Do we have good “people detectors” in our schools?

As with every multiple victim school shooting in recent years, media coverage of Monday’s school shooting in Chardon, Ohio has been at times heavily focused on what warning signs might have been ignored or missed prior to the shooting. I caution people to be careful as they evaluate information on these situations from the media as we have already seen many instances of inaccurate information in this case as we have with past targeted acts of school violence.

In his excellent book Columbine author Dave Cullen’s extensive research into the actual occurrences clearly counters the many myths that arose out of that tragedy. His book refutes the still common claim that bullying played a major role in the event, that the shooters were “loners” and that the infamous “trenchcoat mafia” never existed. At the same time, each of these events does and should make us ask the probing questions relating to actions, words, social network communications, behaviors and other observable indicators that have often when detected, helped to avert tragedy.

The near miss at East High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin is a case in point. Alertness, connectivity between students and staff and superb collaboration between school and law enforcement officials prevented a great tragedy at that well run school where people are connected to other people to a high degree. To paraphrase how one United States Department of Education official put it – we need people detectors in our schools.

Working in a school district where we stopped multiple planned school shootings, one planned school bombing and a planned double suicide deeply ingrained the importance of school employees being structurally as well as personally connected to the students they have chosen to serve. Fortunately, school officials today have considerably better information than their counterparts did when the per capita school homicide rate was much higher in the 1970 to 1980 time period. This most recent tragedy serves as yet another reminder that terrible acts of school violence can occur in great schools in nice communities.

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.