the nation stepped up physical security with more locked doors, camera systems and buzz-in entrance “vestibules.” However in the past couple of years, state education officials have pushed schools to also focus on creating a day-to-day positive school climate, by supporting at-risk students, providing mental health services and using school-wide messaging.
For example, one superintendent at a school in Ohio, according to the Dayton Daily News, notes that among the most common incidents that occur involve parents who are upset and make threats against school personnel. This may involve custody and restraining order issues, so it’s important that the school’s documentation is up to date and that the students are released to the appropriate people.
Social media has also had a significant impact on safety situations. Issues that occur outside of school hours can escalate when students return the next day. To keep abreast of what is taking place on social media, some schools have contracted with services that scan public posts for “threat indicators” and “language of harm” tied to specific communities, then deliver quick updates to school officials.
Educators also encourage students and school staff to reach out to students who are disconnected from the school society, who go through a major life trauma, or are having academic and behavioral problems. While discouraging establishing broad profiles, it’s important to note several student shooters in the past have had those experiences. For example, Nikolas Cruz, who confessed to the Parkland shooting, had made previous threats, been expelled, and had both of his adopted parents die. A Connecticut state report said Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza suffered from depression and other mental health problems and had demonstrated a preoccupation with violence before the massacre.
A school district in Ohio, to help disenfranchised students, partnered with a violence-prevention program that helps those in grades 4, 6 and 8 “learn, practice, and apply skills for self-regulation and social-emotional competence,” cites the Dayton Daily News. Students in grades 7-12, with parent permission, will have access to early intervention for drug, alcohol, anxiety and depression issues.
A school safety risk management program today involves innovative and new approaches to not only protect students and faculty from risk but also to help mitigate potential issues from escalating.
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