This story was harder than I thought it would be to write. When I first had the idea, I figured it would be a no-brainer: School violence, guns, and the conversation on every channel in America, seemed like an appropriate (and necessary) conversation to have.
So, I set out to ask school board members in Blair their thoughts on the topic. I emailed each board member. (You’ll read my questions below.) Again, seemed pretty straightforward.
Yet, as I get older (this year I turn “senior citizen”), there is more for me to learn. In this case, what I needed to learn was two-fold:
- Do not expect every public official to answer questions – no matter how basic, fundamental to why they were elected, or non-partisan and universal in nature.
- Be thankful for the ones who do share their thoughts with you because, even though it should not be this way, it is. And, when a school board member shares their opinions with their constituents, these days, it is, I’ve learned a privilege, not our right, to read them.
Normally, when I write, I spend a good deal of time editing. I spend more time on the edit process than what I wrote. However, with this story, beyond the next few lines it is only the words of the two school board members who replied and the superintendent, Dr. Randy Gilson.
I thank Blair School Board members Ginger Fredericksen, Courtney Tabor, and Superintendent Dr. Randy Gilson for sharing their thoughts with us. If you voted for Courtney Tabor or Ginger Fredericksen, reach out to them and thank them. Let them know how much you appreciate their willingness to talk about these things. And, if you see Dr. Gilson today, thank him, too. Dr. Gilson, wrote with a level of candor, specificity, and clarity that should be the standard for the way a public official addresses these issues and I am personally impressed and grateful for the time he took on this. If you want to know how to reply to questions like this, Dr. Randy Gilson gave you the blueprint.
THE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
(A) When you look at the issue nationwide, what do you believe are some key root causes for the violence in schools?
GINGER FREDERICKSEN: I feel that Mental Health is the root cause of violence in schools. Mental Health concerns can be stemmed from a variety of issues (domestic abuse, food insecurities, trauma, family instability are just a few at the top of my head) Of course, one could dig deeper into why we have Mental Health issues, but I’m not an expert on that topic.
COURTNEY TABOR: Looking at the issue nationwide, there are many thoughts and opinions on “why” the violence is occuring. For myself, I believe it is because we live in a broken world. Consistent demoralization, desensitization, and a Godless society can lead to hopelessness. Lack of consequences, difficult home lives, and bullying from peers can also be factors that point towards violence.
DR. RANDY GILSON: According to an FBI extensive study of violence and school shootings, “The origins of human violence are complex. Thinkers, historians, and scientists have explored the issue for centuries, but answers remain elusive. The roots of a violent act are multiple, intricate, and intertwined. The mix of factors varies according to the individual and the circumstances.
A U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) studied 41 incidents and highlighted the following key findings in their study: all attackers experienced social stressors involving their relationships with peers, nearly every attacker experienced negative home life factors, most attackers were victims of bullying, which was often observed by others, and attackers usually had multiple motives the most common motive was a desire to kill and second was suicide.
The FBI report and a United States Department of Secret Service study, both agreed there is no research that has identified traits and characteristics about a profile of a student attacker, that can reliably distinguish school shooters from other students. Attackers varied in age, gender, race, grade level, academic performance, and social characteristics.
The National Association of School Psychologists says, “There is NO profile of a student who will cause harm.” They caution any attempt to develop profiles of school shooters as being ill-advised and a potentially dangerous strategy. Profiling risks wrongly including many children who would never consider committing a violent act and wrongly excluding some children who might.
(B) What are some concrete steps and initiatives that the Blair Community Schools Board is considering to address these issues and ensure the safety of students and staff within the district? How do you plan to involve Blair residents in the development and implementation of these solutions?
GINGER FREDERICKSEN: I am so pleased to have Kevin Kavan contracted to help with BCS Safety and Security plans moving forward. He has been trained in what it takes to make schools a safer place for everyone. His experience working as a Sergeant with the Nebraska State Patrol, School Security Liason with the Nebraska Department of Education, and his extensive training with the Standard Response Protocol is a winning combination to help BCS take the steps to be successful when it comes to safety and security. I have witnessed and participated in an Active Shooter training at Fremont Public School District this past summer and was very impressed with his communication style and thorough knowledge of the content. Leon Haith was an integral part of what is in place now, prior to his retirement a few years ago. It is my understanding that he implemented one of the initial safety plans for the district. The district has been awarded a grant for Mental Health practitioners to help students in the district. I’m don’t have all of the details of this but I’m certain that this is a step in the right direction to help our students directly. Of course, this plan needs to be updated and polished and then communicated to all stakeholders including Students, Staff, Parents and Community Members. School districts need to work hand in hand with everyone to educate our children. Education is a team effort to keep open lines of communication and collaboration. Schools are not just a place, but a community of people working together to help our children reach their highest potential and make the community a better place . As a former educator, I feel it is important to make sure everyone is working together for the best results. We want residents to provide constructive feedback and share their concerns.
COURTNEY TABOR: As I also learn about the Blair Community Schools safety plan, there are concrete steps that stand out. We have a safety team that includes law enforcement, first responders, teachers, and administrators. They meet regularly to evaluate and reiterate the plan. Risk assessments are done by an outside source. All staff follows and has been trained on the Standard Response Protocol. The steps to this plan are always on their lanyards. Surveillance cameras have been installed which aides in office staff knowing who is approaching the buildings. Inside and outside doors remain locked at all times. Alarms have been installed on all outside doors to let principals know if a door is being propped open. On April 5th Dr. Gilson provided two opportunities for parents and community members to attend a Q&A meeting regarding school safety. As much information as possible about the plan was given and questions were answered.
DR. RANDY GILSON: 2. We have developed a comprehensive emergency plan that includes using the “I Love You Guys” Standard Response Protocol recommended by the Nebraska Department of Education and we continue to address procedures for responding to active shooter preparedness and situations. For example, this past summer, we participated in a I.N.T.E.R.D.I.C.T training with local law enforcement to help staff identify early warning signs in potential school shooters and address steps in notification. Additionally, all administrators participated in the Emergency Operations Planning training with the Nebraska Department of Education.
Our safety plan involves collaboration through regular meetings with local law enforcement and first responders, as well as regular training and drills for faculty, staff, and students. Kevin Kavan, former sergeant with the Nebraska State Patrol who now serves as the Fremont school district’s security coordinator, is being contracted to provide ongoing training to our safety team and schools regarding the Standard Response Protocol, building awareness, addressing plans for active shooters and other threats, and establishing safe procedures for reunification.
In addition to our emergency plan, we have implemented a number of physical measures to improve security on campus, including surveillance cameras, purchase of locks so all exterior doors and interior classroom doors are locked at all times. In addition, this year we have set alarms on all exterior doors that notify the office and authorities when doors are left open, so they can respond immediately. We also regularly review and update our policies and procedures to ensure that we are staying current with the latest best practices in school safety.
Standard Response Protocol (SRP) drills are emergency preparedness drills that all Blair schools practice to ensure that students and staff are prepared to respond quickly and appropriately in case of an emergency. The SRP drills are designed to be simple, clear, and easy to remember, and they provide a common language that everyone in the school community can use to communicate during an emergency.
The four main SRP drills that all schools in Blair practice are:
- Lockdown: This drill is used in response to an immediate threat inside the building or on campus. Everyone inside the building must move to a secure location, lock the doors, and remain quiet.
- Evacuate: This drill is used in response to a fire, hazardous material, or other emergency that requires the building to be evacuated. Everyone inside the building must exit quickly and calmly, following designated routes and procedures.
- Shelter: This drill is used in response to a severe weather event, such as a tornado or hurricane. Everyone inside the building must move to a designated safe location, such as a basement or interior room, and take cover.
- Hold/Secure: This drill is used in response to a threat outside the building or on campus. Everyone inside the building must move away from windows and doors, and remain in the classroom or designated area until the all-clear signal is given.
Mr. Kavan has led scenario-based exercises with the ultimate goal to provide an active school shooting and reunification drill. The district safety team will be having another reunification exercise on Wednesday, April 5, which will be used in response to an emergency that requires students to be reunited with their families. The goal of these drills is to ensure that everyone in the school community is prepared to respond quickly and effectively in the event of an emergency.
We understand that talking about the possibility of an active shooter can be scary for both parents and students, but we believe that being prepared is the best way to promote safety and security. We encourage parents to talk to their children about the importance of being vigilant and aware of their surroundings, and to report any suspicious behavior to a teacher or school administrator.
Another area we have addressed is school visitors. Here is our school Visitor Protocol.
- Check-in at the main office: All visitors should check in at the school’s main office or reception area upon arrival. They may be asked to show identification and sign in before receiving a visitor badge or pass.
- Follow visitor guidelines: Visitors should familiarize themselves with the school’s visitor guidelines and follow them closely. This may include rules around where visitors are allowed to go, how long they can stay, and what they can bring into the school.
- Respect school policies: Visitors should be aware of and respect the school’s policies around safety, security, and behavior. This may include restrictions on cell phone use, dress code, and smoking.
- Supervise children: If a visitor brings a child with them to the school, they should supervise the child at all times and ensure that they follow the school’s rules and guidelines.
- Be courteous and respectful: Visitors should be courteous and respectful to all school staff, students, and other visitors. They should follow the school’s code of conduct and demonstrate good manners.
2nd Part of Question #2 – I hosted a school safety question and answer meeting for parents on Wednesday, April 5 at 10:00 a.m. at the Blair Public Library and a second meeting on Wednesday, April 5 at 7:00 p.m. at the High School Auditorium. Our safety teams includes the Washington County Sheriff Robinson, Blair Police Chief Lager, Fire Chief Leonard and Assistant Chief Auten, Washington County Emergency Response Manager Douglass, all principals, board members, parents, the PTO President, teachers, a representative from the State Patrol and Kevin Kavan consulting.
I will continue to host parent and community informational meetings to share plans, listen to needs, and work together with stakeholders to ensure we best prepare our students, staff, and community to have safe schools.
(C) As a school board member in Blair, Nebraska, how would you reassure concerned parents about the safety measures in place at local schools, and what advice can you offer them on how to support their children’s emotional well-being and mental health during these challenging times?
GINGER FREDERICKSEN: Currently, the district is working with community experts to develop the best safety and security plan. Will it be perfect? No. No plan is perfect, but it is important for everyone to work together and collaborate to work toward that common goal of keeping our students, staff and community safe. Once the experts have worked on the plan, it is my understanding that it will be presented to other stakeholders for feedback. (I was not able to attend those meetings unfortunately). I would advise parents to reach out to their children’s teachers, administrators and counselors to ask for resources regarding mental health and therapy services in the community.
COURTNEY TABOR: The reassurance comes in knowing that the district does have a plan in place but that they are constantly reevaluating and learning. Our district is full of teachers, administrators, and staff that care for our kids. Supporting our children is also being proactive in our conversations. Talk and ask questions regarding what they are learning about a safety plan. Encourage children and teens that if they ever hear of a threat or have a concern, they should be reaching out to a parent and/or their teachers.
DR. RANDY GILSON: 3. We want to assure parents and the community that we take the safety of our students very seriously, and we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that Blair Community Schools remains a safe and welcoming place for all students. If parents have any questions or concerns, we are transparent and encourage them to reach out to us. We host Safety Team meetings the first Wednesday of the month. These teams are always reviewing our plans, attending ongoing training, being trained with table top and live activities.
I have attached a handout we provide to parents and shared with them at the recent question and answer meetings. This handout provides parents with common language and their role pertaining to the five common actions we have trained staff and students to take in an incident. Additionally, we provide parents with the students and adults/staff directions they would take in accordance to each action.
Written and edited by Don Harrold, for BlairToday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for corrections or comments.