Secure Schools: Districts, police prepare for violent situations
/ Tammie Gitt
Joshua Vaughn, The Sentinel
Cumberland Valley School Resource Officer Wes Schmidt watches as
children play outside during recess at Silver Spring Elementary
Before April 20, 1999 — before the day two students walked into Columbine High School in Colorado and killed 12 of their peers and one of their teachers — things were different.Having worked in law enforcement since 1993, Christopher Raubenstine, chief of police in Silver Spring Township, knew protocol included officers setting up in positions outside the school to wait for the SWAT team to show up.
“In Columbine, that’s exactly what they did. They did exactly what they were trained to do, and they got to stand outside and listen to kids being killed inside. And that crushed them,” he said.
Columbine changed school safety plans across the country.
The shots that rang through Building 12 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 means everything will change again. Police said the alleged killer, Nikolas Cruz, pulled a fire alarm to draw his victims out of their classrooms before he dropped his duffel bag and gun to leave among the evacuating students.
“Post-Columbine, the rules changed dramatically. Post-Sandy Hook, again, how we approach things changed dramatically. And, sadly, now it will be post-Parkland,” said Dr. Richard Fry, superintendent of Big Spring School District.
It’s been almost three months since Parkland. In that time, school officials and law enforcement in Cumberland County have reviewed safety plans again, preparing for a day they hope will never come.
Joshua Vaughn, The Sentinel
Visitors to Big Spring School District are required to provide a
photo ID that is compared to a criminal database before being
allowed beyond the main office.
Every school district in Cumberland County took part in active assailant training on Feb. 13 during which a detective from the Carlisle Police Department gave a presentation on scenario training. That seminar prompted Fry to start considering adjustments to his school district protocols and schedule additional training for his staff.
The next day, 17 people were murdered in the hallways of Stoneman Douglas high school in an attack Fry said was “eerily” similar to that described by the Carlisle Police Department detective one day earlier.
This is what the ever-changing landscape of preparing for the unthinkable looks like.
Every mass shooting, whether at a school, concert or church, brings a new understanding about how a potential shooter may choose to operate. That in turn forces school districts to review their safety plans, said Dr. Frederick Withum, superintendent of Cumberland Valley School District.
That task becomes more difficult in a school system that now features students who have only known a school setting in the post-Columbine era of school safety reforms.
PARKLAND, Fla. — A former student opened fire at a Florida high school Wednesday, killing at least 17 people and sending scores of students fleeing into the streets in the nation’s deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
Fry said the perpetrators of the two most recent mass shootings were familiar with the schools.
Adam Lanza attended Sandy Hook Elementary long before he killed 20 children and six adults in December 2012. Cruz was a student at Parkland as recently as last year before he was expelled for disciplinary reasons.
“Here’s a kid who came up trained in the kind of safety procedures that, nationally, have been best practice. I think that they really, then, require a new look at what do we consider best practice in light of this newest situation,” Withum said.
Standard drills for fire and weather emergencies were the norm prior to Columbine. Since then, active-assailant drills are more routine at schools with a focus on creating situational awareness.
Traditional drills have a prescribed sequence that many remember long past their school years that involve orderly exits and predesignated meeting places for each classroom. Drills involving situational awareness, by contrast, try to create a “unique occurrence,” Fry said.
For example, an exit may be blocked during a fire drill, making the teacher think about alternative ways to get out of the building.
A violent attack at a school also requires a different response than would, for instance, a bus crash that happens quickly and prompts a predictable response determined by accepted protocols.
Michael Bupp, The Sentinel
Big Spring School District Superintendent Richard Fry
“The outlier is the assailant. That is truly a situation you have to react to based on the circumstances of the incident, and that’s the whole situational awareness,” Fry said.
To be confident of his students’ safety, Fry said he needs to have a sense that in that situation, the teachers in his district will know how to react.
Run, hide, fight — the most commonly cited response to an active shooter — is not a progression, Fry said. The teacher has to choose which one to do under the circumstances. They have to know what the next steps are for each situation. Where do you go if you have to hide? What do you have in the room to use as a weapon if you have to fight? Where can you hide if that’s your best option?
“None of us can ever know for sure until you are in that situation, but we want to make sure that we’ve had the appropriate amount of training for our staff that I’m confident in how they react,” he said.
Cumberland Valley School District has an overarching plan for its district, as well as individual plans for each of its buildings, which vary in size and location. School policy requires teachers to develop and review a personal safety plan on a cyclical basis, Withum said. The process requires them to destroy old tags, inventory old keys and determine the lines of sight in their classrooms so they know which areas are not visible from the hallways.
District and building-level plans contain precise detail, including contact information, tactical and communications points for each campus and the role of each staff member, including those who may be assigned to go to hospitals to support parents after an incident.
Withum said district officials want a police officer to be able to plug a thumb drive into their computer laptop and have the contact information for everyone they need, right down to the cellphone number of the head custodian who can provide vital information about the building itself.
Cumberland Valley has engaged MG Tactical, a local company that is gaining a national reputation in the field of school safety to evaluate all of its schools and their associated safety plans.
“The thing that we really value with them is that it’s a third party. We’ve done a really good job with our local law enforcement and our first responders, but it’s always good to have your work checked, checked and double checked,” Withum said.
The Cumberland Valley School District will hire a school safety management firm to help evaluate safety plans for district buildings.
Role of school boards
“Most members aren’t experts on the needs of their schools as it relates to safety, so we rely on consultants, law enforcement, administrators and staff to provide necessary input,” said Michael Gossert, president of the Cumberland Valley school board.
The school board’s role is to evaluate the information provided by the experts and figure out how to implement the recommendation within already-stressed budgets, Gossert said.
Following an incident like Parkland, the school board first examines what it communicates to the students, the teachers and the community before moving on to look at what the information revealed in the aftermath of the incident means for the district, said Paula Bussard, president of the school board for Carlisle Area School District.
The board will look at what the experts say and what they need to do for their students. It is the role of the school board, as a governing body, to set the priorities through its strategic plan, the policies it approves and the budget it enacts.
“Student and teacher safety is a priority, so it filters through all of those aspects that we as a body are accountable for,” she said.
Once those priorities are set, it’s up to the administration to implement them, which it does through proposals, budgets and goal-setting.
“From the board, we want to know that that’s occurring and what they are learning and what that means for facility planning, staff planning and budget planning,” Bussard said.
Bussard said planning is a continuous process involving building principals and faculty as well as interaction beyond the district with agencies such as the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which recently held a webinar examining school safety for its members.
“Student and teacher safety are a top priority. You can’t learn when you don’t feel safe,” Bussard said.
Safety and secrecy
From the principals to district administration to school board members, area school district officials face a challenge to communicate a sense of order and a sense of security without communicating the school’s plan.
Withum said Cumberland Valley officials wrestled with how much information to tell parents, some of whom were critical that the district did not communicate more openly while dealing with threats in the weeks following the Parkland shooting.
“When you do something, you have a group that’s comforted, but you also have a group that you create additional anxiety. Then, you have a group that maybe wasn’t even worried, who now is questioning,” Withum said.
A number of parents approached the school board with questions Withum said he was reluctant to discuss during an open meeting. The parents were invited to meet with him in a different setting to discuss safety plans in a broad sense.
In light of recent accelerating concerns about school safety, the Cumberland Valley School District is conducting an extensive review of its existing emergency preparedness plans, Superintendent Frederick Withum III announced at a school board meeting Monday night.
In the future, Withum said a parent representing each building in the district may be asked to join a panel that will meet with the administration annually or semiannually to review the safety plan in general terms and to discuss concerns.
Some in that group will be included in the district’s annual meeting with law enforcement and first responders as is required by district policy to be held by Oct. 1 each year.
Meetings like these can calm some fears and answer some questions, but there will always be some part of a school district’s plan that remains confidential.
“At some point, we have to trust the people we’ve entrusted to do these things,” Raubenstine said. “There are some really smart folks out there that are trying to make sure that things are being done right.”
They did exactly what they were trained to do, and they got to stand outside and listen to kids being killed inside. And that crushed them. Chief Christopher Raubenstine, Silver Spring Township Police Department
This week The Sentinel takes a look at school safety:
Planning for disaster
Emergency services plan rapid response
Recovering after school violence
Secure Schools: Cumberland County's EOC plans for crucial role in school incidents
/ Tammie Gitt
Michael Bupp, The Sentinel
Cumberland County dispatch center's emergency operations
room, which is used during a major disaster.
Investigators combing through evidence, witness accounts, 911 transcripts and the rest of the mountain of material associated with the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, will eventually release a report that details what happened.
When that report is released, emergency personnel can look at what worked and what didn’t. They can also begin to incorporate improvements that Parkland officials have already deemed necessary, said Cumberland County’s Emergency Operations Manager Michele Parsons.
For the county’s Emergency Management Operations Division, preparing for a potential active assailant situation takes place with using the same computer programs that it would use during their everyday work.
Parsons is careful to use the phrase “active assailant” when she talks about the Emergency Operations Center’s role in preparing for and responding to school emergencies.
“It’s not always a gun that’s hurting and killing people,” she said.
The gun, though, offers a layer of psychological removal for the perpetrator, who doesn’t have to get as close to his victims. He can be a couple of hundred yards away with a rifle or 20 yards away with a handgun.
“I don’t have to look you in the eye to give you harm. I don’t have to deal with the mental acceptance of what I’m doing,” Parsons said.
Center personnel also do a lot of what Parsons called “tabletop training” through FEMA in which they are presented with a scenario. These exercises are conducted alongside other agencies, including some that have dealt with active assailant situations, so that the lessons learned in one location can be transferred to another.
In the exercise, they look at what they’ve done to plan, and then they walk through the steps of their active shooter plan, if that’s the given scenario. They think about things like where specific apparatus should park when they arrive on the scene, where the ambulances should be located and similar details.
All the while cameras in the EOC are capturing their work so FEMA and the staff can evaluate it to make changes to improve their response.
Because of the lessons learned at the global level, Parsons said they have learned that the best approach to an active assailant situation at a school is to send a pre-determined list of apparatus to the scene and give the officer in charge at the scene the responsibility of placing them where they can best be used.
“It’s easier to turn them around than to need them and not have enough there,” Parsons said.
Emergency officials and administrators acknowledge there is considerable crossover from other incidents that help to inform their planning for potential active assailant situations.
After that incident, Parsons said the personnel at the EOC came back and worked with the district and the first responders to see what was effective during the response and what wasn’t and to decide what needed to be changed.
For example, outside agencies involved in the response to an incident initially would go to the EOC, then go to the scene for a press briefing. The better alternative is do the press briefing at the EOC where the county has the facility, the parking and the internet capacity to offer press briefings without bringing more people to the scene of the incident.
This was an incident totally unrelated to a school assailant that allowed EOC personnel to work through their protocol, and helped them to develop their procedures for hosting web-based press briefings, Parsons said.
Officials had to ensure they had complete accuracy as to how many occupants of the bus were transported to area hospitals, which they could do by coordinating the school’s bus roster with the computer program that tracks the location of a patient through the medical system.
Parsons said through those checks, they realized that someone was listed on the roster who was not accounted for at the scene. Knowing the driver had been ejected, there was a fear that another person had been ejected as well. As crews checked the scene, calls were made back to the school. Officials discovered that a student had been sick that morning and did not make the trip. The last-minute change had not been noted on the roster.
Training and real-life experience have prepared the EOC to meet the challenge of an incident in an area school district, but there is always one factor for which they cannot plan: the human response from the assailant, those being targeted in the attack or desperate parents trying to reach their children.
“I have confidence that it’s going to work well. I can’t guarantee a damn thing. Because the human element that gets involved can throw it all out of whack,” she said.
Carlisle School Board to consider revisions to terroristic threats policy
Pictured is the entrance to Carlisle High School.
Joking or serious, on-campus or off-campus, any threat made against the Carlisle Area School District or its students will be treated the same under proposed policy revisions.
The school board policy and personnel committee Thursday reviewed changes to Policy 218.2 governing the district response to terroristic threats. The proposed revisions will come up for a vote before the entire board at its May 17 meeting.
The current policy defines “terroristic threats” as a threat communicated either directly or indirectly to commit any crime of violence with the intent to terrorize another.
“The major difference is removing the words ‘with the intent,’” committee chairman Bruce Clash said. “Whether or not you were joking is not relevant anymore in this environment. You make a threat, you make a threat and it causes a tremendous response. As we know from the administration and local law enforcement, there is no room or time to ascertain the intent of a threat. It has to be taken seriously.”
The revisions add two new paragraphs to the policy. One paragraph expands the policy to include all forms of on-campus or off-campus communications, “including but not limited to, social media content or messages posted using private devices after school hours.”
The other new paragraph reserves the right of the district to seek repayment or restitution from the student or his or her parents or guardians for any direct or indirect costs that resulted from the student violating the policy.
“It doesn’t mean that we have to pursue it, but we are stating that we reserve that right,” Clash said. “It gives us more flexibility.”
The policy review and revision was not triggered by a threat incident, Assistant Superintendent Colleen Friend said. “It’s just the solicitor keeping the district up to speed.”
The words “with the intent” are not in the Crimes Code so, by removing it, Carlisle School District is bringing itself into compliance, Friend said.
As for the new clause extending the violation to social media and private devices, that’s part of the cultural climate right now, she said.
A threat posted on social media can be shared so rapidly that it may result in mass inquiries from parents on how to respond to the threat, Friend said.
At what point does crying 'lynching' trivialize the word?
Jesse J. Holland
Frank Franklin II, Associated Press
R. Kelly says boycotting his music because of the sexual
misconduct allegations against him amounts to a "public
WASHINGTON — R. Kelly says boycotting his music because of the sexual abuse allegations against him amounts to a “public lynching.” Bill Cosby’s people say his conviction was a lynching, too. Kanye West, in trying to defend his inflammatory comments about slavery, has been tweeting lynching imagery to assure fans he won’t be silenced.
The tactical use of lynching references over the past few days by celebrities under fire is generating disgust among historians and others who have studied the ghastly killings and mutilation of thousands of black people in the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries.
“Demeaning” and “reprehensible” were some of the terms used by those observing the use of lynching metaphors, which seems to be happening more often and crossing racial lines.
“It detracts and it takes away from the historical significance of what happened, because there are no comparisons to the way it’s being used today and the reality of lynch mobs,” said E.M. Beck, a retired University of Georgia professor and co-author of “A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings 1882-1930.” ‘’I think it is demeaning to the people who were lynched, and I think in some ways it might be considered to be demeaning by the descendants of those people.”
Kelly has been accused of sexually mistreating women and faces demands that he be investigated and shunned. The R&B star’s camp responded: “We will vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture.”
In a statement early Friday, the singer said the women in his life are “consenting adults” and that he is not the subject of any criminal investigations by police.
“These accusations being perpetuated by the media is an attempt to distort my character and to destroy my legacy that I have worked so hard to build,” Kelly said. “These allegations have created a character of me that is not the truth of who I am nor what I am about.”
After Cosby’s sexual-assault conviction last week, Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt told ABC, “This became a public lynching.”
On Thursday, Cosby’s wife, Camille, complained that the multitude of accusations against her comedian husband “evolved into lynch mobs.” She also likened her husband to perhaps the most famous lynching victim of them all, Emmett Till, the black teenager who was killed in Mississippi in 1955 for supposedly whistling at a white woman.
West touched off a furor by suggesting slavery was a “choice” for black people, then defended himself on Twitter by saying: “They cut out our tongues so we couldn’t communicate to each other. I will not allow my tongue to be cut. They hung the most powerful in order to force fear into the others.”
Hollywood director Ava DuVernay called out Kelly and West for attempting to use lynching imagery to shield themselves and posted descriptions of actual lynchings from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a monument to lynching victims that opened last month in Montgomery, Alabama.
“I’ve had it with @KanyeWest + @RKelly using the imagery of lynching as rebuttals re: their dastardly behavior,” wrote the director of “Selma.” ‘’Evoking racial terrorism and murder for personal gain/blame is stratospheric in its audacity and ignorance. This is what lynching looked like. How dare they?”
It is not a new phenomenon. In 1991, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas famously declared he was the victim of a “high-tech lynching” when he was accused during his Senate confirmation hearings of sexually harassing colleague Anita Hill.
The idea has been recycled repeatedly since then. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter branded the sexual harassment allegations against GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain a “public lynching,” and a friend of O.J. Simpson said the same thing of the former football star’s conviction in a 2007 Las Vegas hotel room heist.
Historians and others have likewise objected to what they see as glib, trivializing comparisons of people and things to Nazis, Hitler and the Holocaust. In what has been dubbed Godwin’s law, author Mike Godwin asserted in 1990 that if an online discussion on any topic goes on long enough, someone sooner or later will make a Hitler reference.
Herman Beavers, a professor of English and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said celebrities and politicians often use “lynching” to mean they have been summarily convicted in the court of public opinion. With all of the deaths behind the word, he said, people should be more careful when they invoke it.
“What makes using the term ‘lynching’ problematic in these instances is that they diminish the real consequences in black communities terrorized by anti-black violence,” said Beavers, who will be teaching a class about lynchings and rhetoric this summer.
More than 4,000 black people in the U.S. were lynched — that is, killed out of racial hatred, usually by a mob — between 1877 and 1950, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. Beavers said lynchings often involved hanging, burning, castration or a combination of such torments, and that white crowds sometimes took body parts from the victims as souvenirs.
“Hence, when Thomas or West use ‘lynching’ to describe the response to their behavior, they are using the term tactically, which, by my lights, is reprehensible,” he said.
Jesse J. Holland covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. Contact him at email@example.com, on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jessejholland or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jessejholland. You can read his stories at AP at http://bit.ly/storiesbyjessejholland