The Student Role in School Safety

by | Feb 3, 2023 | Gary's Blog

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The Student Role in School Safety

In every school shooting where the shooter was a member of the school community, including Columbine, there were students who knew about their classmate’s plan to cause harm at school.  Let’s work together to make sure we know about that student’s plan before it happens.

LEED Certified Buildings

Building Castles, 
Not Prisons

Across the country, schools are being built so they are LEED Certified.  This means there are a lot of windows and bright spaces.  Classrooms often have glass garage doors allowing the rooms to open into the hallway for expanded classrooms.  Learning environments are designed to meet both educational needs and the learning styles of today’s students.

Dunbar Senior High School
Washington, DC

A conversation around these new designs often centers around school safety.  Critics contend the buildings are unsafe with all the glass because there is no place for students to hide if there is an Active Threat inside their buildings.  This seems like a valid concern because of a lack of understanding of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).  Schools in Ohio that are being remodeled or new construction must use CPTED in their design.  CPTED makes use of things like natural surveillance so a threat to a school can be seen before the person gets inside of the school.  Schools have added layers of security that makes it more difficult for a threat to enter the building.  This includes camera systems, reinforced glass at entry points, and locked doors. 

If we look at the history of Active Threat Events in schools, many times the threat is a member of the school community.  The threat is a student in the school.  They enter the building at the beginning of the school day.  CPTED, locked entry points, and cameras do nothing to keep them out of our building.  How do we stop that type of threat?

The Staff Role in School Safety

Threat Assessment Teams

School staff have an active role in stopping Active Threat Events.  Staff members are being trained as members of a Threat Assessment Team (TAT).  A TAT uses the same process the US Secret Service uses to protect the President and the Capital Police use to protect members of Congress.

Schools use a TAT to:

  • Reduce the risk of violence

  • Determine if the threat is serious

  • Identify educational needs and support services for students who have made a threat

  • Reduce legal liability by following reasonable and accepted practices for violence prevention

The prevention of serious acts of planned violence requires a systematic approach to assessing and managing risk for violence.  Management of threatening situations typically involves three functions:

  1. Controlling and containing the situation and/or student in a way that will prevent the possibility of an attack. 

  2. Protecting and aiding possible targets of the attack. 

  3. Providing support and guidance to help the student resolve the issues giving rise to an attack motive. 

Threat assessment and case management are not adversarial processes and are not used to punish students. Engagement with a person of concern can be critical to preventing violence or harm.

Students play a critical role in keeping their school safe.  A classmate’s behavior may give a student an uneasy feeling.  It does not matter how they dress or the type of music they listen to that should cause concern, but a specific behavior.  It must be something they say or something they do.

For example, a classmate may say, “Sometimes I just want to kill myself!”  Or they might ask, “Do you ever feel like shooting some of the kids in our homeroom?” When you ask them about what they said they will respond with, “I was just kidding!”  It is important that you share this with a trusting adult at home, your neighborhood, your house of worship, or school.

From the Sandy Hook Promise, here are some behaviors that are cause for concern:

1. Suddenly withdrawing from friends, family and activities (including online or via social media).

2. Bullying, especially if targeted towards differences in race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

3. Excessive irritability, lack of patience, or becoming angry quickly.

4. Experiencing chronic loneliness or social isolation.

5. Expressing persistent thoughts of harming themselves or someone else.

6. Making direct threats toward a place, another person, or themselves.

7. Bragging about access to guns or weapons.

8. Recruiting accomplices or audiences for an attack.

9. Directly expressing a threat as a plan.

10. Cruelty to animals.

There are many times when students are experiencing overwhelming stress in their own lives.  They might believe no one cares about them or that others may be out to get them.  They do not know what to do or who to talk with.  By encouraging students to share their concerns with a trusted adult, students can help their classmate get the assistance they need.  It is important for students to understand that they are not sharing their concerns to get their classmate in trouble.  

Students need to know that if a classmate shares that he or she wants to do harm to themselves or people at school, the school will be able to make sure everyone at school is safe, including that classmate.  It is important that all students understand that the goal of the school Threat Assessment Team is to help them and their classmates, and not punish either party.

In every school shooting where the shooter was a member of the school community, including Columbine, there were students who knew about their classmate’s plan to cause harm at school.  Sadly, the students who knew this information did not tell an adult.  Fortunately, students and attitudes are changing.  Every year, students come forward with their concerns and have not only prevented an attack at school or the suicide of a classmate, but their classmate was also able to get the help they need to manage their life.

“See something, say something” is a campaign developed by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority following 9/11.

There are two ways we can build schools today: We can build prisons, or we can build castles.  Both structures are heavily fortified to protect people.  Very few people want to go to a prison, while almost everyone wants to be in a castle.  New schools being built and existing schools undergoing remodels are being designed with tons of glass to welcome natural light, becoming LEED certified.  These buildings could just as easily be constructed with small windows, solid walls, and other protective measures.  However, small windows and solid walls are not able to prevent violence.  School violence is prevented when students, the staff, and our community work together to help students who are struggling and displaying warning signs we recognize.

Our students must know that we value their thoughts, concerns, and insight when it comes to school safety and the wellbeing of their classmates.

It is, after all, their own safety.

Let’s Continue This Discussion

Join me and your colleagues from around the country for a conversation about The Student Role in School Safety.  Share your best practices, and have your questions answered by a School Safety Professional for free.

March 16 at 2pm EST

ZOOM platform

Get In Touch

How do you encourage students to share their insight on classmate behavior?

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