The adage, how to eat an elephant could not be more appropriate when addressing the issues and possible solutions to school violence.
In case you missed it, in mid-December the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS) final report *from the Public Safety Commission was issued. This report was placed in the new Governor of Florida’s hands on his first day in office. It was approximately the same time the Final report of the Federal Commission on School Safety was released and presented to the President of the United States.
Our firm, Counter Threat Group, LLC., (CTG) was asked to participate in a panel discussion and break out sessions at a school violence conference hosted by the Orlean Beeson School of Education Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama several weeks ago on the subject of “Ending School Shootings”. The participants were primarily educators from across the State of Alabama along with education students at Samford, representatives of nonprofits, consulting groups and other stakeholders. The conference convened January 8 & 9th with Dr. Jonathan Doll facilitating the the first year in a five year program known as B.A.D.G.E. is an acronym for;
B- Behavior (Applying Behavioral Skills)
A- Attitudes (Reforming Attitudes)
D-Differentiation (Reaching All Groups)
G-Growth mindset and gradual release
E- Elevating Excellence, Sustainability
The formation of CTG was initiated in 2015 as a result of research that indicated a negative risk profile associated with churches or “Houses of Worship” (HOW). We have recently expanded our focus to include other sectors including businesses, hospitals and school systems .
Our focus is on preventive solutions to reduce risks associated with violent attacks on these groups. Briefly, this process starts with a detailed assessment of the physical location of the entity along with interviewing employees to determine their security concerns within the confines of the building as well as behavioral issues that may exist.
At the outset of the BADGE conference, each participant was asked by Dr. Doll to come up with a question that we wanted answered over the course of the two days. My question, echoed by other CTG colleagues was “what is level of urgency among participants to arrive at solutions for preventing school violence”?
My takeaway was identical to the level of urgency we have seen in working with churches, medical groups and other businesses. The urgency typically mirrors the size, financial capacity, administrative skill sets, and “buy in” from administrators across the board. The more financial resources, the increased ability to implement better risk mitigators. There are groups that are sadly, not addressing issues and concerns despite the the recent well publicized mass casualty events. Their reasoning? “That would never happen here”, “We don’t want to frighten our worshipers, employees, students, faculty or our clients with heightened security measures”.
One industry group consistently takes the position that the financial investment in security measures, training, monitoring systems competes with priorities for capital outlays or other operating expenses. One administrator went so far as to say “if you assess our weaknesses, we may be forced to implement your suggestions” Hmmmm…
Finding solutions, or risk mitigants, as you are not going to be able to completely eliminate school violence is a bit like eating an elephant. But you have to start with the first bite. Standing idle or waiting for the perfect resources to arrive is not an option.
The causes for school violence are a mixture of many elements- bullying, mental health issues, drugs, social media exploitation, broken families, financial ruin,ingrained violent scenes from movies, video games, YouTube exposure acted out in real life, and on and on.
Educators are hungry for tools they can implement immediately to assist in detecting and monitoring behavioral issues. They need empowerment from system administrators to pursue these efforts and make recommendations. They need funding to carry out their initiatives. They need enormous community support as they develop articulate plans and implement over time. All efforts that are above and beyond what they committed to when they became educators.
The Parkman tragedy is having tremendous impact on states across the country as they continue to scramble to protect students as they did after Columbine and Newtown. Reactive funding has been put in place since Parkland to hire Student Resource Officers, train and arm teachers and acquire and install hardware to make the physical location less impenetrable by armed assailants as well as structural enhancements. This is just a start in working toward a comprehensive solution.
Doing nothing or little if nothing and at a slow pace will lengthen the exposure and liability of school systems. Although a recent court ruling established that school systems are not liable for the protection of its students, don’t expect that position to stand. Administrators should contemplate what a commissioned report prepared to evaluate their school system would look like if a Parkland style attack occurred within their facilities.
The Parkland response was a complete failure, no silver lining, nothing to sugarcoat -inexcusable. You don’t have to go far into the volume of work created by both the Parkland Commission and the Federal Safety Commission to make that determination. View this animation prepared for the Parkland Commission.
What are some steps?
In the simplest and shortest form here are some progressive steps with a description of each
- Have an independent vulnerability assessment (VA) of each school in your district. Some of the early reactionary language in state legislation after Parkland and the Santa Fe shooting in Houston suggested that teams formed from within the schools perform the assessments. We discourage this due to biases that may be formed by being too close to the situation. If you hire an independent CPA to perform a financial audit for your school system, this situation should not be any different. CTG performs VA’s and we would be glad to furnish information and an overview of the process. Parkland had a former Secret Service agent perform a VA that was largely ignored. A VA is a detailed analysis of findings and recommendations created to deter an assailant form carrying out a plan to harm students. The scope and format may differ based on agreement between the vendor and client.
- Commit to obtaining and implementing a Behavioral Threat Assessment (BTA) immediately. I have included one resource here provided in the B.A.D.G.E conference that is the State of Texas plan referred to previously. There are vendors we can direct you to that you can research further. A risk assessment should be created for every student.
- After completing a VA, have plans prepared that are well known by students, staff, all support services for evacuation or safe harbor. These plans must be tested regularly and carried out in conjunction with law enforcement and other responders.
Behavioral intervention systems will take a long time to implement. While engaging in initiatives to establish BTA programs, school systems will need to bridge that time gap with proactive, reasonable, well thought out physical deterrents that can be put in place in a much shorter time period.
*Editors note: Roll over bold italicized for links