Threat Assessment in Florida Schools: The US Secret Service Perspective

US Secret Service LogoNow that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission’s initial report has been sent to the Florida Governor and to the leaders of the Florida House & Senate, I’d like to share a few of the recommendations that went into the report, recommendations that I was privileged to work on with the team from the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), a part of the United States Secret Service.

It’s an honor to work with Dr. Lina Alathari and the amazing team at NTAC.  Dr. Alathari, who not only testified to the MSD Commission in July 2018 (see her presentation below) but the NTAC team was ready to help Florida with state-specific recommendations on school safety & threat assessment.


 

Here is a look at that collaboration.  I am pleased to say that most if not all recommendations were included in the MSD Commission report.  I’d love to get your feedback and comments.

 

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission
Behavioral Threat Assessment Recommendations
Presented by Commissioner Ryan Petty
Developed in collaboration with the National Threat Assessment Center, U.S. Secret Service

The scope of a behavioral assessment program in Florida’s K-12 schools should include identifying concerning behaviors displayed by current and former students and employees, assessing those who require intervention and managing their risk of violence or other unwanted outcomes.  Consideration should also be given to future expansion of any state requirements to include institutions of higher education (IHEs).

Oversight

  • The Florida Department Of Education (DOE) should be required to establish and maintain oversight for how the threat assessment process is designed and implemented across all Florida school districts.  This includes, but is not limited to, establishing standards for training, membership on threat assessment teams (TATs), investigative procedures, and reporting requirements.  An implementation deadline should be established.
    • As part of establishing and maintaining oversight over the threat assessment process, DOE should be required to standardize documentation and assessment procedures statewide that are based on the latest research and best practices in the field of threat assessment.  DOE must update those procedures on a continuing basis.
  • Each school district should be responsible for ensuring that each individual school within its district is covered by a TAT, whether that team is coordinated at the district, school, or multi-school level.  Each team must meet the standards established by the DOE while directing, managing, and documenting each threat assessment.
  • DOE’s reporting requirements should include such things as the number of incidents referred to the TAT, investigations conducted, individuals deemed at-risk, and interventions used.  When establishing the requirements, legislators should look to the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security information, for guidance.
  • Every school should be required by law to promote the FortifyFL App by reminding students of the anonymous reporting tool at the beginning of each school year and at least quarterly throughout the year. FortifyFL App reminders should be conspicuously posted throughout the schools.

 

Department of Education Standardized Protocols

  • Threat assessment program must include tools and protocols for identifying students of concern, assessing those who require intervention and managing their risk of violence or other unwanted outcomes.  Threat Assessment Teams (TATs) should not only focus on the prevention of school violence, but on a range of at-risk student behaviors, including bullying, depression, suicidality, self-harm, and drug use, among others.
  • All TATs should be comprised of specific static members from diverse disciplines, such as mental health and counseling, school administration, teaching staff, and law enforcement.  If the TAT is based at the district level or multi-school level, then each individual school must have a designated TAT point of contact who will be a part of any threat assessment affecting that school.  Other additional school personnel with direct knowledge of the assessed child and the child’s behavior should also be brought in on a case by case basis.
  • TATs should be required to meet at least monthly and be proactive, not just reactive.  Acting proactively includes looking for points of early intervention when students are exhibiting lower-levels of concerning behavior, continually assessing school climate, evaluating management resources and identifying new ones, as well as assessing anti-bullying efforts. (see Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence)
  • TATs should have a case-tracking system and protocols that document the assessment process.  This would include requirements for responding to initial reports within a specified time frame and longer-term monitoring for the person of concern to ensure continued stability.
    • When school is in session, TATs should be required to convene, in-person or by phone, within 24 hours of receiving a referral.
    • When school is not in session, while TAT capabilities may have to be scaled down, the TAT must maintain continuity throughout school breaks to receive information on new cases and help monitor cases that require ongoing management.  

 

Assessment Tools and Standards

  • All behavioral threat assessments should be tiered with higher tiers reserved for the more concerning conduct.  While a threat assessment instrument will allow for consistency across districts, as well as information-sharing and documentation, the room should also be allotted for establishing situational context beyond what may be available in the instrument.  TATs should be encouraged to capture and respond to the concern of all bystanders, even if the threat assessment instrument designates a situation as low-risk.
  • Each threat assessment should focus on identifying prohibited and concerning behaviors, not just specific threats of harm.  Maintaining a low-threshold of concern to facilitate early intervention is key to prevention. (see Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence)
  • Each TAT must proactively identify potential resources within the schools and surrounding communities to which the child can be referred.  This could include mental health treatment providers, counselors, mentorship programs, or social services, among others. This list should be revisited at least annually, and points of contact should be established and verified.  
  • TATs and Individualized Education Program (IEP) committees must coordinate information and courses of action regarding Exceptional Student Education (ESE) students.

 

Enforcement and Training

  • DOE or school districts should provide specialized training to TAT members on topics such as behavioral indicators, conducting thorough threat assessments, and risk management strategies.
  • School districts should provide mandatory training that is customized for those who may report concerning behaviors, including all school personnel, parents, and fellow students. This training should be updated or re-enforced on a regular basis.  The goal of such training should be to clarify what types of concerning behaviors these persons might observe, and to whom those concerns should be reported.
  • School personnel should be trained on commonly misunderstood issues related to FERPA.
  • Reporting observed behaviors to the TAT should be mandatory for all school personnel, and sanctions should be identified for non-reporting.
  • Efforts should be made to address the culture of underreporting that incentivizes schools to minimize their response to concerning situations.

So you want to be a school guardian?

I frequently am asked about arming school staff and whether or not it is a good idea for improving school safety. As part of our work on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, we developed critical recommendations to improve school safety and protect students and teachers. But let’s save that discussion for another time.

In the words of my good friend Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County Florida, “when seconds count, minutes don’t matter” and that’s why the Florida Legislature created the Aaron Feis Guardian program.

Here are the requirements for any school staff member to become an armed campus guardian in the State of Florida.  Currently, these requirements surpass the training required for School Resource Officers (certified law enforcement officers) assigned to schools.

 

Aaron Feis Guardian Program Requirements

  1. Hold a valid license issued under s.790.06. (concealed firearms license / must have passed a background check)
  2. Complete 132 total hours of comprehensive firearm safety and proficiency training conducted by Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission-certified instructors, which must include:
    1. Eighty hours of firearms instruction based on the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission’s Law Enforcement Academy training model, which must include at least 10 percent but no more than 20 percent more rounds fired than associated with academy training. Program participants must achieve an 85 percent pass rate on the firearms training.
    2. Sixteen hours of instruction in precision pistol.
    3. Eight hours of discretionary shooting instruction using state-of-the-art simulator exercises.
    4. Eight hours of instruction in defensive tactics.
    5. Twelve hours of instruction in legal issues.
    6. Eight hours of instruction in active shooter or assailant scenarios.
  3. Pass a psychological evaluation administered by a psychologist licensed under chapter 490 and designated by the Department of Law Enforcement and submit the results of the evaluation to the sheriff’s office. The Department of Law Enforcement is authorized to provide the sheriff’s office with mental health and substance abuse data for compliance with this paragraph.
  4. Submit to and pass an initial drug test and subsequent random drug tests in accordance with the requirements of s.112.0455 and the sheriff’s office.
  5. Successfully complete ongoing training, weapon inspection, and firearm qualification on at least an annual basis.
  6. Successfully complete at least 12 hours of a certified nationally recognized diversity training program.

My Statement on the 2018 Broward County School Board Election

chalkboard_voteStatement by Ryan Petty on Broward County School Board Election for District 8

September 3, 2018

Our public schools in Broward County can and must do better: from improving academic performance to making our teachers a priority, to the realization of safer schools.

Nothing put the deficiencies of our public schools in sharper detail than the tragedy of losing my daughter Alaina, the 16 other souls lost and the 17 injured–a school, a community and a nation shaken.    

We know improvements must be made in Broward schools. It should be clear that we desperately need change.

Today, I congratulate Donna Korn and ask her to faithfully represent all voters, including the nearly 50% of voters that raised their voices for change.  You have been entrusted with another term on the Broward County School Board–an opportunity to at long last complete the vital work of protecting our students and teachers and to ensure academic achievement is realized in Broward County Schools.

I fought hard for change for our students & teachers, and I will continue pushing for transparency and accountability from our Broward County School Board and district leadership.

I could not have done any of this alone.  I was surrounded by an amazing campaign team, dedicated volunteers, friends, and neighbors.  To each of you, I can only say, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Original can be found at https://docs.google.com/document/d/144n3au2t5U5IOLKFlbGZXz7kCOoL97zxCDNu1uKy48Y/edit?usp=sharing

If We Could Roll Back the Clock to February 14, 2017

Recently on my social media stream, a friend proposed the following thought exercise about gun control and time travel.  After the Parkland tragedy that took 17 lives, including my daughter Alaina, I took some time to reflect on this.  Here is what my friend proposed:

So 99% of the media coverage of the Parkland tragedy has focused on gun control. I’m not saying anything for or against gun control here, so please suspend for a moment your opinions on that, and answer honestly this simple hypothetical question:

If you theoretically had a child attending MSD, and could roll back the clock to a year before 2/14, in what order would you change the following options in order to keep your child safe?:

  1. Have a law written somewhere saying no-one anywhere can own a semi-automatic gun.
  2. Have the FBI actually follow up and act on reported risky, threatening behavior.
  3. Have a school policy that allows authorities to actually report and act on aggressive, violent, or psychologically imbalanced behavior.
  4. Have school security officers that will actually try to stop an active shooter vs. waiting outside during a rampage.
  5. Have hardened schools that mitigate the effect a shooter could have.

I’m not sure of the exact order, but #1 is at the bottom of my list. (I don’t think a law on the books, while doing nothing about the other areas, would meaningfully increase the safety of my child nearly as much as the other 4)

So why is this receiving 1% of the coverage? In this specific incident, these deaths did not happen for lack of a gun law on the books. They happened because multiple people in positions of power and responsibility neglected, ignored, or abdicated their responsibilities to keep these children safe. Holding them accountable should be of the utmost priority.

It’s a simultaneously heartbreaking and fascinating question, perhaps better phrased, “What wouldn’t I give to rewind the clock?”  Let’s say it was possible to rewind the clock.  Of the five choices, what would I change?  What do I believe would have saved my daughter and 16 other beautiful souls?  I responded with the following, slightly edited response:

“I can find no fault with your question and wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion: a law banning any specific firearm would have been, and remains today, at the bottom of my list. If 2,3,5 had been in place, 17 lives would have been saved, 17 others uninjured, with thousands of lives unchanged by the horror of February 14, 2018. If only 4 had been different, 6 on the 3rd floor might have lived.”  (see Public School Discipline: Equal Opportunity Offenders)

But here’s an honest attempt to answer your question on why gun control dominates the media.

A. Gun control is almost always positioned as a “silver bullet” solution, an easy way to fix a horrific & complex social problem. Its simplicity is deceptive and therefore alluring. No proof of efficacy is required, any demand for proof made of advocates is overshadowed by the obviously good intentions.

  • Being for it demands nothing more than to be against something.
  • There is very little effort demanded beyond advocacy.
  • It is a single-dimensional response to a multi-dimensional problem.

B. It’s easy to call for “common sense” gun control measures for specific types of firearms. Once you call for controls, you advocate for them by marching, protesting, harassing lawmakers & impugning the motives of anyone that disagrees with you. Marching, protesting, and harassing is passed off as indicators of authenticity.  Common sense is promoted as consensus.

C. The media generally agrees with gun control as a political & policy objective. This means you will automatically get sympathetic, earned media. The disparity in media feeds the notion of consensus and a feeling of progress.

D. Closely related to C is that controversy drives media views & clicks. Because gun control is such a divisive issue, equal parts of the country will be cheering and throwing their shoes at their TVs. Either way, they are watching and clicking and this feeds the media’s appetite.

E. Closely related to D are the gun control measures generated by advocacy groups and promulgated by the media.  These will never pass in any significant or meaningful form, so for the media, it’s an issue where they can lather rinse & repeat = $$$.

Responsible firearms ownership, on the other hand, is not only politically viable but far more effective in stopping the violence.  Responsible firearms ownership’s only fault: It is not as interesting to the media nor to advocacy groups focused on agitating and controversy.  For example, what we (as a community) did with Florida Senate Bill 7026 was an effort to keep firearms away from those that want to harm themselves or others, by creating a “red flag” law in Florida.    Improving the background check system as we did with the FixNICS Act in the US Congress and recently signed into law by the President. Two very effective tools in the fight against violence, but not headline generators.

F. And it’s not just the media that benefit but the advocacy groups on both sides of the controversy that whip up angst and use it to drive membership & donations.  Just look at what happened after Parkland.  Fear drives fundraising–on both sides of the issue.

G. Progressive advocacy groups are really good at B. There were pro-gun control “boots on the ground” in Parkland on Feb 15, agitating, fomenting, organizing. Marches and protests garner media clicks/views. Views = $.

Why School Safety Should Be Our Focus

Rather than focusing on trying to control the media narrative, I will continue to focus on improving schools safety, by fixing 2,3,4,5 and more specifically through efforts to improve early identification and intervention. These may not garner the media attention that other policy prescriptions do, but I am convinced by the research and the evidence that early identification works.   On that note:  There is a strong correlation between suicidality and mass shooters; using suicidality as an early indicator will help us intervene and prevent future attacks.

The tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas should show us that it is no longer acceptable to dismiss disturbing behavior, criminal activity, or threats against our schools. The lives of our children & teachers depend on it.  We can’t rewind the clock, but we can learn the lessons of the past.

We Found Another Big Piece of the School Shooting Puzzle–An Antibiotic for Suicide

As many of you know, since the killing of our daughter Alaina at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland Florida on Valentines Day, Kelly and I have been searching, studying, & looking for solutions to eliminate the national scourge of school shootings. When it comes to solutions that are focused on school safety and proven to work, we are finding pieces of the puzzle all over the place.  This past week we discovered a BIG piece of the puzzle, one that could fundamentally “change the game” for early identification and intervention.  We were introduced to Dr. Kelly Posner (@posnerkelly) and the work she leads in the field of suicide prevention as Director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project at Columbia University.   

 

Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber is a professor at Columbia whose work is saving lives in forty-five nations on six continents. The President of the American Psychiatric Association noted her work “could be seen as really a watershed moment, like the introduction of antibiotics…” The U.S. Department of Defense (Dr. Franklin’s quotes) called her work “nothing short of a miracle,” is central to their National Strategy, and stated, “her effective model of improving the world will help propel us closer to a world without suicide.” The CDC noted that her work is “changing the paradigm in suicide risk assessment in the US and worldwide.” After being commissioned by the FDA to develop their scientific methods of suicide risk identification, the FDA has characterized her work as “setting a standard in the field.”  Dr. Posner Gerstenhaber is about to receive The Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service, the highest level of award a civilian can get for impacting the nation.  Here is a recent interview (2/22/2018) with Dr. Posner on CNN:

 

 

Enter the Columbia Lighthouse Project

Let me share a bit of Dr. Posner’s work.  The Columbian Lighthouse Project and the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) is in use in the U.S. Marine Corps, which has seen a 22% reduction in suicide.  It has helped to reduce the suicide rate by 65% over the first 20 months in the Tennessee programs of the nation’s largest provider of outpatient community behavioral health care, and reduced the suicide rate in Utah, the first decrease in suicide in almost a decade and helped to reverse an alarming, and previously increasing trend.

 

How Does the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) Work?

The Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) supports suicide risk assessment through a series of simple, plain-language questions that anyone can ask. The answers help users identify whether someone is at risk for suicide, assess the severity and immediacy of that risk, and gauge the level of support that the person needs. Users of the C-SSRS tool ask people:

  • Whether and when they have thought about suicide (ideation)
  • What actions they have taken — and when — to prepare for suicide
  • Whether and when they attempted suicide or began a suicide attempt that was either interrupted by another person or stopped of their own volition

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Public School Discipline: Equal Opportunity Offenders

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with supporters and critics of an Obama-era directive on school discipline on Wednesday.  Secretary DeVos is considering changes to the directive and possibly repealing the guidelines outlined therein.

That 2014 directive, issued jointly by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, put school districts on notice that they could be found in violation of federal civil rights law if they create and enforce intentionally discriminatory rules.  However, and perhaps more importantly, school districts could also be at risk of violating federal civil rights laws if their discipline policies lead to disproportionately higher rates of discipline for students of different racial groups.  This risk was present, even if their discipline policies were written without discriminatory intent.

There is an excellent article titled, DeVos Meets With Supporters, Critics of Discipline Rules as GAO Says Racial Disparities Persist written by Evie Blad (@evieblad) covering the meeting and the testimony shared by both proponents and opponents of the directive, over at the Rules for Engagement Blog at Education Week.

Evie writes,

At the heart of the debate of the discipline guidance is why those differing discipline rates occur and the role of the federal government in addressing them. Also at issue: whether schools’ efforts to limit “exclusionary discipline,” such as expulsions and suspensions, have helped students feel more supported or have too severely limited teacher discretion in disciplining students.

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Over 75% of Mass Shooters Communicate Prior to Their Attacks

US-Mass-Attacks-2017

In what I view as further support for state and Federal “Red Flag” legislation allowing law enforcement to seek an “Extreme Risk Protection Order” sometimes referred to as a “Gun Violence Restraining Order”, a report released today from the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), part of the United States Secret Service, sheds new light on mass attacks carried out in public places. The NTAC studied 28 incidents that were carried out at 31 sites in 2017 (see map).

Highlights from the report include:

  • Over three-quarters (79%) made concerning communications and/or elicited concern from others prior to carrying out their attacks. On average, those who did elicit concern caused more harm than those who did not.
  • Nearly half were motivated by a personal grievance related to a workplace, domestic, or other issue[s].
  • Over half had histories of criminal charges, mental health symptoms, and/or illicit substance use or abuse.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the attackers experienced mental health symptoms prior to their attacks. The most common symptoms observed were related to psychosis (e.g., paranoia, hallucinations, or delusions) and suicidal thoughts.
  • All had at least one significant stressor within the last five years, and over half had indications of financial instability in that timeframe.

 

The key findings from the report, “support existing best practices that the U.S. Secret Service has established in the field of threat assessment. They highlight the importance of gathering information on a person’s background, behaviors, and situational factors; corroborating the information from multiple sources; assessing the risk the individual poses for violence; and identifying intervention points to mitigate that risk.   I’ve been discussing these intervention points with members of the NTAC to better understand what we can do to protect our children from threats at school. (more…)

March For Our Lives? There is a better way

 

Today is the day.  March 24th, 2018.  March For Our Lives is happening in over 800 cities around the globe.  Not coincidentally, I was a guest on Cavuto Live on FNC because I have suggested that there is an alternative path which will keep our kids & teachers safe at school.  The path that I believe most effective is that we must take steps to secure our schools.  Second, we must keep firearms out of the hands of those that would do themselves or other harm.  There is common ground here.

Why Not March for Our Lives?

In the days immediately following the murders of 17 innocent children and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD), a very familiar narrative began to emerge.  It started, as it always does, with fervent questions.  Why did this happen?  Why did this happen in Parkland? Why at Marjory Stoneman Douglas?  Why is this happening again? Why? Why? Why?  We must do something, became a unifying cry.  But the unanswered question was, do what?

Before the families had begun to mourn, a litany of national gun control factions descended on Parkland. Organizing.  Agitating.  Inculcating.   With a well-worn refrain of gun control demands, they found willing recruits still reeling from the shock of the savagery. The TV media had already arrived in Parkland; together they would prove to be a potent union.  Live feeds.  Town halls.  Justifiable anger.

But in my view, it was and is the wrong prescription.  As a nation, we’ve been down this path before.  Many times.  Too many times.  This time must be different.

Three major legislative victories in the past five weeks, tell me that we are on the right path.  We have found common ground and ideas that will help to prevent another tragedy like the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Just this week, Arizona Governor Ducey has proposed legislation, Safe Arizona Schools (pdf) based on the legislation we helped pass in Florida.  Here’s a look at what it does and here’s commentary from AZ Central’s Jon Gabriel.

ARIZONA PRIORITIES

As Arizonans shared their priorities during the stakeholder process, common themes were identified, including an urgency for:

  • Increased mental and behavioral health resources at schools
  • Restricting access to firearms for individuals who pose a severe threat to themselves or others, while respecting the second amendment rights of law-abiding Arizonans
  • Increased school resource officer and law enforcement presence at schools
  • Enhanced background checks

THE PLAN

Our proposal includes initiatives that are responsive to the priorities of Arizonans.

  • Invests in mental and behavioral health resources at schools
  • Severe Threat Order of Protection (STOP) to restrict firearm access for individuals who are a danger to themselves or others
  • Enhances background checks by improving the completeness and accuracy of the criminal history database
  • Establishes the Center for School Safety, creating a confidential, centralized reporting tip line to report and investigate concerns of school safety
  • Increases school resource officer funding and training and increases the presence of law enforcement on school grounds
  • Eliminates background check gaps
  • Respects the second amendment rights of law-abiding Arizonans

Sound familiar?  Kudos to Arizona for making a substantive proposal.  It’s now up to the Arizona legislature to pass these proposals.  We’ve shown how to do it in Florida.

As parents of the victim’s of MSD, we will continue to build on common ground across the US.  State by state and at the Federal level.  More on that later…

 

Ryan Petty appointed to the MSD Public Safety Commission

Ryan Petty MSD Public Safety Commission On March 20, Governor Rick Scott appointed me (Ryan Petty) to the MSD Public Safety Commission.  I am honored to be appointed and I am pleased to accept.  I look forward to serving the citizens of the state of Florida, and especially our children and teachers.  I will work tirelessly to ensure that we learn the lessons from the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, so we can make our schools safer and avoid the mistakes that lead to the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas on February 14th, 2018.  See the press Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission announcement below.

MSD Public Safety Commission Announcement

Gov. Scott, Senate President Negron and House Speaker Corcoran Announce Appointments to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission

On March 20, 2018

Governor Scott Names Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri as Chairman

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Governor Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced appointments to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Governor Scott also named Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri as Chairman. The Commission was established by SB 7026, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, signed into law by Governor Scott.

Governor Scott said, “I’m proud to appoint five dedicated Floridians to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission including fathers of two of the victims who were critical in helping a bill get passed quickly. Since the shooting in Parkland, our number one focus has been to make our schools safer while doing everything possible to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again. I’m confident that these appointees will continue the work that has already started in our state to keep our students safe.”

Senate President Joe Negron said, “The Senate appointees include a former classroom teacher and nationally-recognized child advocate, a school board member, a law enforcement officer, a retired school resource officer, and a renowned mental health treatment clinician. This diverse cross-section of professional experience and subject matter expertise will serve the state well as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission embarks on the critically important task before it. We can never replace the 17 lives lost, and we can never erase the traumatic experience that lives on in the memories of those who survived this horrific attack. However, this Commission will help ensure we do everything we can to reduce the possibility of a tragedy like this ever happening again.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said, “I’m honored to appoint five members to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.  The work and recommendations of this commission will, I believe, serve as a model for the nation in addressing school safety and protecting individual liberty. The appointees to the commission bring decades of experience in law enforcement, prosecution, and training civilians to handle firearms and protect a school.  Most importantly, an appointee, Max Schachter, brings the tragic experience of being a father who lost his son in that day’s awful events and who is driven to ensure it never happens to another family ever again. I thank those willing to participate, I commend the courage of the family members who will take on this task, and pray that all the efforts of this commission will meet with success.”

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In Defense of WalkUp My Segment on the Michaela Show on HLN

Yesterday I had an opportunity to talk about #WalkUp on national TV. I was invited to be on the Michaela Pereira show on @HLNTV.  The idea behind #WalkUp is not mine.  In fact, I saw it on a Facebook post from a friend of a friend.  Here is what inspired me:

Instead of walking out of school on March 14, encourage students to walk up — walk up to the kids who sits alone at lunch and invite him to sit with your group; walk up to the kids who sits quietly in the corner of the room and site next to her, smile and say Hi; walk up to the kid who causes disturbances in class and ask how he is doing; walk up to your teachers and thank them; walk up to someone who has different view that you and get to know them – you may be surprised at how much you have in common.  Build own that foundation instead of casting stone.  I challenge students to find 14 students and 3 adults to walk up to and say something nice in honor of those who died in (Parkland) FL on the 14th of February. But you can start practicing now! #walkupnotout

The controversy that led to my invitation to be on HLN started when I posted this on Twitter:

It seems almost unbelievable to me that we as a society would debate the importance of being kind.  Unfortunately, the #WalkUp movement is often misunderstood and mischaracterized, sometimes purposely so.  I’ve seen several attempts to label #WalkUp as “victim blaming” or misrepresenting the impact that being kind can have on a disaffected and potentially violent youth.  Do I believe that the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas could have been stopped if the students had been more kind to him?  Of course not.  In meetings last week with the Director of the Secret Service and the head of the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), apart of the Secret Service, I learned that there is a path along which disaffected & troubled youth travel called a “Continuum of Violence”.  A few of the key findings & implications are:

Students who engaged in school-based attacks typically did not “just snap” and then engage in impulsive or random acts of targeted school violence. Instead, the attacks examined under the Safe School Initiative appeared to be the end result of a comprehensible process of thinking and behavior: behavior that typically began with an idea, progressed to the development of a plan, moved on to securing the means to carry out the plan and culminated in an attack.

An important element in preventing these attacks is information that can be provided by students.  These are often key pieces of a puzzle when pieced together can aid school officials and law enforcement in stopping the attack.

First and foremost, this finding suggests that students can be an important part of prevention efforts. A friend or schoolmate may be the first person to hear that a student is thinking about or planning to harm someone. Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, those who have information about a potential incident of targeted school violence may not alert an adult on their own. Schools can encourage students to report this information in part by identifying and breaking down barriers in the school environment that inadvertently may discourage students from coming forward with this information. Schools also may benefit from ensuring that they have a fair, thoughtful and effective system to respond to whatever information students do bring forward. If students have concerns about how adults will react to information that they bring forward, they may be even less inclined to volunteer such information.

By fostering an atmosphere of kindness as embodied in the #WalkUp movement, imagine the impact a student may have after having befriended a troubled classmate and felt if that student felt comfortable sharing that information with an adult.  It is not the responsibility of the student to intervene, just to share information, their piece of the puzzle, a piece that could ultimately stop an act of violence before it starts.

Several key findings point to the fact that kids send signals–both directly and indirectly–to others regarding their problems. The boys who engaged in the targeted school violence examined by the Safe School Initiative were not “invisible” students. In fact nearly all of these students engaged in behaviors–prior to their attacks–that caused concern to at least one person, usually an adult, and most concerned at least three people.

This finding highlights the range of behaviors in a student’s life that may be noticeable and that could prompt some additional probing by a caring adult. A student’s family, teachers, friends and others may have information regarding aspects of a student’s behavior that has raised concern.

So, #WalkUp can help change the school culture and create an environment of trust and safety as well enabling the sharing of vital information that could help protect students and teachers at school.  If the #WalkUp effort is done early enough on that continuum, a life can be changed in a positive way forever.  I’d say it’s worth more than a try.

If you’d like to read more about the research Secret Service has done on making our schools safer, you can find it here:  THE FINAL REPORT AND FINDINGS OF THE SAFE SCHOOL INITIATIVE (pdf)

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