School safety: ‘Err on side of caution’
“Awareness is the key.”
It was the common refrain of the night; nearly every response by the panelists can be related directly or indirectly to the idea. Awareness.
Administrators and experts in their fields spoke frankly during a panel discussion on school safety at the Lehigh Valley HS for the Arts the evening of March 14. Though only about 20 people were in the audience, the panelists took seriously the opportunity to speak candidly and openly.
Peter Langman, a psychologist who has studied school shootings since Columbine and has lectured at the FBI and for Homeland Security, was the featured speaker. His children had attended Charter Arts.
Langman said despite the horror of such incidents as Columbine and Parkland, Florida, “We don’t need to live in a state of panic.” National headlines aside, the true infrequency of school shootings versus the number of schools in America would actually see an individual school attacked once in 13,000 years. “[Shootings] are rare, but they do happen and we can’t assume they won’t, but when we send our kids to school, we’re probably sending them to the safest place they can be.”
Langman, who has written books about school shootings and worked firsthand with troubled youngsters at KidsPeace, said physical security – metal detectors and guards – are good for keeping the peace in some situations, but will not stop a committed shooter. They do not expect to walk away. Awareness is preventive. There are always signs; statements of intent, asking friends to join in, bragging, social media, warnings to friends to stay away, subject matter in school assignments, and a fascination or obsession with previous attacks are all signs of impending danger staff, family and friends should note.
During a lengthy Q&A, Police Chief Mark DiLuzio punctuated Langman’s observations with a clear mandate for citizens to immediately inform the police of suspicions. He said in the event of false-alarms, the worste that happens is an inconvenience, as police investigate.
Charter Arts Principal Carise Comstock said, “Err on the side of caution. Call me, the police non-emergency line, the school counselor.”
Everyone present said school policy is to inform police and cooperate in every way as a matter of protocol; while having to wait for answers about incidents may prove irritating to parents, maintaining a clear methodology for investigations is in everyone’s best interest.
DuLuzio did say is absolutely against arming teachers, saying doing so would only throw more confusion and danger into already hazardous situations. In this he is in agreement with Bethlehem Area School District administrators, who have publicly decried the notion.
DiLuzio said the fist and most important part of making needed changes in America are getting people in a room to discuss the facts without agendas, and that, “anybody in Washington and Harrisburg who doesn’t get that maybe shouldn’t be there.”
Other panelists agreed the evening marked a good first step toward opening a public dialog.
But it was only a first step.
More information can be found on Langman’s website at schoolshooters.info