Presidents’ Message & Topic of the Month by Robert Grossaint, Deputy Chief-Dept. Of Safety at Denver Public Schools

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As we now have entered into Spring 2018, let’s not forget about the negative acts that took place at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Out of this act has emerged a movement by students across this country. More importantly, this movement was expressed in Washington DC on March 24, 2018. We observed over a quarter of a million people, led by our youth, assemble and in a peaceful manner expressing the need for a change and that change involves school safety and security. This change is being led by a few parents, who lost their children during this horrific incident, and they should also be considered the true heroes for taking on the fight to increase school safety. These parents have shown tremendous tenacity and courage to move from grieving to a call for action. One of these parents is Max Schachter. Max lost his son, Alex Schachter, who authored a poem “Life Is Like A Roller Coaster” days before the incident. (To hear the poem live when Max read it at the CNN Town Hall in Sunrise, FL on February 22, 2018. CLICK HERE

Max Schachter has taken this negative and has been motivated to make our schools safe in a positive manner. Max and a number of other parents have picked up this cause and will continue to march forward or spring into action. In fact, the Spring Season is the reason for new beginnings and this is truly a new beginning with school safety and security. Please join us at this year’s 49th Annual NASSLEO Training Conference to hear Max Schachter speak at our President’s Scholarship Dinner and we will also be announcing the winners of over $21,000 in college scholarship funds. Please CLICK HERE to register  

As Always 

Be Safe Out There

Chief Ian A. Moffett, President

 

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On February 14th, 2018, 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were killed in another senseless school shooting. I remember watching CNN that evening and observing the various talking heads share their opinions on response strategies for school safety.  It struck me to see how those pontificating were not experts in school safety matters or had experience working in a school setting. Rather, one was a former FBI agent and one was a CIA and foreign affairs analyst.  This experience highlighted the need for people (specifically families), to hear from those who truly understand school security.  Since then, parents around the nation have been reaching out to their local schools, police departments, subject matter experts, etc., for help on ensuring student safety.  My department has been no different and held numerous (and well attended) community meetings, student board meetings, and other speaking opportunities to address safety concerns in our school communities. 

  • Arming teachers

Arming teachers is a kneejerk reaction and exhibits far more challenges than its perceived positive outcomes.  The idea of arming educators in any urban environment should give everyone pause.  In an urban environment, emergency responders are moments away, and any active shooter will be met with overwhelming numbers of armed responders.  In a rural setting, it may be more prevalent to arm certain staff due to delayed response times from local law enforcement.  However, that decision needs to include significant training and coordination with law enforcement and other emergency responders. Asking teachers to step out of their classrooms, away from their students, and literally “hunt” for a homicidal suspect is not something most people (let alone teachers) are cut out for. This level of response and commitment is a tactical skill that is not suited for those professionals tasked with educating our youth. 

  • Metal detectors

On the surface, this seems like the perfect solution that will bring absolute safety to our schools.  When properly done, it could provide a much greater level of protection from a mass shooter, but the key part there is “properly done.”  Magnetometers are effective in screening for weapons but must be properly maintained, audited, placed, and most importantly, staffed. You need at least one armed person (preferably two) to engage anyone who is attempting to bring a weapon into a school for the purposes of carrying out a mass murder. The presence of magnetometers also significantly changes the tone and tenor of our school communities.  The culture and perception of an open and inviting place focused on children, learning, and discovery, can quickly change to that of an unwelcoming institution similar to a prison or airport.  Metal detectors have their place when there are specific threats and safety issues, but are not effective in stopping a mass shooter.

  • Mental health

While schools spend a significant amount of money on social and emotional health, there needs to be a thorough evaluation on whether enough is being done to provide students in crisis the resources they need. Mental health resources must be readily available and students have to know how to obtain them.  .  School communities must know how to report students in crisis, encourage utilization of anonymous reporting systems like Safe2Tell, and develop ongoing safety plans for those that are deemed high risk for violence.  Schools must have a comprehensive threat assessment process that includes law enforcement, mental health professionals, school leadership and individuals the student has relationships with to properly assess risk level and appropriate supports needed. 

  • Other ideas

There have been numerous other ideas discussed that include bulletproof/resistant glass, advanced deterrence technology (strobes and smoke), changes in fire alarm procedures, and adding armed security/law enforcement in every school.  Some of these strategies may be of value as we continue to take a deeper dive into how to best respond to school threats.  However, each district will need to evaluate what works best for them based upon resource availability, school culture, and logistical makeup.  In many areas around the country, school budgets are being cut and educators must fight for every dollar.  That said, safety leaders need to balance risk, probability and outcome for any safety based solution developed for their district.

These are challenging situations to mitigate but important conversations to have.  School safety is rapidly changing and we continue to confuse prevention with response when preparing our school leaders in emergency management.  However, more importantly school safety leaders need to be plugged in to local and national safety networks, best practices, and their individual school communities. 

By: Robert Grossaint, Deputy Chief-Dept. Of Safety at Denver Public Schools