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Lessons for safer schools

Hello, Scecina family,

My last blog post was about our No. 1 priority at Scecina Memorial High School, safety, and how I hope to obtain my School Safety Specialist Certification this month. I discussed the Four Phases of Emergency Management" Prevention/Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.

I would like to share some things I have learned through my training about school attacks. These findings are from the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Education’s "Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of Attacks in the United States."

I’d like to share five significant findings this week and five more in my next message.

Incidents for targeted violence at school rarely are sudden, impulsive acts.

  • Implications: When indicators surface that a student is planning an attack, school administrators and law enforcement need to move quickly to investigate and intervene
  • The time it takes to plan the attacks ranges from one to two days or, in some cases, six months. People usually do not just snap; they make time to plan their attack.

Before most incidents, other people know about the attacker’s idea and plan to attack. In most cases, it was other kids – friends, schoolmates, siblings, and others – who knew. This information rarely makes its way to an adult.

  • Implications: Schools can encourage students to report information, in part by establishing trust and means to inform.
  • In 81 percent of the incidents, at least one other person knew about the attacks.
  • Schools should create a culture where people feel comfortable coming to the administration to report potential attacks.
  • Find ways for a student to communicate potential attacks anonymously.

Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly before advancing the attack.

  • Implications: Pay close attention to behaviors and communication that may prompt concern.
  • Many students talk about the attack. c. Lack of intervention could result in an attack.

There is no accurate profile of student attackers.

  • Implications: Focus on students’ behaviors and communications, not appearances.
  • Most attackers are boys ages 11 to 21.
  • Two-thirds of attackers come from two-parent families and have a wide range of academic achievement.
  • Only 5 percent of the attackers were failing in schools.
  • 63 percent of the attackers were rarely in trouble at school.

Most attackers engaged in some behavior before the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.

  • Implications: The significant challenge facing a school is to determine how to find and respond to students who need assistance.

I'll discuss five more findings in my next message. Please pray that we keep our school safe every day!

Joseph Brettnacher, Ph.D.

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