Security and threat assessment in schools is a fluid situation, and a practice that Wellington school officials will be keeping an eye on.
Since the deadly school shootings in Newtown, Conn. in Dec. 2012 government bodies at all levels have been looking into new weapons regulations. In recent weeks, the Kansas House and Senate approved expanded concealed-carry measures for public buildings, including schools.
"We will follow the State law, whatever it might come out as," said USD 353 Superintendent, Rick Weiss.
In Wellington, USD 353 has been working on new ideas to keep students, teachers and the community safe. At the March Board of Education meeting, the Board approved a threat assessment protocol that Roosevelt School Administrator, Zachary Lawrence has spearheaded.
This is Lawrence's first year at USD 353, for the last five years he was a trained threat assessor at a Wichita school district. Wellington's threat assessment tool is modeled after the one he used in Wichita.
"Basically how it works, when there's a threat reported, it's a set of tools and a process to go through to objectively and systematically inquire about the nature of the threat, severity of the threat, and how best to respond," Lawrence explained.
Depending on the situation, different interview tools, and resources can be utilized to gauge if it's a low-level threat, where there isn't a real concern and perhaps some concealing is in order; a medium-level threat, or if it's a high-level threat that law-enforcement needs to get involved, and apply safety measures.
"In all the places that have done this, they find that 95 percent of the things they encounter are low-level to medium-level threats, that are not something they need to call out the calvary on," Lawrence said.
Lawrence went on to say that anyone from students, teachers, or community members can report a threat.
"The administrator in each individual building often times hears about these things, someone is concerned that they heard or saw something," Lawrence said. "It might come from social media, an exchange in the hallway...anything that is concerning enough to warrant further inquiry." Lawrence provided further background on threat assessment tools in public facilities.
In the mid-1990's, the United States Secret Service partnered with the Department of Education on the Safe Schools Act, which never got passed into law. However, Lawrence said in the early 2000's the secret service published a report that was a guide for public places, schools and other buildings, for proactively assessing a threat and handling it appropriately.
"They found that certain things were true about high-profile events of violence or aggression," Lawrence continued. "Generally, there were intentions or other things communicated before hand." If those situations had been documented, someone might have been able to intervene.
"Again, most communications of intent, or things someone might say that sound like a threat, most of the time it doesn't evolve into something that's an act of violence," Lawrence said.
As to the reason behind bring a threat assessment tool to Wellington?
"There wasn't really a specific event in Wellington, every school has things happen that the administrator or school resource officer investigates," Lawrence then recalled his time in Wichita. "When we implemented that system, I saw the good that it could do, not only to prevent acts of violence, but also, and more often keep a person in school and not have to expel or suspend them for something because someone took the situation at face value." In urban settings, threat assessment programs operate on a much larger scale.
"We can tailor this to be more appropriate for the resources we have and the culture of the community as a way to be proactive and provide more support for our students," Lawrence said. With the tools just recently being approved by the BOE, program guidelines and training will be coming soon.
"People might see 'threat assessment' and think 'Oh, God, something is going on,'" Lawrence stated. "It's really nothing like that. It's really just a way for us to help keep students, staff, and the community safe and be proactive about it, not because we think there's a serious problem right now. There are a lot of places that are waiting for something to happen, and you can tell how that turns out." Not very many schools in Kansas, especially rural districts have measures like this in place.
Weiss said the threat assessment protocol will definitely be an asset to USD 353.
"We have an instrument and process to follow," Weiss added. "...I think all school districts will eventually have something like this." There are some minor changes happening around the district at building-level that could have a major impact on security as well.
In the past couple of months, Washington Elementary has implemented the use of a key-pad system on their entrances, which prevents anyone from simply walking into the building.
"We haven't got to that point where we're going to put them in everywhere," Weiss said. Security and threat assessment in schools is a fluid situation, and a practice that Wellington school officials will be keeping an eye on.
"It's something we're trying to take all the measures we can, and hope like heck we never have to deal with them," Weiss said.