This school year, amid the lunch boxes and pencils and notebooks, a new school-related item is entering the scene: bulletproof backpacks. Yes, you read that right—and if you've already seen them, then you've likely already contemplated the gravity and absurdity of this being an item marketed to parents and kids. This, indeed, is where our society is at this point in time.
Backpacks, not universal background checks, remain something tangible that parents can turn to when trying to protect their kids from what remains a very real threat to every student who enters a school in the United States in 2019. Go ahead and breathe that great big sigh.
If the topic of school shootings has you worried about the dawn of yet another school year—if it has you feeling hopeless about your ability to change things—you're not alone. This is a topic of great frustration and fear. Supporting a move toward universal background checks—and even mandates on locking up guns in a home—are things we support—but those are larger, societal issues in which each of us individuals can only play a small part.
Yet research from the Secret Service shows there's yet another thing individuals can do that may also help.
This summer, several staff members from Bend-La Pine Schools attended a training focused on school safety, which included a review of a report from the U.S. Secret Service's National Threat Assessment Center. The report included results of research into school violence, stating: "in a majority of incidents (81%), another person was aware of what the student was thinking or planning."
With that in mind, it should be clear to everyone that empowering people to report what they're hearing to the appropriate channels is vital.
Bend-La Pine Schools has, over the past several years, made great strides in focusing on prevention and reporting. The district has carried out drills that address active threats for many years. It has implemented secure entryways at all schools. It has placed a focus on preventing school violence through its participation in the Student Threat Assessment System—a partnership with many local agencies, including Bend Police—which aims to identify individuals who may be struggling emotionally, mentally or otherwise, and to offer support to those people before they experience a full-blown crisis. These are positive steps on the part of our local agencies.
But now, at the start of the school year, is an ideal time for each of us to do our own part toward that notion of prevention, by speaking to the kids—and adults—in our lives about the notion of "see something, say something."
Keeping in mind the statistic that in 81% of cases, someone knew about an incident before it happened, local agencies want to make reporting a concerning incident or potential threat as anonymous and simple as possible. To that end, BLPS has added a graphic on the back of all school ID cards this year, offering a host of text, chat and phone resources for students who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, as well as resources for students to share any information they might have about pending threats. Secondary students' school iPads also have access to FirstStep, the suite of "Tip and Talk" resources aimed at fostering strong communication.
Too often, students believe that "tattling" on a fellow student is a breach of trust, that it's "none of their business," or that someone isn't serious about the threats they're making.
As a new school year dawns, it's important for adults to aim to flip that thinking, and to help students understand that, while they are not to be blamed for school violence, they, too, can take part in preventing it. If you see something, say something. In a society where we are seeing bulletproof backpacks in the back-to-school aisles—and one in which true reform remains elusive—this is one big thing we can do.