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Unfortunately, the topic of mass shootings in schools has been the focus in the past few months. As students prepare to return to school, schools are implementing a number of preparation and prevention methods. Moreover, they are evaluating additional tools to help increase the protection of the students, faculty, and staff.
Methods Already In Place
While the possibility of a school shooting is low, when it does occur, it is tragic. In fact, according to a 2017 California State Auditor Report, higher education and K-12 schools are the second most common locations in the United States, following businesses, to experience active shootings. Many causes of these tragedies include environments where bullying, harassment, and other forms of mistreatment frequently occur. This can lead some students to retaliate with gun violence or other physical attacks.
Some suggestions to alleviate that possibility include a balanced security strategy, hiring security staff, and creating a positive climate for students, according to the Labor Occupational Health Program, University of California, Berkeley Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation.
On Feb. 1, 2018, California was required by law, AB 1747, to develop a Comprehensive School Safety Plan that included creating a tactical response procedure that “outlines steps to safeguard students and staff, secure the impacted area of the school and apprehend the perpetrator,” according to the UC Berkley program.
Advised Prevention For Schools
Creating a healthy school climate could reduce the change of active shooting incidents. The program’s suggestions include: taking a balanced approach to safety (address bullying, harassment, and physical violence by implementing security systems/staff), putting in work to create those healthy environments (teachers and staff make an effort to know and connect with the students), and involve students (seek to create settings where students feel respected and motivated to play a role in violence prevention).
Having positive relationships with adults encourages youth to share crucial information regarding violence. Another set of detailed suggestions, like learning to identify potential threats, is included in the following: knowing the warning signs, such as an obsession with mass shootings and guns, being a target of long-term bullying, intense isolation or social withdrawal from perceived or real actions of others, overly aggressive response to apparently minor issues — “sign of a lack of self-regulation,” simple access to firearms or boasting about access to firearms, and unconcealed threats of violence (written, spoken, pictures, gestures, videos).
Experts suggest setting up a threat assessment team of safety and mental health professionals. Their training would include identifying “implicit bias” and various ways to safeguard against “targeting students by race, religion, cognitive ability or other characteristics.” Establishing this kind of team could help identify a “would-be shooter, evaluate the situation and intervene before the escalations of the threat,” according to the Labor Occupational Health Program.
School safety researchers uphold “tightening age limits for gun ownership, from 18 to 21.” The age of 18 is too young to be able to buy a gun because teenagers’ brains are “too impulsive.” They also noted the school shootings in Santa Fe, Parkland, Newtown, Columbine, and Uvalde were all done by someone under 21, according to NPR.
Additional, suggested measures to help prevent future attacks include securing background checks and banning semiautomatic weapons sales like the one used in the shooting in Parkland. A 2018 Gallup poll reported that 57% of teachers favored both of these measures as “most effective” in the prevention of a school shooting.
Advised Preparation For Schools
Some preparation suggestions for school shootings involve creating an Emergency Action Plan that provides options for school staff: Train students on what to do in an event of a shooting and host practice drills to identify any gaps in the Emergency Action Plan, according to the Labor Occupational Health Program.
Suggestions for employees include the “Run, Hide, Fight strategy.” Staff and students should be notified of what to expect from the police after the shooting. In particular, staff and students should make an effort to follow police officers’ directions to ensure they are identified as innocent bystanders. School staff should also be notified that emergency medical services will care for the injured.
Additionally, everyone should be prepared mentally since people are likely to suffer from anxiety about a potential school shooting. While not very common, the intense manner media uses when reporting school can increase anxiety.
Anyone who experiences more than normal anxiety on this issue should consider taking a break from any media. Experts suggest parents experiencing anxiety proactively redirect this feeling by assisting the school and get involved in the planning process for drills, and having ongoing conversations about school safety, according to The Child Mind Institute.
A way parents can address children regarding this topic is by reassuring them that, while they cannot promise their school will never have a school shooting, the chance of it happening is very low and the practice drills in school happen to keep them safe. They can also pass an important message to their children, that if a classmate of theirs is struggling, to tell grown-ups so the adults can help their classmate, according to the Child Mind Institute.
Written by Ke’Lena Thomas
State of California: Preventing and Preparing For An Active Shooter Incident: A Fact Sheet For School Employees; by Labor Occupational Health Program, University of California, Berkeley Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation; pdf
NPR: Experts say we can prevent school shootings. Here’s what the research says; by Jeffery Pierre and Cory Turner
Child Mind Institute: How to Talk to Kids About School Shootings; by Rachel Ehmke
Featured Image Courtesy of Kevin Creamer’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons
Inset Image Courtesy of David Geitgey Sierralupe’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons