School security begins at home, according to Jon Akers, director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety.
Parents need to have heart-to-heart talks with their children who are students about not making threats of violence at school and to immediately report suspicious activity, Akers said.
Students need to hear from their parents that threats of violence, which can lead to a school shutting down while officials respond, are not harmless or cost-free pranks, Akers said.
Parents also should never voice idle threats of their own against a school or school official, he added. That may lead a student to do the same, he said.
Reflecting on his experience as an urban high school principal, at Bryan Station and then Dunbar high schools in Lexington, Akers said perpetrators of school threats, vandalism and drug activity most often come from middle class homes.
School districts that identified threat perpetrators and took civil action against their parents to recover costs have seen such threats virtually disappear, Akers explained.
Canceling school, paying security officers to search for supposed explosive devices or weapons is costly, as is repair or replacement of defaced or destroyed property. And parents can be made to pay such costs, he said.
“I know of parents who had to pay from $5,000 to $10,000 because of a student’s actions,” Akers added. “In one case, the parents had to borrow money to pay for damages.”
Such measures can be more of a deterrent than criminal prosecution of juvenile offenders, he said.
Eastern Kentucky University canceled classes and a performance at its arts center, as well as moving a football game off campus after a threat of violence was written in a restroom stall in early October. Since then, public schools in Kentucky have recorded at least 57 similar threats, according to Akers.
At least four of those were made at Madison County schools, two at B. Michael Caudill Middle School, one at Clark-Moores Middle School and one of Madison Central High School. All were investigated and found to lack credibility, said Randy Neeley, Madison County Schools director of operations.
As was the case at EKU, most of the threats were made shortly before schools were to start scheduled breaks, Akers noted.
Evaluating threats puts school administrators in a serious dilemma, but KCSS has developed protocols to help them, he said.
While a terrorist will likely strike without warning, as was the case at an Oregon junior college Oct. 1 when 10 died, school officials can use the protocols to evaluate threats.
“I can’t tell you what the protocols are because we don’t want potential perpetrators to know,” Akers said. “While the protocols are not foolproof, they are in use nationally and can be tailored to local situations.”
The protocols are used by public institutions such as hospitals and local governments as well as schools, he added.
Security plans that include the use of video cameras, hall passes and other procedures provide data to help with threat assessment, Akers said.
This month, KCSS will conclude the fourth in a series of workshops across the state on “Terroristic Threatening in the Schools.”
They are taught by a retired Kentucky State Police captain and an officer of the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency.
More than 100 people attended the Dec. 18 workshop in Lexington, including two Madison County district officials, Neeley said.
He and the two local individuals who attended the workshop make up a new threat assessment team for the district.
“Before, it was just me,” Neeley said.
Both Madison Central and Madison Southern high schools have full-time school resource officers from local law enforcement agencies. Other officers rotate between the county middle schools throughout the day, Neeley said.
In addition to their working relationships will first responders, county school system officials keep in touch with Model Laboratory School and Berea Community School, Neeley said.
“Whenever one of us hears something, we alert the others,” he said.
Every Kentucky school has an emergency response plan that is reviewed before each year starts, and all schools practice their plans twice yearly, Akers said. And that is true for local schools, Neeley added.
In addition to security lockdowns, the plans include responses to fires and severe weather such a tornadoes and earthquakes.
First responders have floor plans for each school building, and rooms are numbered so that responders can locate them quickly, Akers noted.
Despite some high profile events, the number of threats and violent incidents has decreased, Akers said. That shows the protocols that are constantly being updated are helping.
School security is everyone’s responsibility, Akers said, not just school officials. That means students and parents, as well as school staff and administrators, need to remember they need play roles on every security team.