The question of school security, the subject of a Gloucester School Committee public hearing Wednesday at 7 at West Parish School, calls upon us to describe what strategies the district has taken to minimize the potential for violence in our schools.
There are three main areas of focus.
The first is to ensure that the culture and climate in our schools is positive and respectful of all of its members.
Second, schools use a threat assessment system included in our mental health and social services programs which addresses the mental health needs of students and maintains a network of trained professionals that examine the thinking, planning, and other behaviors of students who might be capable of carrying out attacks.
Third, we require a well-orchestrated emergency operations program that coordinates the efforts of schools, the district, and local agencies such as police, fire, and regional services.
The key to reducing the threat of violence in schools must center upon school climate and the ability to promote open communication throughout each building. Relationships within buildings must be such that students know that they can go to administrators or anyone in the building when they feel threatened or worried about their safety. Students must recognize that, if they do not speak up, then they could be putting themselves and their friends in danger. And educators must be astute listeners. In keeping with this openness, bullying and all forms of harassment must be minimal.
A second element is the threat assessment approach to the potential risk that a student might pose to school safety (historically, violence-prone students present the major threat of school violence).
In 2002, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Secret Service produced a report titled, “The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States.” The report presents key findings that have implications for the development of strategies to address the problem of targeted school violence. These are: