Almost three years have passed since the Sandy Hook tragedy. Since then, as a country, we’ve witnessed dozens more school shootings and continuing incidences of bullying, violence, and even natural disaster. Although the Sandy Hook Tragedy caused many schools to reassess their safety and preparedness, these continuing incidents remind us that school safety needs to remain at the forefront –for both K-12 and college campuses.
This fall, we gathered local and national school safety stakeholders with the goal of better preparing schools and students for safety and beyond. We held a panel discussion at Boston University –“From Tragedy to a Safer Tomorrow.” Panelists included our Executive Director and Co-founder, Michele Gay, mother of Josephine, Scott Pare of Boston University Police Department, Virginia Tech survivor Kristina Anderson of the Koshka Foundation, Mo Canady of the National Association of School Resource Officers and Andre Ravenelle, Superintendent of Fitchburg Public Schools and President of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
Click here to view the event video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttk_lNUH2V8&feature=youtu.be
Thanks to an engaged audience, asking questions at the mic and on Twitter using the hashtag #ASaferTomorrow, the discussion covered a range of topics. One of the topics of interests for many students in attendance was social media. We examined both the dangers and values of social media in in the school community. In times of crisis, social media has the advantage of getting information out instantaneously, but it can also be a cause for concern, as miscommunication and sensationalism can quickly lead to confusion, panic, and inaccurate information.
Scott Pare and his team at Boston University Police Department have had great success using social media to monitor potential violent threats. “We have software [to help us] monitor that information and stay current,” said Scott. While prevention is a huge component of school safety, the panel reminded our audience that having a plan in place to help staff address and respond to potential threats is essential. Likewise, it is critical to ensure that parents and community members receive accurate and timely information when a crisis occurs.
Mo Canady discussed the importance of School Resource Officers (SROs) and how they are becoming more common and valued in K-12 schools, particularly elementary schools. SROs are trained to build relationships with students and are more likely to control and calm a crisis situation. “The issue of deterrence cannot be overlooked,” said Mo. “There have been very, very few school shootings that have happened when an SRO is present.”
The issue of mental health and combating stigma attached with psychological counseling was also brought up during the discussion thanks to a question from an audience member. The panel of experts stressed that the need for mental health professionals at schools is just as important as increasing the presence and participation of SROs and other first responders.
With the evening coming to an end, our panel closed the discussion reminding all that as community members, each of us has a responsibility to ask difficult questions, keep the conversation alive, get involved, and realize that we all play a role toward a safer tomorrow.
Photo from Campus Safety Magazine reporter, Zach Winn