Incidents of targeted violence at school are rarely sudden, impulsive acts. Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and or plan to attack. The vast majority of the nation’s students will complete their schooling and never be touched by peer violence. Nevertheless, recent school attacks carried out by students has shaken the image of schools as secure environments.
Increased national attention to the problem of school violence has prompted educators, LE officials, mental health professionals, and parents to press for answers to two central questions: Could we have known that these attacks were being planned? And if so, what could we have done to prevent these attacks from occurring? There are no easy, ultimate answers but prevention is always the best cure. There are steps to help prevent school violence.
Assessment of emotional climate
Fostering a culture of respect always encourages peaceful environs. In educational settings which support climates of safety, adults and students respect each other. A safe school environment offers positive personal role models in its faculty.
Emphasis On Listening
Creating connections and relationships between adults and students is a central component of a culture of safety and respect. In a climate of safety, students have a positive connection to at least one adult in authority.
Breaking the “code of silence”
This step may be difficult in a school where there is a pervasive sense among students and some adults that “revealing” that another student is in pain or may pose a threat violates an unwritten, but powerful “code of silence.” Silence is far from golden! A school must foster a sense of total community, not the “us and them” societal code of a prison.
Prevention of bullying
Creating a safe, connected school climate may require energetic work. The major components and tasks for creating a safe school climate include:
I) Threat Assessments. School officials should work hand-in-hand with LE to determine the risk of a pending attack. This entails working within the many federal, state and local laws that may preclude LE or school officials from identifying kids that are on the edge.
II) Metal detectors/Gates/Guards. In the NYC public school system, there is city-employed unarmed security. The schools are more like jails. Nationwide, University Campus PDs, once thought to be like security guards, are being beefed up and are becoming better trained and better equipped to handle violence and active-shooter incidents.
III) Communication Plans. Establish and practice a system of mass notifications through cell phones, PDAs, blackberries, etc. CCTV (Closed-circuit TV)/alarms and personnel to man the technology are being employed to upgrade security and fight the war on school violence. School officials must develop the capacity to pick up on and evaluate available info that might indicate that there is a risk of a targeted school attack. Incidents of targeted violence at school are rarely sudden, impulsive acts. Prior to most incidents, other people— friends, schoolmates and or siblings- knew about the attacker’s idea and or plan to attack. Sadly, this information rarely made its way to an adult. There is a great deal that must be done, and there is also a great deal that can be done when it is best done—before the act.
The problem of the hyper-violent, particularly in schools, has received considerable attention and there are many resources now available to school and public-safety officials. One of the best sources is the Secret Service web site, which contains a wealth of both backgrounding and information that can be used proactively, plus many valuable links. Visit: www.secretservice.gov and search for NTAC (National Threat Assessment Center) also view www.safeplans.com/schoolmap/ for “Tracking Violence In Schools.”
Look for the full article, “Waging War on the Hyperviolent,” in the upcoming September 2008 Tactical Weapons magazine hitting newsstands July 15!