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Every Student Deserves a Safe School

Every Student Deserves a Safe School

As we rush headlong into the hustle and bustle of the holiday season I am reminded of my own school days and the festive activities my teachers would have our classrooms engage in as we looked forward to the holidays. Whether it was cutting out fall leaves or snowflakes for artwork intended as gifts for family, or sharing what we were thankful for, or making cotton-ball snowmen, it was usually an exciting time with high expectations of what was to come.

When I was a young student, I was unaware of any of the issues facing teachers, schools and school districts. I didn’t hear of threats to students, bullying, shootings, or suicides. We had the occasional bomb threat that we always assumed was a prank, intended to get students out of class for an hour or two. My own naiveté, as I look back now, was….IS… shocking. I was wholly unaware of the perils we unknowingly faced.

These days, students are not so lucky. Whether in the media, at school, work, with friends or family, or through social media, conversations about school and student safety are rampant – and with good reason! Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear of a school-based tragedy which took place somewhere in the U.S.

There are a multitude of stressors behind many of these incidents: disengagement, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, physical or sexual abuse, mental health issues, depression, anxiety, and poverty among others. District and school staff are continuously battling their way through these mine-fields of unpredictability, working hard to find effective systems to reduce and eliminate violence on campuses and make meaningful connections with those who are disengaged or struggling to cope.

I am humbled by the teachers, support staff, and school administrators I meet throughout our region, who have dedicated themselves to, not only teaching, guiding, and growing our students but working to keep them safe. These are incredibly difficult issues to face in a school setting and our teachers and administrators are committed to confronting them every day while maintaining a positive attitude and providing students with a sense of accomplishment and confidence.

To get an idea of the trauma teachers face with their students, the staff of the Behavioral Health and Prevention Services department recently shared some sobering statistics with me.

  • Over three million students are bullied each year.
  • Students report some of the reasons behind the bullying include physical appearance, gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, disability, and religion.
  • LGBTQ students reported the highest rate of incidents, at over 74%.
  • 160,000 students will skip school DAILY for fear of bullying and one in ten drop out because of it.
  • 71% report bullying as a problem in their school [1]

The effects of bullying, including cyberbullying, can be extensive and long-term. Youth subjected to bullying are at an increased risk of poor school attendance and maladjustment, sleep difficulties, relationship difficulties, anxiety, depression, prolonged victimization, substance abuse, violent behaviors and suicide[2].

One of the ways teachers and staff can help counterbalance the negative outcomes of bullying is by fostering strong student connections. Reducing the level of disengagement and detachment can help students feel connected and encourages improved communication. This alone can be a hard-fought battle given the increasingly easy access to, and overuse of, electronics, video games and social media. In fact, it has become a troubling trend with some worrying that it is a major factor in the alarming surge in mental health issues in schools.

“The use of electronics and mental health are connected in multiple ways with one another. The first, and probably most prevalent, is that electronics, video games, and social media tend to lead individuals to living a much more isolated life. Many times, people will spend hours at a time playing video games or being on some other form of electronic device, which leads to isolation from the outside world.”[3]

Yet another issue schools face is the opioid epidemic. As this harrowing addiction spreads, increasing numbers of students are being affected by poverty, abuse, violence, neglect in homes, and homelessness. Increased trauma and lack of coping skills means suicide rates are on the rise among our youth. Teachers must be savvy in mental health awareness to help offset the trauma their students bring with them to class. They must be aware of compassion fatigue and have well-developed grief-coping skills.

As administrators grapple with changing rules and requirements, regularly revising and improving their district’s school safety plans in an effort to meet these growing issues, they must also be aware of budget constraints, limitations, and shortages.

While great strides have been made in the development of student and school safety, we have a long way to go. To that end, organizations such as law enforcement, emergency response, and government agencies, and local community coalitions have joined in partnership to address this shared goal. These joint efforts have paved the way toward setting standards that all schools can follow, with resources and expansion continually being addressed.

The Northwest Educational Service District has been a leader in building bridges with a variety of organizations, providing much-needed training and resources, and working to develop effective partnerships to help reduce costs and provide additional support. To reinforce these efforts the NWESD, with co-sponsor Washington Schools Risk Management Pool (WSRMP), will hold its annual School Safety Summit on January 16 and 17, 2019.

Keynote speakers will be Supervisory Special Agent Andre Simons, with the FBI, who will present on “Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters”, and founder and Communications Director of Sandy Hook Promise, Nicole Hockley, who will speak about “Preventing Tomorrows Shooting: The Sandy Hook Promise”.

Andre Simons is assigned to the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group, Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), Quantico, Virginia, and supports National Security, Counterterrorism, and Threat Assessment investigations. SSA Simons specializes in threat assessment and targeted violence, including active shooters, campus attackers, workplace violence, and the analysis of threatening communications. He is a Certified Threat Manager™ through the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP) and assisted in developing the certification exam currently in use.

After the tragic death of her son Dylan, who was one of 20 first-graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Nicole dedicated herself to working for change so that other families might be spared the pain of losing a loved one to gun violence. That commitment led her to Sandy Hook Promise, where she directs the organization’s communications, outreach efforts and serves as a spokesperson. Nicole has become an important advocate and is focused on bringing people together in honest dialogue and searching for innovative solutions in the areas of mental wellness, school safety, community connectedness, and gun safety.

A comprehensive selection of breakout sessions will be available during this summit, including a number of tabletops such as Active Shooter drills, Threat Assessment, Infectious Disease Outbreak, and Earthquake and Natural Disaster. Other sessions include: Social Media in Schools: How to Use Them During an Emergency; Public Information Officer; Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) training; Reunification; Emergency Operations Planning; Restorative Justice; Suicide Postvention ;Coping With Grief in Schools; Compassion Fatigue; Comprehensive School Safety Planning; Signs of Suicide; and more.

To register for this 2-day summit please go to pdEnroller, event #84468.

For registration questions please contact administrative assistant, Mia Troy at mtroy@nwesd.org, or 360-299-4016.

[1] https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-bullying

[2] https://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/stats.asp

[3] https://keystonehealth.org/blog/effect-electronics-mental-health/