School district personnel and law enforcement agencies across Jasper County participated in training sessions last week to better assess potential threats and develop new policies and procedures for detecting, reporting and responding to these threats before they escalate.
From morning until afternoon, many teachers and school counselors and police participated in the training offered by the Emergency Preparedness and Management Technical Assistance Center for Schools. The training was provided free of charge and was funded by the US Department of Education.
Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess, who organized the sessions, said the purpose of the training was to further familiarize teachers and law enforcement with school threat assessments, the role of a threat assessment team, the different stages of a school threat assessment and how threats can be identified online.
By involving all county schools and law enforcement in the training, Newton Superintendent Tom Messinger said districts now have a “cohort of people to work with to build a much stronger framework.” who can protect the safety of schools in Jasper County.
“The meetings…brought many minds together to work on our individual policies and practices to improve our communication in emergencies, increase the level of safety in our districts, and establish a strong team to stand together. help each other in a crisis,” Messinger said.
Probably the most valuable information Messinger received from the meetings is that it is “another element of our work on a safe and supportive school environment.” The objective of the training was to get to know the students and the relationships with them.
Messinger said these relationships play a critical role in building a system for preventing catastrophic events in schools.
“Many times on the news you see reports of events that led to terrible acts of violence in our schools and there are discussions about how they could have been prevented,” he said. “This training helps create a system that takes proactive steps to reduce threat risk.”
CONSISTENT RESPONSE ACROSS ALL AGENCIES
Although the training took place just over two weeks after the mass shooting of an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Burdess said the training was scheduled for January and was not a direct response to that incident. , but rather to all the school shootings. The training was also a response to a threat in October 2021.
When a school shooting threat against Jasper County High School in Illinois was obtained by the Newton, Illinois Police Department, the threat was shared with all law enforcement agencies in the Jasper/Newton County law in the United States as a precaution. The threat was vague and made online.
As a precaution, the Newton Police Department in Iowa and the Newton School District have implemented additional security measures. But the responses from law enforcement and county schools were different for each agency and district. Some schools have closed. Others remained open.
“As a resident and as a parent, you ask yourself, ‘Why? Why is this county school closing? Why is this one still open? Why do these schools take different measures in assigning officers to the school and this one does not? “A lot of different questions,” Burdess said.
Jasper County superintendents and law enforcement officials have met to discuss this situation. Some viewed the threat as ambiguous and felt that district security measures and school resource officers were a sufficient deterrent and decided against closing. Others have decided otherwise.
“What we really found was that there was no structured approach that anyone was following,” Burdess added. “Everyone was sort of weighing these threats based on the limited information they had and based on their school’s policies, and then making a decision. Sometimes it was an instinctive decision or a gut reaction.
Schools and law enforcement agreed that some consistency was needed. Coupled with the 2021 US Secret Service (USSS) report analyzing conspiracies against schools and preventing targeted school violence, Burdess suggested the training could also lead to more proactive and preventative action.
ESTABLISHING THREAT ASSESSMENT TEAMS
One of the main recommendations of the USSS report is to create threat assessment teams in school districts. Burdess describes the teams as a collaborative effort between law enforcement, counselors, superintendents, principals, teachers and mental health professionals.
When a threat arises in a school, the team can review all the evidence and provide an informed response. Realistically, Burdess noted, there are threats to schools every week in Jasper County. Threats are not always aimed at mass shootings. It could be more restricted interactions between students.
“It could be ‘I’m going to beat this kid.’ It’s a threat of violence. History has shown in all of these school shootings that there are signs that come from students displaying different behaviors before a shooting,” Burdess said. “It could take some time. years, it could be months, it could be weeks before a shooting.”
This is where threat assessment teams come in. Most teams are usually created for each building or each school district. Team members will assess these signs or behaviors early and come up with some kind of intervention. Identifying the signs early could prevent the next mass shooting, Burdess suggested.
“That’s what was identified in all of these mass shootings is that there was an opportunity but no one took it. There was an opportunity for someone to intervene somewhere in the life of this student and no one took this opportunity,” Burdess said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.
Michelle Havenstrite, superintendent of the PCM Community School District, told Newton News that 11 staff members attended the training and are currently developing specific protocols and procedures to systematically assess potential threats occurring in the district and at all times. in any building.
“A big takeaway for me from the training was that in every case of a school shooting, someone was aware of the shooter’s intent,” Havenstrite said. “I must emphasize to everyone: if you see something or hear something, say Something. Don’t be afraid to report your concerns.
SCHOOL SAFETY AFFECTS ALL CITIZENS
Prior to the Texas shooting, PCM was developing an anonymous tip reporting system, which is now active on the district’s website. Even with this tool in place, Havenstrite stressed that it will take “multi-faceted measures to protect our students and staff”. She hopes everyone thinks about school safety issues.
“It’s not just a school problem,” she said. “This is a mental health issue, gun regulations, law enforcement response and school safety, to name a few.”
Messinger said a lot has been done for school safety in the 29 years he has worked in education. The Columbine High School tragedy “really was the first time that schools across the country took a much more serious look at safety and implemented measures” to create a safe environment.
Many of these measures focused on the physical features of buildings, such as secure entrances and surveillance cameras, in addition to well-developed plans and training events for crisis situations.
“Training last week took a different course,” he said. “He focused almost entirely on prevention. The threat assessment training focused on identifying situations presenting a potential threat. I think this really puts all the pieces in place to further enhance the safety and security of our students and staff. »
Burdess said threat assessment training has been effective in other cases across the country. From a law enforcement perspective, doing nothing in response to a school shooting “is not acceptable.” Doing something, even if it’s not perfect, is at least a step in the right direction, he said.
Acknowledging that there are many people asking for legislative changes across the country, Burdess needs to “make a change at some point to really stop them in the future.” He does not know that this answer is realistic. But what might help are people reporting suspicious behavior and actions.
“You have an 18-year-old kid who comes in to buy guns and all that stuff, it doesn’t really feel good and nothing is said. People around these kids see this and no questions are asked or no intervention is made. “is done. It’s big,” Burdess said. “In some of these cases, firearms were obtained legally.”
Schools cannot shoulder the brunt of the responsibility, Burdess suggested. Some school districts are strapped for resources due to budget constraints, so providing physical security isn’t always an option and isn’t proven to be a deterrent to violence. Nothing that school districts implement will 100% prevent shootings.
Still, the extra barriers couldn’t hurt.
Burdess said, “The more barriers we can put in place to prevent or at least stop it before it happens, the better off we’ll be.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or [email protected]