Monday, December 18, 2017

Parents encouraged to talk to children about school threats

As my friends talked about our upcoming ten-year high school reunion, I heard radio hosts encouraging parents to talk to their children about what to do if they encounter an active-shooter in their school. The hosts expanded that conversation to include shootings at churches, in movie theaters, at concerts, during a road rage incident – scenarios that have become real life scenarios.

Times seem different than when I was in school not long ago. I don’t think my classmates and I felt that it could become a reality in our school district because we live in a safe area. But I’m sure that’s how other students and parents felt before gunfire interrupted a peaceful school day that forever changed the students and the history of the school.

I recall three bomb scares during my years of education including one during my freshman year at West Chester University. I don’t even recall being evacuated during the first bomb scare when I was in middle school and bomb sniffing canines checked the school after a handwritten letter was found claiming a bomb was in the school. The second time occurred in high school and K-9 units searched the building before the school day began. We all had to enter through the gym where metal detectors were set-up with police officers overseeing it. The search was so thorough they even searched my brown paper bag lunch.

Since then, police have conducted more active shooter drills and school districts implemented additional policies on how to respond to such emergencies. According to figures from the US Department of Justice and the Council on Foreign Affairs, 11,385 people died on average annually in firearm incidents in the U.S. between 2001 to 2011.

I received a news tip that a Downingtown middle school was evacuated because of some type of threat, which followed bomb scares at two nearby West Chester schools the week prior. As I made calls to the school district and police, I found out that a third party reported to police that a student had sent “potentially threatening” text messages. The principal asked parents to use this incident as an “opportunity to speak to your child about how you would hope they would respond if ever they became aware of a threat made by another student.”

This threat occurred on the fifth-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut where a 20-year-old gunman killed 20 children and six educators before taking his own life. I remember snow fell on the crowd that gathered for a vigil in West Chester on the one-year anniversary of Sandy Hook. Several of those who gathered started talking about the news reports of a Colorado school shooting that day which injured one person. The snow was more like tears from Heaven as it reminded us that the families of the victims had funeral plans instead of continuing to live in the spirit of the upcoming holidays.

Photo by Daily News - A school bus stops near the angels posted for the 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2013. 

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