From the President: Fatal School Violence Task Force

May 3, 2018 Staff Writer

On April 22, ACSA launched its Fatal School Violence Task Force, a group that organically and quickly emerged after the February Leadership Assembly and the shootings in Parkland, Fla. Our leaders and members were clear – we have to do something.

And as President Grover Cleveland once said, “What’s the use of being elected unless you stand for something?” My fellow ACSA state board members, along with Executive Director Wes Smith, knew we needed to do something – and not delay.

This task force is focusing on fatal violence on school campuses: shootings, stabbings, etc. The work of this team is to help prevent kids from being killed.

What the data tells us is that when a call goes in to 911, it can take up to 15 minutes for law enforcement to arrive, with an average of 3.5 minutes to arrive at the scene of an incident on a campus. For our rural schools and districts, we know that average is not their reality. The incidents on most campuses generally end way before law enforcement can get there.

That is where ACSA comes in.

This task force is focusing on a number of angles, with a goal of completing our work and sharing the resources in fall, including at conferences and meetings statewide. For large urban, small rural, and all districts in between, the task force will compile the most reliable resources, safety devices, communication plans and logistics for recommended drills. All the critical needs will be fully vetted for you.

Have you thought about what types of lockdown drills are effective? How frequently should they be practiced? How do you communicate those drills to the school community so you are not sharing key information that might be used by someone trying to do harm to students and staff? The key to our work will be to focus on how to build capacity within your system for any adult to make a decision.

What about facilities themselves? Let’s face it – there isn’t enough money to fence in every school, add cameras to every hallway and to replace all windows with bullet-proof glass. What locks work best on doors? Are window coverings needed? How many of us who have been in small districts or have been superintendent/principals know what the best approach is unless we hire one of the many consultants flooding us with the solutions to address our fears? I’ll be honest...I didn’t know where to start and I don’t think I’m alone. So, this task force is pulling together the best advice and resources on facility needs as well.

There are many questions to be addressed. When you have an incident of fatal school violence, what do you communicate? When? To whom? Are you in charge or is law enforcement? Have you considered that your phone lines will be inundated and you may not be able to get calls out? And when it turns out your safety plan personnel for communication are at a conference at the other end of the state, then what? Have you considered building in redundancy to your plan?

The events that are facing schools nationwide have varied details, and no matter how well you plan in your district, what happens will never go as planned. There is no “right way.” There are different ways and the key is practice, practice, practice. And practice differently.

As our ACSA colleague Superintendent Rick Fitzpatrick shared about their shooting on Nov. 14 at Rancho Tehama Elementary in Corning, “there is no normal - you will never be the same.” Even topics like how you fill in the holes from bullets, how you provide long-term counseling and support for staff and students, and how you deal with the impact of PTSD on a school community need to be considered when thinking how can you really design plans that work to save lives and assist after an incident of fatal school violence.

The most important part of this task force is that ACSA noticed a void in leadership. While other groups statewide looked for who would respond, it was a natural that ACSA would be the organization leading from the front to recruit a team of school leaders, partners and legislators to help us save lives.

Responding to acts of fatal school violence is about building muscle memory to act quickly without needing to think. Our actions and reactions need to be intuitive. Let ACSA help you train your schools and districts to hone that muscle memory.

We can save lives.

– Lisa Gonzales
ACSA President

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