US Secret Service Report on School Shootings

Columbine High School. Sandy Hook Elementary. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The names are etched in our memories for reasons that no school wants to be remembered. Even as this post was being written, news broke of another school shooting in Santa Clarita, California. A new report by the US Secret Service has studied these and other school shootings, providing an unprecedented base of facts about school shootings and guidelines for preventing them.

The new report strengthens the conclusions of a 2002 Secret Service report—that there is no consistent “profile” of school shooters and that threat assessment and intervention are key to preventing shootings. The one consistent thread through all of the school shootings studied in the report is that every single shooter experienced extreme stress in their relationships with classmates within six months of their attack, and half had stressors in the two days before their attack.

Here are some key conclusions of the report:

  • There is no profile of school shooters or the type of school where the shooting occurred.
  • There are usually multiple motives for a shooting, the most common being grievances with classmates and school staff and issues with romantic partners.
  • Most attackers used firearms, and those firearms were most often acquired in their own home.
  • Nearly every attacker experienced negative home life factors (e.g., divorced or separated parents, drug use or criminal charges among family members, or domestic abuse). The report specifically notes that these are not predictors of school violence.
  • Most attackers were victims of bullying, and that bullying was often observed by others.
  • All attackers exhibited concerning behaviors, and most communicated their intent to attack. The report notes that in many cases, someone observed a threatening communication or behavior but did not act, either out of fear, not believing the attacker, misjudging the immediacy or location, or believing they had dissuaded the attacker.

What Parents and PTAs Can Do

The report notes that preventing school violence is the responsibility of everyone—federal, state, and local governments; school boards, administrators, and teachers; law enforcement; and families and the public. Here are some things that families and PTAs can do help prevent school violence.

  • Host a PTA Connect for Respect program to help your school develop effective ways to prevent bullying and to create a positive school environment.
  • If you have firearms in your home, ensure that they are kept secure in a manner so that your child cannot access them. This is also a critical factor in preventing youth suicides.
  • Talk with your child about the importance of sharing their concerns with a teacher, parents, or school counselor about another student who may be experiencing difficulties or being bullied, who has shown an interest in violent topics, or who has mentioned suicide or violence.

CDC Offers Free Online Concussion Course

Concussions are a serious concern for children’s growing brains, and the risk is not just from playing football or soccer. Illinois PTA has published information on what parents need to know about concussions in the past. A new free online course from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is designed to help parents, coaches, and teachers be prepared to keep kids safe, healthy, and active.

HEADS UP to Youth Sports helps participants learn to:

  • Understand a concussion and the potential consequences of this injury
  • Recognize concussion signs and symptoms and how to respond
  • Learn about steps for returning to activity (play and school) after a concussion
  • Focus on prevention and preparedness to help keep athletes safe season-to-season

Once you complete the online course and quiz, you can print out a certificate, making it easy to show your school or league that you are ready to create a safe environment for kids and ensuring that they don’t return to play too soon.

Teaching Your Kids Safe Online

Our children are often referred to as digital natives—people growing up immersed in a digital world. And while they may be comfortable with technology and online activities, they are not born knowing how to be safe in that digital world. Just like our parents taught us how to be safe running around unsupervised in our neighborhoods growing up, we now need to teach our children those skills for the digital world. We may not be digital natives and may not necessarily know all the ins and outs of online safety, but there are many resources available to help us teach our kids to be safe online.

PTA Resources

The Smart Talk: Created as a collaboration between National PTA and LifeLock, this online tool walks you and your child through a conversation about online safety and boundaries. As you go through the discussion covering topics such as screen time, social media, and privacy, you and your child develop an agreement that you can print out at the end detailing how they will behave online. National PTA also provides resources to host a Smart Talk Conversation between parents and students at your school.

Be Internet Awesome: Developed by National PTA and Google, the Be Internet Awesome program is a ready-made presentation for families about online safety and digital citizenship. The toolkit from National PTA provides you with everything you need to host the program, including promotional materials, guides, handouts, evaluation forms, and more.

Digital Families: This program was created by National PTA and Facebook. Using the toolkit, your PTA can promote and host an event that helps families understand the online world their children are growing up in. Topics including bullying, how to respond to online interactions, and online safety are covered.

Other Resources

Net Cetera: This guide from the Federal Trade Commission guides parents through age-appropriate conversations about online safety, including inappropriate conduct, contact, and content. The guide highlights the key topics you’ll want to discuss with your kids as well as how to keep your computer secure and to protect your child’s privacy.

NetSmartz: NetSmartz is operated by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. They have videos for kids and teens on topics such as cyberbullying, online exploitation, and sexting. Resources for parents include tip sheets on gaming safety, cyberbullying, social media safety, and more. The site includes resources and videos developed specifically for teens and tweens.

ConnectSafely: A non-profit focused on educating everyone from kids to seniors about safety, privacy, and security online. They feature a collection of guides for parentson topics such as cyberbullying, educational technology, Snapchat, and more. They also have a collection of online safety tipsin English and Spanish.

 

Preparing for and Surviving a Tornado

This spring has seen a significant number of tornadoes across Illinois and the country. Today’s guest post comes from Ready.gov on how to prepare for, survive, and recover from a tornado.

Tornadoes can destroy buildings, flip cars, and create deadly flying debris. Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground. Tornadoes can:

  • Happen anytime and anywhere;
  • Bring intense winds, over 200 MPH; and
  • Look like funnels.

IF YOU ARE UNDER A TORNADO WARNING, FIND SAFE SHELTER RIGHT AWAY

  • If you can safely get to a sturdy building, then do so immediately.
  • Go to a safe room, basement, or storm cellar.
  • If you are in a building with no basement, then get to a small interior room on the lowest level.
  • Stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls.
  • Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You’re safer in a low, flat location.
  • Watch out for flying debris that can cause injury or death.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

HOW TO STAY SAFE WHEN A TORNADO THREATENS

Prepare NOW

  • Know your area’s tornado risk. In the U.S., the Midwest and the Southeast have a greater risk for tornadoes. [Note: Illinois averages 64 tornadoes per year.]
  • Know the signs of a tornado, including a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud; an approaching cloud of debris; or a loud roar—similar to a freight train.
  • Sign up for your community’s warning system. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts. If your community has sirens, then become familiar with the warning tone.
  • Pay attention to weather reports. Meteorologists can predict when conditions might be right for a tornado.
  • Identify and practice going to a safe shelter in the event of high winds, such as a safe room built using FEMA criteria or a storm shelter built to ICC 500 standards. The next best protection is a small, interior, windowless room on the lowest level of a sturdy building.
  • Consider constructing your own safe room that meets FEMA or ICC 500 standards.

Survive DURING

  • Immediately go to a safe location that you identified.
  • Take additional cover by shielding your head and neck with your arms and putting materials such as furniture and blankets around you.
  • Listen to EAS, NOAA Weather Radio, or local alerting systems for current emergency information and instructions.
  • Do not try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle.
  • If you are in a car or outdoors and cannot get to a building, cover your head and neck with your arms and cover your body with a coat or blanket, if possible.

Be Safe AFTER

  • Keep listening to EAS, NOAA Weather Radio, and local authorities for updated information.
  • If you are trapped, cover your mouth with a cloth or mask to avoid breathing dust. Try to send a text, bang on a pipe or wall, or use a whistle instead of shouting.
  • Stay clear of fallen power lines or broken utility lines.
  • Do not enter damaged buildings until you are told that they are safe.
  • Save your phone calls for emergencies. Phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster. Use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends.
  • Be careful during clean-up. Wear thick-soled shoes, long pants, and work gloves.