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Parkland 4 Years Later: Failures in School Violence Prevention
Campus Safety Alliance --  Morgan Ballis, M.S. EM Campus Safety Alliance -- Morgan Ballis, M.S. EM
Hailey, ID
Wednesday, February 9, 2022


Four years after 17 individuals were murdered and 17 more wounded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School, our educational and political leaders remain complacent.  The most critical lesson learned from MSD is the need for behavioral intervention teams and programs.  The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission's report, and other investigative sources, revealed the Parkland assailant displayed suicidal and homicidal ideations dating back to his time in elementary school.  

Some of the more disturbing indicators made by the assailant prior to the attack include bringing dead animals to school, talk of suicide, claiming on social media he wanted to be a "professional school shooter", being caught with knives and ammunition on campus, and purchasing firearms.  Additionally, the assailant had experienced multiple life stressors prior to the assault including the death of his mother, being kicked out of school, and homelessness.  While some of these indicators should have triggered immediate law enforcement or mental health interventions, no definitive action was taken to provide off-ramps to violence or support for the offender.  What's worse is many of the warning signs were known by school administrators, local law enforcement, and mental health professionals prior to the attack.  Unfortunately, four years later, most schools have failed to learn from this event and implement pro-active violence preventions programs.

What do school violence preventions programs look like?  There are multiple resources available including resources from the U.S Department of Education, U.S. Secret Service, F.B.I., National Association of School Psychologists, and National Associations of School Resource Officers.  What is consistent across agencies is the recommendation for schools to establish behavioral intervention/threat, intervention teams.  These are multi-disciplinary teams that include school administrators, law enforcement personnel, mental health professionals, school counselors, and social workers.  The purpose of these teams is to collect reports on concerning behavior, analyze information for indications a student is thinking about self-harm or harming others, and deliver support before a crisis occurs.  Although there is no debate over the importance of campuses to establish these teams, most states do not have mandates for schools to do so.

Herein lies the problem.  With more than two decades of empirical data on school active shooter events, emergent research demonstrating the positive impact of behavioral intervention programs, and best-practice recommendations at the federal and state level to establish threat intervention teams, resources are not provided or are diverted towards ineffective physical security measures.  States and school districts continue to prioritize physical security infrastructure, such as exterior fencing, single points of entry, and camera systems, over establishing protocols and providing training for behavioral intervention teams.

While schools should absolutely consider means to protect students, mitigate a tragedy, and respond to an event, violence prevention strategies should be the primary focus.  One of the biggest challenges for schools is the lack of state funding in this area.  While most state agencies related to school safety acknowledge or even directly recommend the use of threat intervention teams, elected officials fall short of passing laws that require schools to do so.  The reason?  Funding.  Once a law mandates schools to maintain behavioral intervention teams, the state would have an obligation to fund those programs.  While there are grant opportunities available to assist schools in this area, there are concerns with the continuity of these programs without consistent funding.  Four years after the worse school shooting since Columbine, one thing is clear, even though we know better, we are failing to do better.

Morgan is the Director of Strategic Planning & Training for Campus Safety Alliance, a K-12 emergency management consulting firm.  As a law enforcement trainer and nationally recognized expert in K-12 campus violence preparedness, he has trained more than 20,000 law enforcement officers, educators, and students in active assailant response.

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Name: Morgan Ballis, M.S. EM
Title: Director of Strategic Planning & Training
Group: Campus Safety Alliance
Dateline: Hailey, ID United States
Direct Phone: 833-722-6787
Cell Phone: 520-306-6517
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