It's the end of the year, but...

As all educators and parents are well aware, it’s almost the end of the school year, and frankly, we’re all just tired. The months of May and June are particularly chaotic and tiring in schools. There are an almost overwhelming amount of social, academic, and athletic events going on - prom, award dinners, field day, championship games - the list goes on and on. Combine this frantic level of activity with the tiredness and complacency that can develop and you have a a potential for disaster.

So, as we wind up the year, here are some tips to remember…

  1. Big events in schools create unstable situations - there are lots of visitors in the building, schedules are changed, students are excited and moving around more freely and unsupervised - meaning that sometimes safety is the last thing on anyone’s mind. It’s always a good idea to take a minute to help everyone re-focus on safely enjoying these events.

  2. As the days wind down, we become more complacent. The threat of violence or the potential for accidents doesn’t go away just because there are only a few days of school left. If a safety procedure is a good idea on the first day of school, it’s still a good one on the last day of school.

  3. Supervision is not seasonal - When people get busy they tend to prioritize, and supervision is one of the first things to get bumped down the list. Even on a good day, schools tend to have too little supervision in critical areas - cafeterias, bus lanes, hallways, locker rooms, etc. Don’t allow the demands of the end of the year to become an excuse for skimping on this most critical of duties.

  4. Being outside can be hazardous. As the weather improves, school settings are increasingly shifted outside. Gym classes are on the field, extra recess is happening, classes are meeting in courtyards, multiple games and practices are occurring. Be sure that any communication that occurs within the building can also be heard outside - whether it’s by PA, radio, or cell phone - and that there’s a procedure to make sure it’s done. If those in the building went into lockdown or severe weather sheltering, how would those outside be notified? Conversely, if an injury or incident occurs outside, how will they call for help?

School-based violent threats and incidents: so far this school year

Depending on geography and calendars, most U.S. schools have been in session anywhere from 4 to 19 school days so far this school year. Regardless of the actual number of days, the number of threats, and violent incidents that have occurred so far this school year is unsettling at best. While significant conclusions cannot be drawn from this brief burst of data alone, certain trends are beginning to emerge:

  • There have already been 4 shooting incidents in schools, with 1 fatality (the shooter) and four injuries.
  • Unlike last year’s data where social media accounted for only 5.6% of bomb threats, so far this year, social media postings were the method of delivery for 24% of all threats of school violence (when the method of delivery was reported).
  • 34 of the 50 states have already reported or experienced threats or actual incidents of violence either in the form of a bomb or shooting threat, or an actual event.
  • To date there have been 52 bomb threats reported in 27 states, impacting 68 schools. More shocking is the fact that August 31 two explosive device were found outside a middle school in Washington state one of which had partially detonated. In the entire 15-16 school year there was one detonation and 4 devices found.
  • So far there have been 108 violent incidents and threats impacting the safety and instructional time of students in 135 schools.

What happens for the rest of this school year remains to be seen, but  bomb threats and other threats of violence have been present since literally the first day of school for many educational institutions. Clearly this is not a “spring” problem but a fact of daily life for U.S. schools. More importantly, these are not all “just threats”. With four actual shootings, four additional gun incidents, and an explosive detonation in the opening days of the 2016-2017 school, the need for adequate preparation, prevention, and response planning and training is frighteningly obvious.

The Educator’s School Safety Network will continue to gather and analyze data about threats and incidents of violence in schools throughout the 2016-2017 school year, and will provide periodic updates as to our findings. For best access, follow us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/eSchoolSafety or on Twitter at @eSchoolSafety.  If you’d like to receive these updates in an email form, please sign up at http://eepurl.com/bbh5Nj

How Safe is Your School Really? A Potentially Uncomfortable Self-Assessment

Ensuring the safety of students is the primary mission of all educators. Yet sadly, it is also an area where educators feel largely unprepared or have received little training.  As one school year closes and planning for another begins, this is the perfect time to critically reflect on the state of school safety in your district and develop plans for improvement.

Let’s begin by critically examining several of the most important areas of concern:

Is your district still utilizing a traditional lockdown procedure for active shooter response (lock the door, hide out, wait for law enforcement)? In June 2013, the Department of Education and FEMA released updated guidelines for best practices in schools that incorporate rapid evacuation and barricading as response capabilities. If your staff and students do not how to use these options, it is critical to update both your lockdown procedures AND provide adequate training.  http://eschoolsafety.org/let/

Does your district have a Threat Assessment Team? According to the U.S. Department of Education, one of the most useful tools a school can develop is a multidisciplinary threat assessment team. Threat assessment is a means by which educators can identify students who are at risk for violence against themselves or others, assess the level of risk and develop appropriate supports and interventions. Most importantly, threat assessment is an effective violence prevention measure that examines threats of all kinds, not just an active shooter situation. http://eschoolsafety.org/tam/

Has your district had a vulnerability assessment to examine the current level of safety and security within each building? A vulnerability assessment identifies potential deficiencies and generates recommendations for improvement. An effective vulnerability assessment comes from multiple perspectives – educational, legal, emergency response – not just a security point of view and should include an intruder assessment, a policy review, a mitigation plan, and a leadership team de-briefing. http://eschoolsafety.org/consulting/

Does your school have a formalized, updated plan for parent reunification? In the immediate aftermath of a crisis event, the primary responsibility of the school is to ensure the safe and timely return of students to their parents. A plan for parent reunification cannot be developed “on the fly” in the emotional post-crisis chaos. http://eschoolsafety.org/reunification/

If you answered no to one or more of these questions, don’t despair, instead get busy! As a non-profit, it is the mission of the Educator’s School Safety Network to assist schools with safety planning and training. We can help you make the 2016-2017 school year safer. Contact us at www.eSchoolSafety.org

 

 

Let’s REALLY appreciate our teachers - by saving their lives

It’s teacher appreciation week which results in a flurry of best wishes and compliments to educators across the United States – and rightfully so! Every day teachers face the almost overwhelming task of educating, nurturing, and protecting the children in their care.

As a society, it is in our best interest, as well as our responsibility, to improve the state of education by helping teachers to access the resources that they need to complete these three critical tasks each school day.

So in a week where teachers are showered with food, gifts, and thank yous (which are often long overdue), what are we doing to provide teachers with the tools, training, and resources they need to do their most important job – ensure the safety of their students?

Let’s demonstrate some real appreciation for teachers – by giving them the appropriate, education-based safety training they desperately need.

Are you worried about next week? You should be.

In American schools, April is a month for spring testing, gearing up for graduation, starting next year’s schedule, spring break… and oh yes – catastrophic violence. In the past 20 years, April has become known by mass-murder and terrorism experts as the “killing season” and for good reason.

Next week, particularly April 19 and 20, is infamous for school violence.

The massacres at Virginia Tech (April 16) and Columbine High School (April 20), the stabbing rampage at Franklin Regional High School, as well as numerous “lesser” attacks all occurred in schools in mid-April.

Unfortunately, time doesn’t lessen the impact of these events. The “celebration” of or homage to the anniversary of these events (in particular the Columbine shooting) becomes of critical significance to those intending to perpetrate a similar, or “better” attack.

As more attacks are carried out in April, the contagion grows greater, with more attacks desiring to replicate or pay tribute to the nefarious anniversaries of Eric Harris’s birthday (April 9), the Boston Marathon bombing (April 15), the Virginia Tech shooting (April 16), the Waco Siege and Oklahoma City bombing (both April 19), Hitler’s birthday (April 20), and the most “admired” school shooting of all – Columbine High School on April 20.

Given the successful thwarting of numerous planned school attacks in the past few weeks, it is not just law enforcement or anti-terrorism responders who need to be aware, attuned, and responsive during this time – it is educators as well.

That extra measure of vigilance in the coming days may very well save lives.

Police Officers Don’t Make Schools Safer? The Debate Escalates

In response to the “excessive force” incident in a San Antonio school this week, the Texas ACLU has called for the removal of police officers from schools, saying “Police officers don't make schools safer, and they should be removed from schools altogether."   They went on to call on the San Antonio Independent School District to “take a look at their policies, practices and culture of policing,” an activity that all school districts should undertake.

While we continue to be shocked and at times horrified, by the videos that emerge from police-related incidents in schools, our response needs to be measured and strategic. No one wants to see 12 year olds body slammed into the ground, but we are equally distraught at the physical violence that can occur without an adequate supervisory presence. We have to acknowledge that sometimes, there are crisis events that occur in a school that absolutely require a police presence. Conversely, it is clear that a law enforcement approach is almost never the best response to a school disciplinary issue.

At the risk of sounding like a voice of reason amid the shouting, perhaps a more moderate, but less convenient, approach needs to be introduced:

  • Provide appropriate, education-based training for school staff in de-escalation, supervision, and crisis response, AND demand that teachers consistently use it in all situations, such that schools can apply educationally sound responses to disciplinary issues.

  • Provide appropriate, education-based training to school-based law enforcement officers in de-escalation and how to appropriately apply law enforcement techniques in an educational setting AND demand that they consistently use it, such that police officers can apply educationally sound law enforcement responses as needed if a criminal issue occurs in a school.

http://www.crossroadstoday.com/story/31671205/aclu-comment-on-san-antonio-police-officer-throwing-12-year-old-child-to-ground

Verbally Aggressive Becomes Excessively Forceful?

Today brings yet another video of a school police officer using significant physical force with a student. There are two sides to the dilemma of a law enforcement official putting hands on a kid. In some instances, the situation is no longer an educational event, but rather a criminal event, and the person being physically subdued is a perpetrator of a crime. Conversely, in other instances the person being man-handled is a student who is involved in a disciplinary problem, not a crime, yet they are dealt with in a criminal, not educational fashion.

In the latest video from a San Antonio school, a 12 year girl who was involved in a “verbally aggressive” altercation with another student is shown being body slammed to the ground. While we must not rush to judgement on the specifics of these types of cases, let’s keep in mind that we are talking about a 12 year old student, not an adult criminal, who was involved in an argument with words, however contentious, not fists.

Regardless of the outcome of the investigation launched by the district, these sort of videos remind us that simply putting law enforcement into schools does not solve every problem. Often districts opt for the quick fix of paying for a single resource officer, rather than investing in appropriate education-based training for all their staff members. While there may be a need for law enforcement intervention in some cases, school staff members trained in de-escalation, violence prevention, and mediation who are empowered and invested in establishing a safe and supportive school climate are a much better return on a district’s investment.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/video-shows-san-antonio-school-officer-body-slamming-girl/

Stuff Versus People?

After a school shooting occurred in their district last week, school leaders in Madison Local Schools are reacting with new “safety measures”. These include:

·       Purchasing two security wands to check students as they enter the building

·       Hiring another school resource officer

·       Training selected staff members to carry firearms.

·       Adding metal blinds to classrooms doors.

·       Participating in Ohio’s free tip line program

These law enforcement-based improvements are in response to a shooting that occurred in the school’s cafeteria that injured four students. While we are always glad to see schools taking action to improve safety, let’s raise a troublesome question – is any money, time, or resources being allocated to training the staff and students? Will everyone at Madison Local Schools be any better trained or empowered to respond as a result of these expenditures? For a fraction of the price of these security-based measures, teachers and students could be trained and empowered to not only respond but also prevent a variety of crisis events – not just a shooting.

While buying “stuff”, hiring more cops, or adding more guns to the school environment may feel good in the short term, is it really addressing the problem? Why not invest in a comprehensive, long term solution – training and empowering all school stakeholders. Let's hope that the district will make this sound investment as well.

We're #1!!!!!!!! - but we don't want to be...

Usually being number one or leading the nation is a position you want to be in. Unfortunately when it comes to bomb threats in schools, Ohio has the unenviable distinction of being number one in the nation. In the last 40 school days , Ohio schools have experienced more than 37 bomb threats - more than any other state in the US.


But we're not alone. The incredible increase in school bomb threats or actual bomb-related incidents has been felt across the US, particularly in the Midwest and east coast. It's not just threats though - in the same 40 school days, potential bomb making materials were confiscated from six different students in two separate incidents.

So the logical question is - what are we doing about it? A review of bomb threat management training and resources for schools reveals that administrators, in Ohio and elsewhere, are being forced to do the best they can with frequently outdated and often dangerously antiquated response procedures - if they have anything in place at all.


In response to this critical need, the Educators School Safety Network is currently offering bomb threat management courses taught BY educators, FOR educators. While law enforcement input and support is crucial, school administrators must receive training to develop their capacity to respond appropriately to bomb threats and bomb incidents in their school. For more information on this timely course, please go to www.eSchoolSafety.org.

map.png


Bomb threats and bomb incidents in 2015 are very different from the "good old days" of pranks and protests. Today's world is a dangerous place and schools are not exempt from this threat. The "oh it's just a bomb threat hoax" perspective is irresponsible and dangerous thinking. Come on Ohio, let's be #1 in preparedness.

Kid or Criminal?

Another school resource officer was fired today for using what was considered excess force when interacting with a student. As a society, we watch these incidents with outrage (“Nobody better ever do that to my kid!”). As educators we watch with a mixture of indignation (“Come on – I have to deal with these same kids every day without putting hands on them!), resignation (“Come on kid – what did you think was going to happen if you kept being defiant?”), and maybe a tiny twinge of empathy (“What do I do when a kid becomes violent with me?”).

The larger concern is whether we are witnessing educational or criminal issues in these videos? Is the perpetrator of these actions a student or a criminal? And at what point do we move from an educational event to a criminal event that warrants the use of force? These are subtle distinctions that hinge on decisions and resulting actions made in the heat of the moment by troubled students and law enforcement, not education, professionals.

If we are going to run a prison within the walls of the school, then we need to continue to spend time, money, and training on security systems, cameras, metal detectors, guards, and a law enforcement-based presence. If instead we are interested in having an educational system within our school walls, then we need to shift the focus. We need to work on climate and culture issues, building relationships, implementing effective violence prevention practices, and empowering all school stakeholders to have a role in keeping the school safe.

School resource officers need education-based training. They need to acquire an understanding of the unique challenges facing students and teachers and develop a specific skill set to deal with them. We would never send a teacher into the criminal justice system to deal with offenders using the same techniques and capacities used in teaching middle schoolers, yet we are placing law enforcement officers into an educational setting to deal with students (not criminals) without adequate education-based training and dispositions.

Denver Post article covering Colorado School Safety Summit

"We tell our kids to get under a desk, be quiet and cross their fingers when we should be training the kids on things like evacuating and barricading," said Amanda Klinger of the nonprofit Educator's School Safety Network.

"There could be a wall of windows in the back of the classroom, and a teacher is instructed to make her kids lie down when they could be evacuating out the windows," Dr. Amy Klinger said. "A teacher shouldn't get in trouble for helping his or her students survive."

 

Read the rest of the article here: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_29073564/experts-say-rethink-school-safety-plans-stress-student

Oregon Gets It!

Finally – someone gets it! The Oregon State Police Task Force on School Safety recommended the implementation of a statewide threat assessment system in all public schools. This recommendation will be one of two top priorities for the legislation come February.

In June of 2013, FEMA and Department of Education called Threat Assessment Management “one of the most useful tools a school can develop…”. Two and a half years later, very few schools have this critical tool that allows us to identify, assess, and manage individuals who are risk for violence against themselves or others.

Keep in mind that while school shootings are driving this scenario, threat assessment provides appropriate support and interventions for a variety of potentially dangerous behaviors from self-harm to risk taking behaviors to shootings. It’s a tool that allows us to effectively prevent events before they occur, rather than just picking up the pieces afterwards. Even better – it’s cost effective and sustainable.

Let’s hope that come February, Oregon builds upon the successful threat assessment team model already in place in some districts. Their schools will be a great deal safer as a result. Now – when will the rest of the states get clued in?

When in the world are we going to provide training to teachers that is education-based?

Really reluctant kudos to the Eagan Police Department in Minnesota for hosting a “Teacher’s Academy”, where classroom teachers participated in simulations that replicated a tactical response to an active  shooter in school – from the perspective of the police officer. Teachers used plastic guns to respond like police officers to a virtual school shooting. Other activities included a brief jolt from a Taser, all in the hopes of giving teachers “perspective on policing techniques”.  Let’s look at a few of the take aways here:

  • Let’s educate the educators first: While any school safety training may be helpful, when in the world are we going to provide training to teachers that is education-based? How about giving teachers an educator’s perspective on what they can do in a school shooting? Do the teachers who now have a “policeman’s perspective” have any idea what they are supposed to do as educators in an active shooter or other crisis event?
  • Turnabout is fair play: We already have an overwhelming law enforcement perspective on school violence. It’s good to know what law enforcement faces when they respond, but how about giving law enforcement some education-based training to give them some “perspective” on what teachers are dealing with?
  • Shame on us: While I certainly can think of more effective training models for teachers, at least the Eagan Police Department is willing to spend time and resources on training teachers. Can schools say the same?

Can we all agree that we need to train teachers on what to do in a crisis before we spend time and money giving teachers a law enforcement perspective on school violence?

Bomb Threats By the Numbers

It might seem like there have been a lot of bomb threats in schools lately – that’s because there has…

Let’s look at the stats for JUST TODAY – October 20, 2015 – as of 10:30 p.m. EST….

  • 20 different schools in 9 different states were threatened with a bomb today

  • 14 of these were elementary schools (70%), 1 middle school and 5 high schools

  • 9 of the 19 threats – 45% - were in Ohio.

October 19 was a slow day by comparison – only 8 bomb threats, of which 25% were in Ohio.

There certainly are a number of questions we could raise about this alarming trend, but let’s just ask one directly to our educators – when was the last time you had any training in preventing or responding to bomb threat incidents? The silence is deafening….

School safety grants!!! Yay?

Indiana Governor Mike Pence announced on Wednesday that he will not cut the state’s school safety grant program, but instead will add an additional $3.5 million to it. Sounds great right? Finally we’re  allocating money to keep schools safe right? Let’s take a closer look….

The Indiana Secured School Safety Grant Program takes applications from school entities and awards grant funds of up to $50,000 per year, but the funds must be used for security assessments, purchasing security equipment, or employing school resource officers. Not one word – or one dime – for training the people who will be actually responding to crisis events – the educators. 

Am I glad to see money allocated toward school safety? Yes. Do I think that School Resource Officers are a valuable tool in keeping schools safe? Yes, sort of… But how about let’s spend it where we can do the most good, by training every educator and student, not just employing a single officer.

For $50,000 most, if not all, school districts could train literally every staff member, student, and parent in  comprehensive, all hazards crisis response and develop capacities and skills that they will carry with them for the foreseeable future – or you could hire a resource officer for maybe a school year. Oh, and what about those schools who aren’t fortunate enough to get a piece of the Indiana safety grant pie? I guess they are on their own…

http://www.securitysales.com/article/indiana_governor_reverses_cut_on_school_safety_spending_awards_additional_3/news

Did you ever notice...

Did you ever notice that when an education problem needs to be solved, non-educators are hard at work deciding what is “best for us”?

Except in this case, they are probably right. In the waning flurry of stories on the school shooting in Oregon, we are finally getting around to some discussion of what FEMA and the Department of Education call “the most useful tool a school can develop” – threat assessment management – which is rarely ever done in schools. A recent article in Mother Jones gives us an inadvertent glimpse into one of the reasons why.

The article examines the process and advantages of threat assessment, but what is conspicuous by its absence is the lack of any involvement, interviews, or discussion of educators in this article that deals with school shooters and other mass murderers. Threat assessment is discussed as a means by which “law enforcement and mental health professionals” can prevent violence. Really? Don’t you need me as an educator to notice and report behaviors of concern or are law enforcement and mental health professionals going to observe every kid in every class in every school?

This omission is endemic of a mentality, unintentional or otherwise, that preventing and responding to school violence is something that the “grown ups” will discuss while patting educators on the head and sending us off to the kids' table while they decide what to do. Let me be clear, this isn’t a knock on law enforcement or mental health professionals alone, we as educators have abdicated our authority and been ok with being denied a seat at the school safety table. Yet it is educators and our students who are being damaged, injured, killed, and criticized when violence occurs.

As educators we need to advocate – and yes demand – an educational perspective on school violence and school safety.

Media coverage, political discussion, policy making, crisis planning and response decisions should all prominently feature educators’ voices.

After all, we are the ones who are living, and dying, with school violence.

Dodging a bullet...

Last Friday we had a “non-traditional” but equally dangerous school shooting incident. In this case an outside individual came into a California school and shot and killed her mother (a staff member) before killing herself. In a press conference Monday night, school and law enforcement officials defended the decision to allow the intruder into the school, despite a protection order that prohibited her from coming within 500 yards of the school. “She was known to staff as the victim’s daughter, there was no reason not to allow her…” said an Upland police lieutenant. No reason except the protection order maybe?

The lesson here is that not all threats to a school come from the inside. There have been numerous incidents in schools where violence has come from community or personal issues that spilled over into the unsuspecting school environment. While we need to be exponentially more attentive to potential threats from within the school, this tragic event illustrates the need to diligently screen visitors and be aware of potential threats associated with our students and staff.

Perhaps the larger lesson is that despite literally dodging a bullet, it doesn’t appear that the school is making any immediate improvements that will help – like perhaps providing adequate training for the staff and students. Instead they are working on lighting, security cameras, and “other minor safety improvements”. Once again investing in “stuff”, not “staff”.

While in this case no students or other staff were caught in the deadly drama that unfolded in the cafeteria kitchen, the scenario could have ended very differently. Let’s not leave the safety of our school up to luck – let’s use the tools of vigilance, awareness, and training.

http://www.dailybulletin.com/general-news/20151012/pepper-tree-parents-raise-safety-questions-amid-shooting

Another school shooting- Are we learning anything?

It is with a tragic sense of déjà vu that we write yet another blog post after a horrific shooting in an American school, this time at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. Just as tragic is the fact that despite incredible media coverage, political maneuverings, Department of Justice grants, and the deaths of literally hundreds of students, not a whole lot has changed in regards to school crisis response in the last 5 years.

Most schools are still following outdated procedures:

In June of 2013, FEMA and the Department of Education came out with very specific active shooter recommendations for schools – “Run, Hide, Fight”. These recommendations clearly state “The first course of action that should be taken is to run out of the building…” to a safe location. Yet multiple student witnesses to today’s event recount that instructors told them to lock the doors and stay in the classrooms. One student told CNN "We locked the doors, turned off the lights, and we were all pretty much in panic mode. We called 911 and called our parents, our loved ones ... “ Even after hearing gunshots, a student told Fox News, “One of the students in my class, she went out and checked it. She got shot twice, one in the arm, and in the stomach. And she came back and told us to lock the door, shut the lights off. And we sat there for 20 minutes waiting for police to show up."

How well have these recommendations been disseminated to schools? How much training has occurred? Do students or teachers really know what to do to save their own lives?

We still believe that there’s nothing we can do:

In a joint statement, the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees called the shootings a "tragedy" saying "while campus safety is of the utmost priority, due to their open nature, college and university campuses are susceptible to these types of events...". That may indeed be true, but there are a myriad of things we can do to minimize, mitigate, and even prevent these events from taking place. Threat assessment management is a proven best-practice and according to FEMA and the Department of Education “One of the most useful tools a school can develop…” yet multi-disciplinary threat assessment teams are present in only a small percentage of schools nationwide. Instead organizations are spending money on security measures such as buzzers, metal detectors, and duress alarms rather than on training staff to identify, assess, and manage individuals who may pose a risk of violence.

We still think this is a law enforcement problem:

In today’s event police response time, while rapid, still has upwards of 7 minutes by some reports. Past incidents have shown us that despite rapid law enforcement intervention, most shootings were stopped by some other means. 57% of the time the event is over before police even arrived. Yet as educators we have abdicated the problem of school violence to law enforcement – even though it's educators who are in reality the ones dealing with, responding to, and dying in the event. Even what little training educators do receive in crisis response comes from an entirely law enforcement perspective. Media coverage of these events always features “experts” who are security, military, or law enforcement - not educators who must deal with violence on a daily basis.

We still want to make it all about guns…

Within hours of this most recent tragedy, President Obama was responding to the event by criticizing the lack of tougher gun laws.  At the same time, gun rights activists were asserting that a concealed carry permit holder could have prevented the shooting.The default position of the media, politicians, and advocates is to immediately cling to one side or the other in the gun debate. Gun rights and gun control be damned – this conversation should be about keeping students safe.

Making our schools safer is possible – but it’s hard work. It’s work that incorporates non-partisan, collaborative, common sense, objective discussions about mental health services, increasing student disclosures, providing training to staff, students, and parents, appropriately increasing security measures, making facility changes, revising policies and procedures, implementing threat assessment management, and yes eventually – about guns. It’s too bad that the opposing sides of the gun argument couldn’t take a minute away from advocacy and look at the common ground on which we all stand – no one wants to see kids dying at school.