by Superintendent Luke Francois

On the afternoon of February 14th, a mass shooting occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Seventeen people were killed and fourteen people hospitalized. For a perspective, before Parkland, the most significant K-12 mass shootings in the United States were Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT where twenty-seven students were killed, followed by Columbine High School in Littleton, CO where fifteen were killed.

Over my years as an educator, I have witnessed a gradual fortification approach to school buildings.  Schools have been emboldened with surveillance cameras, secured entrances, lockdown policies, interior swinging doors with door locking mechanisms and police liaisons.  

Cheryl Lero Jonson writes in his article, ‘Preventing School Shootings: The Effectiveness of Safety Measures,’ there is little research that security measures reduce the likelihood of school shootings.  To reiterate this point, Dave Cullen’s book, entitled ‘Columbine,’ references surveillance cameras and school lockdown procedures that were ineffective to stop the Columbine killings.  Additionally, school lockdown procedures were implemented but incapable of saving children at Sandy Hook.  At Parkland, a secured entrance was in place and an armed police liaison on site during the shooting, also ineffective.

When a camera is added, an entrance secured, or a resource officer employed, schools move closer to being perceived as a scary place where dangerous things happen and away from a warm and inviting building for student learning and collaboration.  Am I suggesting that building security measures should not be part of school security planning?  Absolutely not.  I am suggesting moderation, however, to strike a balance between safe and secure schools that are also warm, welcoming, and inviting spaces for students to learn.

I invested much time learning about school safety, security, and active shooters.  Many of the strategies deployed in schools today are reactionary.  School cameras and lockdown procedures assist with when a killer is already in the building.  A secure entrance, perceived as a preventative measure, is put in place as a reaction to an anticipated intruder meant to be kept out of schools.  

A proactive measure that never finds an intruder approaching a school is not reasonable.  However, there are actionable steps that can be proactively taken to reduce the risk to schools.  

Events are often triggered by a traumatic event in the perpetrator’s life.  Using crisis intervention training helps to calm someone in a crisis and possibly prevent violence.  Staff at Mineral Point receive crisis intervention training and training was recently expanded to the clerical team scheduled to be trained this week.  

Perpetrators are often suicidal and take their own life following a mass shooting.  Suicidal awareness and prevention may prevent school violence.  Mineral Point received suicide and prevention training for all middle and high school staff last year.  

Perpetrators also frequently share their plans or leak information online of their intentions.  Reporting this information when discovered can thwart off possible threats.  Mineral Point recently deployed an incident reporting system where students and community can report threats anonymously by text, phone, email, or website.

The Parkland shooter was recently expelled from school but whether or not that was a cause for his actions is undetermined.  Simon Gonsoulin writes in an article, ‘Safe Schools, Staff Development, and the School-to-Prison-Pipeline’ that expulsion is not a deterrent for disciplinary problems.  If accepting of Gonsoulin’s work, and the community desires safe schools, then it follows that schools must no longer cast aside students with behavior issues by indefinitely removing them from the classroom, school bus, or school district.

When recently asking a student at Mineral Point how to fix school shootings he replied, “If I could change one thing to address school shootings it would be how we care for and treat one another.”