Appendix B – Challenges/Responses
B-1: CHALLENGES AND SUGGESTED RESPONSES
A common reaction to fear is to generate rumors or stories to fill in information that is not available. Making an uninformed declaration about information can be empowering for frightened individuals. Crises are fertile ground for rumors, and rumors are unfortunately perpetuating.
Clear and frequent communication is required. Crisis communicators should be involved and visible, and should convey command of the situation. Survivors, victims' families, and local citizens will look to the school for leadership. Its presence will help calm fears and rumor mongering.
Phone Line Jams
Natural disasters and major news-making events can create massive phone traffic, jamming cellular connections. Use combination two-way radio/cell phones and if possible keep one line open to the district office. If a connection is made, don't hang up, just put the phone down for use later.
School crises can create a crush of media, often making it hard to distinguish parents and students from journalists. Helicopters and cameras stationed outside the school provide live coverage that can put many lives at risk. Determine and maintain a perimeter around the school that media may not cross. Ask for law enforcement help in policing violators. Violators may later be denied access to official school or law enforcement briefings.
Scattering of Schools and School Staff
Acting on instinct, staff and students facing danger flee the building, often not knowing where they are running. This makes it difficult to ensure that students are moving toward safety, not danger, and makes it difficult to account for students and staff. Parents who come to school often cannot find their children and panic ensues. Natural disasters can disperse children, families, and entire communities. Establish pre-identified locations (reunion areas) that students and staff should retreat to in the event of an emergency. Ensure that a procedure has been established for releasing students to parent or guardian care. The procedure should be able to account for when and into whose custody the child was released and provide information about dispersed colleagues and students.
In the absence of information and the pressure of live coverage, verification of facts is often sacrificed for good pictures and sound. Establish trust before the crisis strikes. Provide as much information as you can as quickly as you can without speculating or releasing unverified information. Even if all you can say are a few sketchy sentences, you can communicate your concern and compassion and the action being taken to investigate. Advise media of the potential destructiveness of being wrong.
Potential for Eroded Credibility
When bad things happen, past behavior is used to predict future actions. When past behaviors are considered good and helpful, but the current and future behaviors don't match those expectations, there is a loss of credibility. Implement trust-building, fear-reducing, credibility-fixing behaviors. Suggestions:
- Provide advance information.
- Ask for input from all, even perceived opponents.
- Listen carefully.
- Demonstrate you've heard, adjust action.
- Stay in touch.
- Speak in plain language.
- Bring victims/involuntary participants into the decision-making process.
Constant Need for Information
The need for a constant streaming of information to the community is enormous. Questions and anxieties can escalate. Organize separate all-school staff and all-community meetings to provide information and the opportunity to express concerns. Immediately implement information channels that are accessible to all members of the community and media – an interactive website for questions and answers, a crisis response hotline, and a regularly updated fact sheet.
Panic and Alienation
Normal routines and support systems are suspended and survivors can feel very alone and panicked. Drop-in centers should be made available for parents, students, teachers and others to receive information, counseling, and contact with other grieving members of the school and community.
Media Feeding Frenzies
Reporters are scrambling for pictures of students, interviews with school staff and students, and sometimes implement specious means of gaining access to schools and hospitals. Implement a system for coordinating and responding to media and set parameters for coverage.
B – 2: IDENTIFYING AND RESPONDING TO IMMINENT WARNING SIGNS
Imminent warning signs indicate that a student is very close to behaving in a way that is potentially dangerous to self and/or to others. Imminent warning signs require an immediate response. No single warning sign can predict that a dangerous act will occur. Rather, imminent warning signs usually are presented as a sequence of overt, serious, hostile behaviors or threats directed at peers, staff, or other individuals. Usually, imminent warning signs are evident to more than one staff member—as well as to the child’s family and friends.
Imminent warning signs may include:
- Serious physical fighting with peers or family members.
- Severe destruction of property.
- Severe rage for seemingly minor reasons.
- Detailed threats of lethal violence.
- Possession and/or use of firearms and other weapons.
- Other self-injurious behaviors or threats of suicide.
- A social media pattern of obsession with violence.
When warning signs indicate that danger is imminent, safety must always be the first and foremost consideration. Action must be taken immediately. Immediate intervention by school authorities and law enforcement officers is needed when a child:
- Has presented a detailed plan (time, place, method) to harm or kill others — particularly if the child has a history of aggression or has attempted to carry out threats in the past.
- Is carrying a weapon, particularly a firearm, and has threatened to use it.
B – 3: SCHOOL THREAT ASSESSMENT RESPONSE PROTOCOL
The purpose of this protocol is to provide a mechanism to assure that threats of violence in a school environment are addressed, whenever possible, before they occur. The protocol is intended to identify credible threats of violence and address those threats and the individual making the threat before the threat is carried out.
Procedure – The following procedure is separated into several sections in order to reflect those instances where a threatened act of violence may be received by specific individuals.
A. When a threat is made:
- Any student, upon receiving information that a person is threatening to commit an act of violence, shall:
- Assume threat is serious;
- Immediately report the threat to a parent, guardian, school staff, administrator, or law enforcement officer;
- Be available and cooperative in providing a statement of information, with the understanding that the information source (student) will remain anonymous to the greatest extent possible.
- Any parent or guardian, upon receiving information that a person is threatening to commit an act of violence, shall:
- Assume threat is serious;
- Immediately report the threat to a school staff member, school administrator or law enforcement officer;
- Be available and cooperative in providing a statement of information, with the understanding that the information source (parent or guardian) will remain anonymous to the greatest extent possible.
- Any school staff member, upon receiving information that a person is threatening to commit an act of violence, shall:
- Assume threat is serious;
- Immediately report the threat to a school administrator or their designee;
- Be available and cooperative in providing a statement of information, with the understanding that the information source (the staff member) will remain anonymous to the greatest extent possible.
- Any school administrator, upon receiving information that a person is threatening to commit an act of violence, shall:
- Assume threat is serious;
- Cause the student making the threat, if said student is on campus, to be immediately removed from the classroom and segregated into a secured area pending further investigation.
- Immediately notify the designated law enforcement officer assigned to the school and provide the officer with complete information regarding the information received.
- Require the school staff member, if this is the source of the information, to provide immediate written statements regarding the information received.
- The designated law enforcement officer, upon receiving information that a person is threatening to commit an act of violence, shall:
- Assume threat is serious;
- Immediately conduct an assessment interview of the subject making the threat. The assessment interview will include at least one administrator.
NOTE: The primary purpose of the interview is to engage in an assessment of the available information, in an attempt to determine the veracity of the threat, in order to decide what level of follow-up action is needed and appropriate.
- Once the assessment is complete, the law enforcement officer and administrator shall convene privately to discuss the threat and consider options for follow-up action.
B. If it is agreed the threat is credible:
- The law enforcement officer shall immediately take legal action.
- The school administrator or designee may convene the OSD Threat Assessment Team to further assess, intervene and follow-through with action related to the threat.
- The school administrator shall take administrative action in accordance with Othello School District policy.
- The student’s parents or guardian shall be notified in accordance with Othello School District policy.
C. If it is agreed that the threat is not credible, the school administrator shall assume responsibility to institute any further action deemed necessary.
Once the situation has been assessed and action taken, the school principal assumes responsibility for reporting to the Superintendent.
B – 4: TIPS FOR PARENTS TO HELP CREATE SAFE SCHOOLS
Parents can help create safe schools. Here are some ideas that parents in other communities have tried:
- Discuss the school's discipline policy with your child. Show your support for the rules and help your child understand the reasons for them.
- Involve your child in setting rules for appropriate behavior at home.
- Talk with your child about the violence he or she sees--on television, in video games, and possibly in the neighborhood. Help your child understand the consequences of violence.
- Teach your child how to solve problems. Praise your child when he or she follows through.
- Help your child find ways to show anger that do not involve verbally or physically hurting others.
- When you get angry, use it as an opportunity to model these appropriate responses for your child and then talk about it.
- Help your child understand the value of accepting individual differences.
- Note any disturbing behaviors in your child. For example, frequent angry outbursts, excessive fighting and bullying of other children, cruelty to animals, fire setting, and frequent behavior problems at school and in the neighborhood, lack of friends, and alcohol or drug use can be signs of serious problems. Get help for your child. Talk with a trusted professional in your child's school or in the community.
- Keep lines of communication open with your child--even when it is tough. Encourage your child always to let you know where and with whom he or she will be. Get to know your child's friends.
- Listen to your child if he or she shares concerns about friends who may be exhibiting troubling behaviors. Share this information with a trusted professional, such as the school counselor, principal, or teacher.
- Be involved in your child's school life by supporting and reviewing homework, talking with his or her teacher(s), and attending school functions such as parent conferences, class programs, open houses, and PTA meetings.
- Work with your child's school to make it more responsive to all students and to all families.
- Share your ideas about how the school can encourage family involvement, welcome all families, and include them in meaningful ways in their children's education.
- Volunteer to work with school-based and community groups concerned with violence prevention.
- Talk with the parents of your child's friends. Discuss how you can form a team to ensure your children's safety.
- Find out if your employer offers provisions for parents to participate in school activities.