Learning Lessons from School Safety Litigation

A few years back I wrote about viewing school safety through the lens of litigation. Between conference keynotes and working with school districts I am still buried up to my neck in case files for civil actions against school and public safety officials. I am always busy with expert witness work and school safety litigation is time consuming, but some cases have more complexity than others. This month’s collection of binders contains a series of complicated situations which demand close attention and painstaking examination.

While I decline the vast majority of cases I am contacted about, I do find that working some cases serves as a valuable learning experience. School safety incidents usually look quite different when you review 5 to 10 binders of documents along with security camera footage, audio from 911 calls and other evidence in contrast to viewing a 90 second blip on the news.

Though this month marks my 35th year in the field of campus safety, I must say that I still learn something new each year. I learn from respected colleagues, from reading books and articles, conducting school security assessments, and in general we learn a great deal from our clients. However, some of the most invaluable lessons I have learned have come from my work in school safety litigation. Spending 40, 50, 60 or more hours reviewing a case file and preparing a report that is more thoroughly cited page per page than the average master’s thesis is always challenging and informative.

Carefully reviewing depositions, policies, manuals, training program power points, legal documents, camera footage, and other forms of evidence affords quite a different view than most other forms of work that I do. These experiences shape the way I view documentation, verbiage in policies, procedures, training programs and virtually every aspect of school safety. When I deliver a conference presentation, conduct assessments, or prepare written reports for clients, I am constantly considering how the words, concepts and actions of my audience and clients would be perceived in the event of safety-related litigation.

Whether the case involves an active shooter incident, the rape of a student in their school, molestation of young children by school employees, death from sudden cardiac arrest or the death of a child crushed by a falling object in a classroom, each case offers valuable lessons on how the chances that serious injuries and deaths can be averted with effective safety practices.

This perspective also drives a more important thought process. If the strategies, documentation and training processes are well-designed from a liability reduction standpoint, they are usually also more reliable in preventing and preparing for school crisis events. While not always the case, most of the cases I work involve a tragic ending. Using what I lean as each tragedy is dissected page by page and frame by frame, does create the silver linings in such dark clouds. While no school safety measures are foolproof, there are many opportunities and possibilities to prevent tragic events in schools. Application of the lessons to be learned from each tragedy can help to prevent many more devastating school crisis events so that we can avoid school safety litigation altogether.

school safety litigation case files

This is the initial case file for a single-victim case resulting in school safety litigation.

SafeTopics School Safety Training Videos Now Available Online

The “Netflix of School Safety”: CampusSafetyHQ offers Online School Safety Training Videos and more

As you may have read in Campus Safety magazine, there is a great new resource available for school safety trainers and educators. Over the years, the magazine has been more than just a publication and has put on some of the leading professional conferences in the industry. They have now taken their contributor’s expertise to the next level with Campus Safety HQ – bringing streaming school safety training videos to your computer or mobile device. These include content from a variety of experts – including our school safety training video library.

Campus Safety HQ logo

Campus Safety HQ

Try The First 30 Seconds scenario training series – and more – for $1

For a limited time, CampusSafetyHQ is offering a free trial for only $1 – a great value. Since we first released The First 30 Seconds in 2012, we have had a number of schools that want to use our crisis scenarios but either cannot use DVDs or cannot get purchasing approval for the full DVD set. This is a great opportunity to try out the videos in streaming format. This means you don’t need to carry DVDs or other materials with you. All you have to do is log on to any computer to access the training videos and school crisis scenarios. Show them on your laptop for staff evaluation exercises, or project them onto the big screen for group discussions. All the great resources that are in the DVD set are now available online for monthly subscribers at Campus Safety HQ for a limited time at only $1 for the first month and $47 per month after that.

More Online School Safety Videos added regularly

CampusSafetyHQ.com has a growing library of streaming content, including a collection of action plans on topics ranging from bomb threats to mental health recovery. Our school crisis scenario series The First 30 Seconds is now available and eventually the entire SafeTopics series will be available. This is a great option for someone who is looking for a variety of training for themselves and the organization as a whole. Take some time for your own professional development and watch a conference presentation from industry experts like Dr. Randy Atlas or Security Director Guy Grace. Then take that knowledge and train your staff with our school crisis scenario series. There are plenty of options for all employees and all levels of preparedness at Campus Safety HQ.

Check out this video from Campus Safety about the new resource:

Navigate Prepared School Safety Seminars a Success

Navigate Prepare School Safety Seminar

We have had a busy couple of weeks presenting four high-impact scenario-based school safety seminars sponsored by Navigate Prepared. Last week, we presented at two seminars in Cincinnati and Chicago followed by seminars in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The seminars consisted of a dynamic three – hour interactive session using more than thirty audio and video school crisis scenarios. After a lunch provided by Navigate Prepared, each group was split into two groups with one group participating in a walk-through of the facility to discuss ways to enhance safety, security, school climate and emergency preparedness while the second group participated in an interactive discussion and demonstration of the Navigate Prepared system. After one hour, the two groups switched places and the process repeated. We had excellent feedback on this approach at a Navigate Prepared event in Ohio last year and the feedback was very positive for all four of this year’s seminars.

More Seminars to Come

We had excellent participation from school, law enforcement and fire service personnel with an impressive number of school superintendents making time to attend the events. I had the opportunity to see participants from previous projects and to make new acquaintances. I also had the opportunity to spend a good bit of time visiting with Navigate Prepared personnel riding with them between events. Due to the positive feedback, Navigate Prepared is planning a series of similar seminars for the fall and I am looking forward to these events.

Navigate Prepared School Crisis Scenarios

As we appreciate the opportunity to spread our messages of school safety to so many people through these seminars, the Safe Havens International team is scripting, recording and editing a dozen new school audio crisis scenarios for use by Navigate Prepared and their clients as a free value-added service. These should be finished in the next week or so and we are excited to see Navigate Prepared make them available to school and public safety officials. In 35 years working in the field, I have never seen a tool that is more effective in helping school officials train, practice and evaluate their plans, procedures and technology solutions as the scenarios we have been developing over the past decade.

I feel honored to be able to work with the Navigate Prepared team and the many impressive people I had the opportunity to meet in this four-city tour. I am looking forward to the next multi-state tour in the fall.

To stay informed about audio scenarios and upcoming fall Safety Summit locations visit: http://www.navigateprepared.com/safety-summits/

Free School Safety Conference Series, Presented by Navigate-Prepared

Great opportunity to attend a free school safety conference

Today I am honored to be able to keynote a free school safety conference being presented by NaviGate Prepared in Cincinnati, Ohio. What’s really exciting is that this is the first in a series of free school safety conferences in three states over the next two weeks.  I have had the privilege of presenting for them before and we are currently planning additional conferences for New York and Pennsylvania in September.  For each free school safety conference, I will present for three hours in the morning followed by interactive school safety building tours with participants. This is a great chance to learn hands-on with me and see a school through my perspective.

While we do not provide product endorsements or sell advertising space, we do appreciate NaviGate Prepared for their commitment to safer schools. This conference series is a great example, with a full day of solid content and concepts – not filler designed to focus on a particular product.

For more information on these events, please visit: http://www.navigateprepared.com/home-featured/school-safety-michael-dorn/

 

Free School Safety Conference information from the NaviGate Prepared website:

School safety is the focus as we team up with Michael Dorn, executive director, Safe Havens International to bring day-long Safety Summit Workshops to the following locations:

  • Princeton City Schools – Viking Village Auditorium, Cincinnati, OH – March 21 – Register here
  • Grayslake Community School District 127 – High School Auditorium, Grayslake, IL – March 22 – Register here
  • Allegheny Intermediate Unit 3 – Auditorium, Homestead, PA – March 27 – Register here
  • Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 – Auditorium, Easton, PA – March 28 – Register here

The Safety Summits are free to registered guests, including district administrators, building administrators, and first responders.

During the workshops, Michael will share actionable insights guests can implement immediately. Guests will participate in a relevant series of exercises and discover how tools like NaviGate Prepared can support school safety goals. The agenda includes a school safety audit where Michael will identify safety gaps, effective solutions and best practices throughout the building.

NaviGate Prepared is sponsoring the Safety Summit Workshops to give administrators and first responders access to critical safety information. According to Thom Jones, general manager, NaviGate Prepared, “I love seeing how audiences react during Michael’s presentations. He is a tremendously dynamic speaker. The depth of his knowledge and experience is unparalleled.” Jones states, “I am thrilled we are able to bring this level of school safety knowledge to so many administrators and first responders.”

“We are honored to be hosting the Safety Summit Workshop at Grayslake Central High School,” says Catherine Finger, Ed.D, superintendent, Grayslake Community High School District 127. She adds, “School safety is always a top priority for us so we appreciate this opportunity to learn new ways to mitigate risks, prepare our staff and students to respond appropriately in an emergency and implement proven safety methods throughout our buildings. We look forward to many Illinois school districts taking advantage of this important event and appreciate the generosity of NaviGate Prepared sponsoring this workshop and for bringing renowned safety expert, Michael Dorn.”

Would you know a sex offender if you saw one?

As if you didn’t already have enough things to worry about, take a look at this chilling video from the state of Indiana. This is a sex offender training overview featuring interviews with investigators and a former teacher who was convicted of child sex abuse. Warning: This video is graphic in content and goes into detail about how this predator disguised himself so that he could abuse children. While there is no detailed sexual content the video can be disturbing for sensitive viewers.

Would you know a school sex offender? The Answer is “probably not”.

What should be the most alarming piece is the number of missed instances that the sexual predator describes. Each time someone would become suspicious, he would evade detection by being a diligent worker and respected colleague.  At one point he states – “It felt like a lot of stuff was ignored. A lot of stuff was ignored.”

Chuck Cohen of the Indiana State Police adds that in many cases, those who reported abuse were not sure if they should. He reported comments like “I almost didn’t call you – but I thought I should” in cases of real abuse that was prosecuted. And of course, we know that sex offenders come in all ages and can be male or female.

Here are some tips for educators from the video:

  • Educators who try to do their own investigation, determine victims or scope of abuse can quickly result in destroyed evidence.
  • Talking to the alleged victim or other students to determine “what actually happened” before reporting the incident can violate privacy and destroy evidence.
  • Confronting the alleged offender yourself can hinder the investigation later.
  • Talking to the alleged victim in front of the offender or interviewing the offender in front of the victim should NEVER be done.
  • Do not wait until you have absolute certainty – that will probably be too late.

Remember – if you are reading this, you are probably a Mandatory Reporter because of your job or state law. This means you are required to IMMEDIATELY report any suspicion to law enforcement or your states child protective agency. While this is often loosely defined, realize that even a short delay can allow further victimization to take place and evidence to be destroyed.

“Legally, if you do not report something you are required to report, you are committing a crime.”

The video also describes how most law enforcement investigations of suspected child abuse are low-key and designed to avoid disrupting the school environment. The best way to protect the victim’s privacy and to avoid violating the privacy of alleged offenders is to immediately notify law enforcement and let them handle the investigation.

Indiana Department of Education: Sexual Predator Awareness video

Warning: This video contains graphic information and detailed descriptions of sexual predator assaults:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hxuISh6HIc

South Carolina Advanced Emergency Management Training for School Districts Train the Trainer Program

It has been a true privilege to be able to work with five really outstanding groups of participants in a train the trainer program for the South Carolina Department of Education this month. We feel honored to have been selected by a competitive bid process to develop and present the five modules for this initiative across the state of South Carolina. We have been impressed to see school superintendents, business officers, operations and facilities directors, risk managers, student services, mental health, security directors, and law enforcement officers dedicate two days of their time for these information rich discussions.

Safe Havens developed customized presentations for five topical areas for the program:

  • Permission to Live – Engaging and Empowering School Personnel to Perform Life-Saving Actions and Communications
  • The Window of Life – How to Empower Staff to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters
  • Getting Back Together – Off-Site Family Reunification for School Crisis Events
  • When the Dust Clears – How to Test the Effectiveness of a Continuity of Operations Plan
  • Road to Recovery – Putting Your Mental Health Recovery Plan to the Test

We researched and updated each of these topics and customized them to fit the needs of the South Carolina Department of Education and the school districts they serve. The Department has completed two prior projects to provide training for school staff and their community partners in school emergency planning. The – train the trainer programs were designed to help participants train personnel, conduct scenario-based building and district level drills and exercises to test the fidelity of their prevention, preparedness, response and recovery plans. The program was also designed to help districts improve their approaches to documentation of safety efforts to reduce civil liability exposure, risk of reputation damage and most importantly, to help prevent injury and loss of life.

The participants have each been provided with multimedia presentations for each of the five topics, planning and evaluation tools, and more than 30 school crisis video and audio scenarios. The focus of this program has been on providing tools to help the instructors not only provide high-quality scenario-based training, but also with ways to help obtain buy-in from school employees. This last point has been one of the biggest challenges school safety personnel face. The use of scenarios in each of the five modules are designed to help school officials and their community partners understand their risks, identify gaps and identify appropriate and realistic opportunities for improvement.

We are thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in a variety of statewide school safety initiatives in South Carolina, North Carolina, South Dakota, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. These programs afford excellent opportunities for Safe Havens to have a much broader and meaningful impact on school safety, and we feel truly blessed to work with state agencies on these exciting projects.