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On the last track, we discussed the last two elements of the five factor model proposed for the origin of rampage school shootings. These last two elements are the failure of surveillance systems which are supposed to identify troubled teens, and gun availability. We also discussed a technique for risk assessment.
On this track, we will discuss four steps that can be used to help prevent school shootings. These four steps are, adjusting the radar, school resource officers, leavening social capital and tweaking adolescent culture, and a zero tolerance policy.
4 Steps in Prevention
One concern I often hear is that if teachers are privy to this information, they may expect poor behavior from their students, and at what point is the student’s confidentiality boundary crossed? One way to address this and address the ethical right of students to privacy is to keep this information in the area of counselors and administrators, only informing teachers when a pattern emerges that warrants the extra vigilance that can be offered by teachers.
In regards to sharing of information among teachers, I recommend that school adopt a team model of overseeing individual students and evaluating their progress. In these sessions, students’ behavioral adjustment can be discussed along with academic achievement. This is clearly not to advocate a culture of gossip, but to encourage teachers to observe maladaptive behavioral patterns as a community.
Step # 2 - School Resource Officers
These SROs not only add sensitivity to the radar, they also have as a primary duty increasing communication with students. Unlike teachers, who establish a position of authority over students, an SRO has as a prority of developing bonds of trust with students. An SRO actively seeks to befriend students, and may hang out in social groups during school lunches, for example. Clearly, establishing this friendly face gives students an adult perceived as a safe and trustworthy confidant. This puts SROs in an better position than other staff to intercept threats made by potential shooters.
SROs have had much success. In 2003, a student tipped off an SRO south of Seattle that a classmate had brought a loaded Mac 10 machine gun to school. The SRO was ably to safely apprehend both student and weapon. An added value of SROs is that these individuals can work with counseling staff to identify students who need additional attention and supervision.
There are two difficulties with SROs, however:
Step # 3 - Leavening Social Capital & Tweaking Culture
And additional aspect of this is one that requires whole community intervention, and that is reducing, or at least spreading, the attention focused on sports. While the community spirit involved in school supports is positive and healthy, the ‘star factor’ is strongly negative. Would you agree? One guideline I strongly emphasize is the immediate removal from positions of authority of any individual who looks the other way when athletes bully or tease smaller, or unathletic students. No matter how talented, no school athlete should be exempt from treating his or her peers with respect.
Incidents of bullying should be grounds for forfeiting the privilege of representing one’s school in athletic competition. In addition, schools actively could solicit in the community for funding for programs outside of the athletic program.
For example, the local Chamber of Commerce could be asked to sponsor awards for students with high achievement in math, engineering, or the creative arts. Some schools have begun giving varsity letters for chess or science teams. I remind school staff that kids pay attention to what the community values and rewards. If only sports teams have the support and reward, a greater percentage of the student body feels marginalized.
Step # 4 - Zero Tolerance Policy
A punitive approach to language may be counterproductive, limiting communication between students and school staff. On the whole, zero tolerance policies tend to be too inflexible; however, schools should have the authority to take disciplinary problems seriously, and threats should be investigated and if necessary, punished accordingly. It is the ability to make nuanced judgments, thus ensuring student trust and ongoing communication, that is more important than a rigid policy. Would you agree?
On this track, we have discussed four steps that can be used to help prevent school shootings. These four steps are, adjusting the radar, school resource officers, leavening social capital and tweaking adolescent culture, and a zero tolerance policy.
On the next track, we will discuss four steps that can help encourage students to come forward about threats. These four steps are ensure confidentiality, direct contact between parents and teachers, educational films, and decisive action.
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