SHERMAN - Schools remain one of the safest communal environments, but the best way to prevent violent actions is to foster an atmosphere of trust between students and adults, Sherman Central School board members learned recently.
Kaine Kelly, district superintendent, shared information he received from a presentation on school violence he attended at Chautauqua Lake Central School. The event was organized by Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace and Undersheriff Charles Holder.
One result of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and others is schools are forming a much more visible bond with law enforcement, Kelly said. It was noted at the presentation, however, that school violence is not an epidemic. Rather, school killings have been occurring for more than 100 years. The largest school massacre occurred in Bath Township, Mich., on May 18, 1927, when a disgruntled school board treasurer detonated a bomb, killing 38 children and six adults.
The problem with violent school incidents is they lack commonality, according to FBI crime data, Kelly said. However, attacks are rarely sudden events. Most attackers somehow "leak" their intentions either by bragging or talking with someone. Most attackers also do not outwardly threaten their victims and most were known to be dealing with some sort of loss, he said.
"Someone knows," Kelly said. "It's seldom a secret."
Schools need to focus on prevention by fostering a personalized relationship with the student body and creating a "student-first" environment in which "students know where to go and who to trust to share suspicions and rumors," Kelly said.
Kelly noted Sherman's small size has helped to foster this type of environment.
"We see our kids from grades four to 12 every day," he said. "This is one area in which I feel that Sherman does an incredible job. Our students feel connected to our adults."
If a violent incident does occur, however, a school must be prepared to respond. Teachers and staff must be aware of protocols for action and have an escape route in the event of an active shooter.
"Anybody who can get out should get out and run," Kelly said. "Leave any belongings behind, and prevent others from entering the area. What really came out of the presentation was that we, as a school staff, need to be vigilant, make specific plans and involve caretakers and parents. We have to have a protocol for immediate action."