By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Thursday, August 23, 2018

When does a concern become a threat?

We have concerns about students who are at risk of serious emotional problems. They are students who may need more attention than others. In School Safety Manager, we are particularly concerned about students who may be at risk of violent behavior.

We may be concerned about a student who seems socially withdrawn. Or who has such poorly developed social skills that he is rejected by others. We may be concerned about another who plays a lot of violent video games. Or yet another may write an essay or do an art project that depicts violence. These things may cause concerns but they do not pose a threat. A threat is based on actions taken.

We are concerned about students who have been involved in violent or highly aggressive incidents. That might might include fights, bullying, intimidation or gang activity.

It may be surprising to some that that many of the students who become shooters are not the bullies or the intimidators. Students who become shooters are often kids who have been the target of bullying or intimidation. They strike back with disproportional violence.

Andy was a 15-year old student at Santana High School in 2001. He had been a frequent target of bullying. One might have been concerned about the toll that frequent bullying was taking on Andy. Providing support for students who were bullied was rare. Bullying was often thought of an unfortunate part of young life for some kids. 

Students that we become concerned about usually do not pose a threat. Also, noticing students that we have concerns about and that we offer support, can often be helped to deal with their stresses and thereby diminish them.

A few of these stressed students may begin plotting revenge. They may start creating a plan of violent revenge. If the student starts planning violent retaliation, he or she is starting to pose a threat. If preparations are being made, the threat is increasing. That may include collecting weapons and ammunition. Or learning how to build bombs and run some experiments on homemade bombs. Or learning all about the details of mass shootings and terroristic attacks in schools or elsewhere. Or rehearsing an attack at the school or perhaps in a violent game.

The more time the student spends on plans, preparations and rehearsals, the greater the building threat. These steps take time. It may take days or weeks or even many months. And that is time when the planning may be discovered and derailed. During this time it is also common that the planner mentions his plan to others. Some may describe the plan in detail or it may be hinted at crypticly saying something like, "Something big is going to happen on Monday."

When a plan for violence is discovered, the challenge now becomes turning the student around, away from violence. That's not easy. It won't be done by a quick punishment. One of the worst approaches is to expel the student. That just adds one more grievance to the list and it cuts off your communication. And like the expelled-student-turned-shooter in Parland, Florida showed, expelling a student doesn't keep him from becoming a shooter.

Back to Andy. We don't know when exactly he started plotting revenge toward his tormentors. We know that he once tried to talk with a school counselor but was told to return to class because the counselor was busy. He didn't try again. Andy spoke on two occassions about a plan to "pull a Columbine" at Santana High School. This evidence of a plan for violence would be a key turning point, changing our thoughts about Andy from concern to one who poses a threat. Administrators and law enforcement would be notified, his peers and family would be talked to, more details would be sought about plans, preparations, targets, rehearsals and weapons. Parents would be asked about weapons in the home and suggest that they be removed temporarily. The main question is whether Andy is actually planning and preparing for violence or was it just an offhand remark or even a bad joke?

But the students to whom he mentioned that he'd "pull a Columbine," apparently unaware of their duty to warn, did not tell any adults at the school. Within a week, Andy came to school with his father's .22-caliber revolver and started shooting. In a few minutes he shot 15 people, two of whom died. He told investigators that he was "tired of being bullied." Andy, now 32, is serving 50 years to life in Ironwood State Prison.


Edclick's School Safety Manager helps schools prevent student violence.

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Keywords: School Safety Manager, prevention, school violence

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