The Secret Service is urging U.S. schools to establish teams that can assess threats and prevent shootings such as the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.
Tiffany Blackwell, a mother of a 9-year-old, saw the images in Florida on her television. She said these days when it comes to her child, she's always on edge.
"It’s a constant fear as a mother. Every day you release your child to someone else you have that fear of ‘what’s going happen’ when they aren’t in your care,” said Blackwell, whose son attends school in Gretna.
Though often nervous, Blackwell finds some relief in knowing that the U.S. Secret Service has released guidance on spotting suspicious behavior and figuring out when and how to intervene. A step the Secret Service says is essential for every school district is putting together a threat assessment team made up of teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, mental health authorities and law enforcement.
“I think that’s wonderful. I think that’s a great idea. That could stop a lot of it,” said mother Cindy Boyer.
The report was released as a tool for schools but many already take precautions.
At Belle Chasse High School administers hold intruder drills twice a year, have an active relationship with law enforcement and work is underway to install $600,000 worth of new doors, according to principal Jemi Carlone.
In Jefferson Parish, schools officials say they have extensive crisis management plan, every school has an intruder-based camera system and all middle schools and high schools have school resource officers on campus.
That's quite a change from when Boyer went to school. "I wasn’t threatened at all. It was completely safe," said Boyer.
In Orleans Parish, schools hold active shooter trainings with law enforcement. They do the same in St. Tammany, where just this past school year the school board approved $4 million to put a school resource officers in all 55 schools. The board took it a step further and also hired a mental health provider for every school.
“From children to adults people need mental health help,” said Blackwell when told about the new Secret Service report.
In the Parkland case, social workers, mental health counselors, school officials and police were all warned about Nikolas Cruz's deteriorating mental state and risk of violence before he allegedly launched the attack. It was this incident that lead the Secret Service to go beyond their past reports and to go more in depth in order to solve what they call an “epidemic.”
The Parkland shooting has prompted the state of Florida to enact new safety measures, including a mandate for individual schools to create threat teams similar to those urged by the Secret Service.
Paul Dudley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.