About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.

Preventing Grooming, Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct in Schools

School Planning and Management Magazine published a feature article on preventing sexual misconduct in schools in June 2016.  The article – Preventing Grooming, Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct in Schools is focused on concepts that school officials can use to reduce the chances that these tragic situations will occur.  I regularly assist school officials in preventing these incidents and have provided expert witness services for cases involving sexual misconduct.  While it is not possible to completely eliminate these traumatic incidents from K12 schools, there are many valuable concepts that can dramatically reduce the risks that they will occur.

While the field of K12 education has made tremendous progress in this area, we still often see opportunities for improvement in the way schools are designed and operated.  This article focuses on design concepts, security technologies, and increased awareness that can help prevent these types of incidents.  While other extremely important preventive measures to reduce the chances that sexual violence will occur in the school setting, renovation, and new school construction projects are an excellent opportunity to protect staff and students from sexual violence on campus.

The article can be accessed on the School Planning and Management website at:  https://webspm.com/Articles/2017/06/01/Sexual-Assault.aspx

 

School Shootings, No Simple Answers

Mass casualty school shootings are neither a new phenomenon nor a type of violence unique to American schools.  Though American school shootings predate the Civil war, the first mass casualty school shooting in an American K12 school we have identified took place in a Newburgh, New York Parochial School on April 19, 1891.  A 70-year-old man shot five students with a shotgun in this attack.  Just more than a decade later, an elementary teacher shot and killed three trustees of a Mennonite School in Canada before going across the street and shooting their three children to death.  Tragically, mass casualty school shootings have also occurred in Argentina, Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, India, Israel, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, and Scotland, just to name a few countries.  School and police officials have expressed concerns about school shootings in every one of the more than two dozen countries our analysts have worked in.

To dispel another common myth, attackers have used firearms, edged weapons, gasoline, swords, clubs, hatchets, explosives, a homemade flamethrower, and other weapons to carry out mass casualty school attacks in the United States and many other countries as far back as 1764.   In fact, there is no region of the world that has been left touched by the types of extreme violence in K12 schools.

While many pundits, special interest groups, vendors, elected officials and individuals with the very best of intention suggest an array of simple solutions, there are actually no examples of any singular approach that has been proven to eliminate mass casualty violence in schools.   While it is a healthy and natural part of our culture to discuss and debate potential strategies to further reduce the number of homicides in our schools, it is extremely important that schools do not overlook the measures that have been repeatedly used to successfully avert planned school shootings while seeking new protection measures.  While schools consider an array of new theoretical but as yet not validated approaches, it is imperative that student threat assessment and management, suicide prevention and other proven behavioral prevention measures be more widely utilized.   While there are no simple answers nor 100% effective approaches to prevent school shootings, there are approaches that have been used to successfully avert hundreds of planned and imminent school shootings.

While every school homicide is one too many, we cannot lose sight of the fact that multiple planned school shootings are successfully averted for every successfully carried out attack.  While we continually hear about the “good old days” when mass casualty school attacks were not a concern, history provides many examples of horrific attacks from colonial times to the present.   The 24/7 news cycle and the development of the internet make us painfully and almost instantly aware of horrific attacks that in the past did not receive national attention.  Keeping in mind that there are more K12 students in U.S. K12 schools each day than there are human beings in Canada and Australia combined can also provide a more accurate perspective.   As with child molestation by school employees and staggering numbers of fatalities from drunk driving prior to the efforts of Mothers Against Drunk Driving to educate us, we are far more aware of homicides in K12 schools than we were when a school board member carried out a deadly bombing of the Bath School in Michigan killing 43 students and staff in 1927.  It is also important to remember that our nation’s most lethal K12 attack occurred at the Our Lady of Angels Sacred Hearts school in Chicago in 1958 when a troubled elementary child killed 95 students and staff with a book of matches.

While we seek new ways to make our schools safer, it is at serious risk to our students and those who educate them for us to invest considerable time, energy and fiscal resources on theoretical measures while ignoring proven measures that have repeatedly prevented deadly school shootings and bombings over the past three decades.

Fatal Shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida

Today’s tragic news of a fatal shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County Public Schools in Parkland, Florida hit home. Some years back, I served as an expert witness for another fatal shooting in this same school district.  Like many other school districts of its size, Broward County Public Schools serves a number of communities with significant violent crime issues.

While it is far too soon to accurately know what transpired in this attack, it is a good time for school officials to review their prevention, preparedness, response and recovery procedures.  We urge our clients to focus on those concepts that have proven to be effective over the years.  While no school violence prevention or preparedness measures are 100% effective or foolproof, there are numerous approaches that have helped to avert multiple planned school attacks.

Effective prevention measures for school shootings involves a comprehensive approach.  There are many different factors that can lead to a school shooting.  Reliance on just a few prevention strategies can quickly prove to be ineffective.  While it is always difficult to say what could have prevented an incident like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, here are a few comprehensive measures:

  • Measures to reduce the number of fights. Fights are one of the most common precursors to fatal school violence. In general, the more fights and other triggering factors a school has, the more likely they are to have a weapons incident.
  • Multi-disciplinary threat assessment and management approaches. This is one of the most effective measures to prevent planned school shootings, bombings and mass casualty knife attacks.
  • Training to support threat assessment. Behavioral training can help staff spot at-risk youth and potentially dangerous individuals. These students can be given extra attention and referred to a threat assessment team as appropriate.
  • Suicide prevention strategies. Suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and other behaviors that demonstrate an increased risk for suicide are always a concern. In particular, these traits have been a factor in a number of planned school shooting incidents.  Suicide prevention training for students and staff is critical. Effective suicide risk screening measures can also be an effective prevention tool.
  • Police or armed security personnel. Armed security and police personnel who have been properly screened, trained and deployed have averted or mitigated a number of planned school weapons assaults.
  • Weapons Search Dogs. Firearms detection K9s can detect firearms in student vehicles, lockers, public areas. There are now canines that can be used to detect firearms in large crowds.
  • Thoughtful and effective student supervision. Proper student supervision can not only help to reduce the types of interpersonal conflict that precede most school shootings but can reduce casualties if an attack occurs.  This is because properly supervised students can be sheltered more rapidly.
  • Effective access control. Securing unsupervised exterior entrances and reducing the number of unlocked doors can be an effective layer of prevention for outside threats. This can even be a mitigating factor for a student attacker who attempts to enter the school surreptitiously.  A building design where visitors are routed through a single point of entry where they can be visually and verbally screened by school staff. Florida has had legislation setting Safe School Design Guidelines since the 1990s.
  • Random surprise metal detection and for some situations, entry point metal detection. Though not appropriate for all situations, these approaches have been effective for a number of school districts.

While these are only a few examples of proven prevention measures, I have found them to be among the more effective approaches in use by many school systems.  While there are no guarantees, there are distinct probabilities and possibilities to reduce the risks of violence on our school campuses. Finally, I would like to remind you that schools are still safe places. You are less likely to be a victim of violence on a school campus than anywhere else. And even though school buses are the safest form of transportation there is, students are more likely to die of a transportation related cause at school than a shooting. The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School should serve as a reminder and a stark warning to update our plans but we must also remember to keep our focus.

Violence is not a leading cause of death in schools.

Violence is not a leading cause of death in schools.