Does a ‘Code of Silence’ Among Students, Parents Abet School Shootings?

School shootings can be averted when parents, school authorities and students themselves take seriously the signals indicating potential violence from troubled youths, and communicate their concerns as quickly as possible, according to the Police Foundation.

School shootings can be averted when parents, school authorities and students themselves take seriously the signals indicating potential violence from troubled youths, and communicate their concerns as quickly as possible, according to the Police Foundation.

In two companion studies of 51 completed and 51 averted incidents of school violence that have occurred in the U.S. since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, researchers found that the reluctance to break the “code of silence,” and tell responsible authorities about fellow students who openly make threats or display signs of mental instability is a critical factor determining whether a tragedy occurs or is prevented.

“Communication is the key to preventing mass attacks,” concluded Peter Langman and Frank Straub, the co-authors of one of the papers. “To improve communication, communities need to be trained to recognize warning signs and to know what to do when they encounter them.”

Langman, a psychologist and expert on school safety, and Straub, a former Spokane police chief who is now director of the Police Foundation’s Center for Mass Violence Response Studies, found that, although there was no typical school shooting, there were common factors connecting many of them.

The incidents studied—which were not intended to be a comprehensive list of all the school shootings in the US since 1999—were mostly committed by males under the age of 27, most of whom already had a “history” of mental instability.

“A majority of perpetrators who completed attacks had a history of being treated for one or more mental health issues or development disorders,” said the paper.

Often there were clear signals of homicidal intent long in advance that parents or students failed to take seriously.

In one example, a perpetrator was so obsessed with the Columbine shooting that he convinced his mother to drive him across country so he could see the site where the shooting happened.

“Despite knowing that he was suicidal and obsessed with Columbine and owned firearms, she apparently did not recognize these factors as warning signs for violence,” the authors wrote.

In several cases, students or parents ignored comments about proposed violence—especially when they were made in a joking manner, or failed to recognize signs of mental illness—underlining the need for a changed national approach to mental health, the paper said.

Ending the Stigma of Mental Illness

“Increased knowledge about mental health and the signs of psychological distress could have resulted in better intervention by parents, teachers, and others,” said the authors. “In addition, the stigma regarding mental health treatment has been a barrier that has kept people from getting help.

“Efforts to destigmatize mental health treatment should be a national priority, along with increasing available services and making sure they are accessible and affordable to all who need them.”

The second paper, by Jeff Daniels, attempted to identify the factors in the 51 “averted” incidents that prevented potential tragedies from occurring.

Daniels focused on two contrasting cases. In the first, a 17-year-old boy, his brother, and friends, calling themselves the “Trench Coat Mafia” in imitation of a group of students at Columbine, plotted to blow up their school and shoot any surviving teachers and students as they fled. But one of the conspirators disclosed the plot to a teacher, who then passed the information along to a school resource officer, who notified the local police. As a result of the investigation, five youths were arrested.

In the second case, a bright 15-year-old boy from a broken home who had begun to do poorly in his studies, talked repeatedly with friends about “pulling a Columbine” and bringing a gun to school and kill people. His friends largely dismissed it as a joke. When he actually announced he was going to “bring a bunch of guns” to school the next day, some of his friends were concerned enough to pat him down for a gun.

However, they failed to search his backpack, which contained the gun. He entered the school and shot 15 people.

“The primary difference between the two case examples is that in the averted shooting, multiple people reported their concerns, but in the completed shooting, no one who was concerned about a possible attack contacted either the school or local law enforcement,” Daniels said.

The reluctance to tell authorities or others their fears is a result of the “code of silence” that prevails among many young people who fear being called snitchers, the paper said.

According to the paper, school authorities can go a long way towards puncturing students’ concerns by helping them make “a distinction between ‘snitching’ (which is reporting to get somebody in trouble) and reporting a concern (which is intended to help others).”

The Police Foundation studies were part of an Averted School Violence project that began in 2015 and was funded by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) at the Department of Justice and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The project selected an equal number of averted and completed incidents to establish a database from which it could draw conclusions and recommendations for law enforcement, community groups, parents and educators.

Both papers drew a number of other lessons from their study related to school security, first responders and strengthened community partnerships.

‘Punishment is Not Prevention’

One lesson was that expulsion of students who exhibit troublesome behavior was not likely to head off a shooting incident, noting that in several cases students who were suspended returned later to the school with a gun and committed murder.

“Punishment is not prevention,” the Langman-Straub paper said. “The lesson here is that when students are suspended and prohibited from being on school property and this is not communicated to school personnel, the students can return to the school, enter, and commit acts of violence.”

Other recommendations for school authorities, parents and law enforcement have frequently been made by other experts. Both papers notably stayed away from hot- button issues raised by advocates on different sides of the debate about preventing mass shootings in schools, such as stricter gun control or arming teachers.

The recommendations included:

  • Ensure that guns are stored and locked safely in the home;
  • Make an effort to secure the school grounds, even though metal detectors were shown rto provide little detection;
  • Develop effective first-response plans to hand potential school emergencies;
  • Maintain trusting relationships with students to detect potential signs of distress and physical aggression, and educate students themselves about warning signs;
  • Use trained security or school resource officers as a deterrent;
  • Parents should not hesitate to check diaries, papers or social media used by young people who have displayed problematic behavior.

But the overall conclusion of both papers is that early and transparent communication among all the players who are likely to be involved in a school shooting incident is a primary factor in keeping schools safe.

“Safety is a community concern,” said the Langman-Straub paper. “When more people take action to maintain safety, the more likely a community is to prevent an act of violence.”

Additional Reading: Stopping School Shootings: Is Colorado’s Safe2Tell Hotline a Solution?

See also: Today’s TCR newsbrief: ‘Silent Panic Alarms to be Installed in NJ Schools.”

Both papers are available for download. The Langman-Straub paper is accessible here.  The Daniels paper can be accessed here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

TX School District Adopts $6.3M Security Plan

Texas City, Tx., schools hire an ex-Secret Service agent, buy AR-15 rifles, cellphone panic buttons, and a facial-recognition system.

The Texas City, Tx. school district uses a facial recognition system to scan for people not allowed on school grounds. IDs track the whereabouts of students and staff. Teachers have cellphone panic buttons to alert police and will have special locks on classroom doors that can be activated remotely. An expanded security team keeps 22 AR-15 rifles in their offices. The district has spent $6.3 million in eight months on measures to keep students safe from potential shooters. “My philosophy is you fight fire with fire,” said Mike Matranga, a former U.S. Secret Service agent who was hired as head of security for the school district, the Wall Street Journal reports.  School officials in Texas City, a Gulf Coast city of 48,000 known for petrochemical refineries, had already planned to improve safety. It escalated efforts last May after the school shooting in nearby Santa Fe, Tx.

Kenneth Trump of National School Safety and Security Services said he doesn’t know of a school district with the mix of security measures used in Texas City. It isn’t possible to make a school shooter-proof, experts say. The hope is to slow down a shooter until help arrives. “What we’re doing is we’re buying time,” said Matranga. Dedrick Johnson, with s three children in elementary school, has concerns with the ID system, which cost $621,000, worried that it will track movements outside of school. “When does the tracking turn off?” he said. Matranga said the tracking system covers only district properties and school buses. “The reason why I did this is not to spy on your kid,” he said. “It’s designed for us to rapidly evacuate a child from the scene, and to show you where your kid is.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

FL Schools Remain Unsafe After Massacre, Report Says

An exhaustive report on the Parkland school massacre offers a second-by-second account of the shooting, spreading blame for security breakdowns, systemic school security failures and law enforcement blunders across a wide spectrum of people and agencies, from assistant principals and sheriff’s deputies to social service providers and the FBI.

The grim video tells of a student named Andy struggling with mental disorders who, after being mercilessly teased by students, returns to school with a gun, walks into a math class and begins killing. The video by the rapper Token is among the last that Nikolas Cruz viewed on his phone, offering a window into the disturbed mind of the man behind the worst high school shooting in U.S. history, reports the Miami Herald. It is one of scores of prophetic details in a blistering 458-page report from a state panel investigating how and why Cruz was able to kill 14 students, two teachers, and a staff member; and wound another 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Valentine’s Day. Cruz, a former student at the school, was apprehended off campus 76 minutes after the first shots were fired.

The exhaustive report offers a second-by-second account of the shooting, spreading blame for security breakdowns, systemic school security failures and law enforcement blunders across a wide spectrum of people and agencies, from assistant principals and sheriff’s deputies to social service providers and the FBI. People were warned that Cruz was a potential security threat but took no action, the report said. The responsibility of what action to take falls on Florida’s legislature and Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis. Most ominously, the report emphasizes how Florida schools — nearly a year after the massacre — remain unsafe. “There remains non-compliance and a lack of urgency to enact basic safety principles’’ in Florida schools, the report noted. One remedy offered by the commission is to allow trained teachers to carry firearms, a controversial measure opposed by both the Florida Education Association, which represents teachers, and the Florida PTA, which believes more guns on campus will make schools less safe.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Four Million U.S. Students in Traumatic Lockdowns

School shootings remain rare, but lockdowns have become a hallmark of U.S. education. The Washington Post found that more than 4.1 million students endured at least one lockdown during 2017-2018, with some writing farewell messages and wills.

School shootings remain rare, even after a year of historic carnage in 2018 on K-12 campuses. What’s not rare are lockdowns, which have become a hallmark of U.S. education, the Washington Post reports. Lockdowns save lives during attacks, but when there is no gunman, the procedures can inflict immense psychological damage on children convinced they’re in danger. The number of kids who have experienced these ordeals is extraordinary. More than 4.1 million students endured at least one lockdown in the 2017-2018 school year, found the Post in a review of 20,000 news stories and data from school districts in 31 large cities. The total is much higher because many school districts — including Detroit and Chicago — do not track them and hundreds never make the news, particularly at urban schools attended primarily by children of color.

On a typical day last school year, at least 16 campuses locked down, with nine related to gun violence or the threat of it. The tally of lockdowns exceeded 6,200. The sudden order to hunker down can overwhelm students, who have wept and soiled themselves, written farewell messages to family members, and wills explaining what should be done with their bicycles and PlayStations. The terror can feel acute right after school shootings like the one in Parkland, Fl., when kids are inundated with details of massacres that have taken the lives of students like them. In New York City this year, rumors of a firearm on campus sparked panic at a high school, where teens desperately texted and called parents, begging for help, telling them, “I love you.” In Fremont, Ne., students sobbed as they hid for two hours in a girls’ locker room with the lights off after a teen was spotted with a gun. When armed officers barged in, they ordered the kids to put their hands up.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Officials Rescind Guidance on School Discipline

The Justice and Education Departments withdrew documents meant to guide schools in handling discipline, turning back an Obama-era effort aimed at reducing widespread racial disparities in how students are suspended, expelled and otherwise punished.

The Trump administration has rescinded documents meant to guide schools in handling discipline, turning back an Obama-era effort aimed at reducing widespread racial disparities in how students are suspended, expelled and otherwise punished, the Washington Post reports. The move by the Education and Justice departments was made official Friday. On Tuesday, the Federal Commission on School Safety recommended that the guidance be revoked, citing concerns over its legal foundation. The guidance put school systems on notice that they could be violating federal civil rights law if students of color were disciplined at higher rates than white students. It offered suggestions for alternatives to discipline that could foster positive school climates.

In its report, the school safety commission criticized the guidance as an example of federal overreach and said it had created unsafe school environments by allowing bad behavior to go unpunished. The report attacked the legal principle of “disparate impact” that the guidance relied on — that discrimination can be proved by examining the effects of policies and not just the intention. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who chaired the safety commission, said she had heard from teachers that the guidance led to discipline decisions being made based on a student’s race and that “statistics became more important than the safety of students and teachers.” The decision was met with sharp opposition from Democrats, civil rights advocates and others. Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), who will chair the House Education Committee next year, said the move will undermine efforts to give all students a quality education. The Education Department did not publish information on how schools could deal with difficult situations or create programs that foster a positive school environment to combat discipline problems. A spokeswoman said the department is will provide more “supportive documents” based on the commission’s recommendations.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump School Panel Would Revoke Race-Discipline Rule

School safety commission proposes ending a federal guideline telling schools not to punish minorities at higher rates. The panel largely sidestepped issues relating to guns, although it favors arming some school personnel.

President Trump’s commission on school safety proposes revoking a federal guideline directing schools not to punish minority students at higher rates, a policy that some Republicans and other activists feared has led schools to avoid punishing potentially violent students, the Wall Street Journal reports. The commission, formed after the school shooting Feb. 14 that killed 17 people in Parkland, Fl., largely sidesteps making any recommendations to tighten access to firearms, falling far short of what Democrats and education policy officials say is necessary to reduce gun-related violence. The report being released Tuesday recommends that states or school districts consider arming school personnel, either teachers or law-enforcement officials present in school buildings, particularly in rural areas where outside help takes longer to arrive.

It urges districts to take steps to “harden” their exteriors, including installing blast-proof glass. It also calls on states and cities to make it easier for courts to remove guns from people who pose a danger to themselves or others, known as extreme risk protection orders, and urges states to ease standards under which courts can force people to submit to psychiatric medications or other treatments. Trump formed the commission, chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, after backtracking from a public call to place new age restrictions on firearm purchases, an issue he asked the commission to study. The report calls for further research into the issue, but is otherwise silent on gun restrictions. White House officials involved in drafting the report said they focused the report on mental health and physical-safety recommendations because they preferred to focus on policies that stand a chance of being enacted.

from https://thecrimereport.org

2018 is Worst Year on Record for School Gun Violence

The US Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security counted 94 school shooting incidents in 2018, a near 60 percent increase over the previous high, 59, in 2006.

This year has been by far the worst on record for gun violence in schools, the advocacy group Sandy Hook Promise said, citing research by the US Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). The NPS Center for Homeland Defense and Security counted 94 school shooting incidents in 2018, a near 60 percent increase over the previous high, 59, in 2006, reports The Guardian. The NPS database documents any instance in which a gun is “brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason,”regardless of the number of victims. In 2018, high-profile attacks in in Parkland, Fl., and Santa Fe, Tx., have intensified a national conversation about gun violence in schools.

Seventeen students and staff members were killed in Parkland. Ten students and teachers died in Santa Fe. “This is beyond unacceptable,” said Nicole Hockley of Sandy Hook Promise. “It is inexcusable. Everyone has the power to stop violence before it starts, and we want to arm as many people as possible with the knowledge of how to keep their schools and communities safe.” Hockley’s six-year-old son, Dylan, was shot dead at at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Inn response to the NPS findings and to mark the sixth anniversary of Sandy Hook, on 14 December, Sandy Hook Promise will release a jarring public service announcement this week.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How School Violence ‘Madness’ Robs Students of Help

Many school districts are spending money on fortifying school buildings at the expense of hiring counselors and psychologists, University of Virginia Prof. Dewey Cornell tells criminologists. He urges more emphasis on prevention.

Schools in the U.S. are much “safer than the public perceives,” says Dewey Cornell, forensic clinical psychologist and professor of education at the University of Virginia.

Speaking on Thursday at the American Society of Criminology convention in Atlanta, Cornell argued that a national “madness” surrounding mass school shootings has prompted many policymakers to spend money on fortifying school buildings at the expense of providing needed services to troubled students.

Cornell readily conceded that 301 people have been shot at schools, many of them fatally, since the Newtown, Ct., massacre in 2012.

Yet 500,000 people have been shot in non-school settings nationwide during the same period.

“You’re safer in schools than outside,” he said.

In Cornell’s view, the fear of school violence has prompted many educators to adopt a zero-tolerance policy that is “not effective,” expelling many students and making them worse in the process.

What school districts should do, he says, is adopt a thorough threat assessment procedure that “prevents school shootings before a gunman is at your door.”

Many Virginia schools have done that successfully, Cornell said.

He said threats by students and others should be investigated, but 99 percent of them will not be carried out. While many schools are pouring money into metal detectors, stronger doors, and locks, some counselors and psychologists are vastly underfunded, each responsible for 1,000 to 2,000 students, making it impossible to deal with all disturbed students.

Details of the University of Virginia’s prevention recommendations can be found at this site. Cornell spoke at a program on “Understanding, Preventing and Responding to Violence in the United States,” sponsored by the National Institute of Justice.

This report was prepared by Ted Gest, president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau chief of The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

California Teacher Arrested for Punching Student

The fight in the Maywood Academy High School classroom — video of which has gone viral online — led to the arrest of teacher Marston Riley, 64, on suspicion of child abuse. Riley’s defenders said the student was out of line for using racial epithets.

A 14-year-old California student stood next to his high school music teacher, repeatedly used a racial epithet and threw a basketball at him. The teacher, who is black, punched the boy in the face and kept swinging as other students recorded the incident with their cellphones. the New York Daily News reports. The fight Friday in the Maywood Academy High School classroom — video of which has gone viral online — led to the arrest of teacher Marston Riley, 64, on suspicion of child abuse. Students said the confrontation began after Riley asked the boy to leave the classroom because he wasn’t wearing a proper uniform.

“What’s up, bro?” the student says on a video as he stands close and throws the basketball at Riley. Riley walks away as the student continues to insult him then walks back to the front of the classroom where the student is standing. He calmly tells the student several times to leave, then suddenly starts punching. Riley hits the student many times, and a woman in a yellow safety vest tries to intervene. The student was taken to a hospital where he was treated for moderate injuries and released. Riley was arrested and was released Saturday after posting $50,000 bail, according to Sheriff’s Department inmate records. Officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District said they were “extremely disturbed” by reports of the fight. Many people defended Riley on social media, saying that he was pushed to the brink and that the student was out of line for using racial epithets.

from https://thecrimereport.org

School Security Industry Booms After Parkland

Sellers of hardware to “harden” schools helped Congress draft a law that committed $350 million to equipment and other school security over the next decade. Nearly 20 states have come up with another $450 million, and local school districts are reworking budgets to find more. Research does not support claims that much of the high-tech hardware and gadgets schools are buying will save lives.

Security companies spent years trying to get schools to buy more products, from “ballistic attack-resistant” doors to smoke cannons that spew haze from ceilings to confuse a shooter. Sales were slow, but that changed in February, when a former student killed 17 people at a Parkland, Fl., school. The rampage reignited the U.S. gun-control debate, and it it propelled industry efforts to sell school fortification as the answer to the mass killing of kids, reports the Associated Press.  Since that attack, security firms and nonprofit groups linked to the industry persuaded lawmakers to elevate the often-costly “hardening” of schools over other measures that researchers say are proved to reduce violence. The industry helped Congress draft a law that committed $350 million to equipment and other school security over the next decade. Nearly 20 states have come up with another $450 million, and local school districts are reworking budgets to find more.

Research does not support claims that much of the high-tech hardware and gadgets schools are buying will save lives, according to two 2016 reports prepared for the U.S. Justice Department. That has not stopped industry representatives from rushing in, some misusing school violence data to stoke fears that “soft target” schools could be victims of terrorist attacks or negligence lawsuits. “School safety is the Wild, Wild West,” said Mason Wooldridge, a security consultant. “Any company can claim anything they want.” Educators worry that hardening will siphon money from programs that prevent bullying and counsel at-risk kids. Students have reported in government surveys that visible security measures like metal detectors and armed officers make them feel less safe. Revenue for school security companies would grow even more than analysts project if the industry succeeds in plans to draft state legislation that would set minimum standards for campus equipment purchases.

from https://thecrimereport.org