Educator cites CUSD ‘blind spots’ in threat prevention - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News
Educator cites CUSD ‘blind spots’ in threat prevention

Educator cites CUSD ‘blind spots’ in threat prevention

January 1st, 2022
Community

By PAUL MARYNIAK
GSN Executive Editor

A Chandler educator and advocate for improving mental health services for young people told Chandler Unified Superintendent Frank Narducci that the district has no unified plan for preventing or handling school-shooting threats.

In the letter, Katey McPherson urged Narducci to work with his aides to develop a multi-layered strategy that includes educating students and expanding mental health services for them, developing a cohesive plan that all schools would follow in the event of a threat and training staff on how to implement that training in the event of an emergency.

Stating that the district follows “the Chandler Way” in which “each site sort of does its own thing and there is not much cross-collaboration between elementary and secondary or within your internal teams,” McPherson told Narducci that district colleagues and Chandler Police and other outside experts confirmed that “on this important subject, we have no true ongoing and pervasive tiered training in place.”

That would include those Chandler Unified schools that serve some 10,000 Gilbert kids.

A mother of four Chandler Unified students, McPherson said she was motivated to examine what the district has in place for a personal reason: “my family has become victimized by the recent events in Michigan.”

She was referring to what happened to a school complex 25 miles away from Oxford High School in Michigan, where on Nov. 30 a 15-year-old student fatally shot four students and wounded seven other people. 

A few weeks after that shooting, McPherson wrote Narducci, “my sister received a phone call that no parent every wants to receive….A student was reported to have brought a gun to campus and was not able to be located. Over 7 county and local police agencies responded including a SWAT team with several helicopters.”

The entire complex of three high schools was locked down for six hours and parents were receiving texts for five to six hours, McPherson explained, stating:

 “I can’t imagine being my sister and receiving texts for 5-6 hours about the situation and it is one conversation that I never want to have here in CUSD. Their executive leadership team and board are receiving quite the backlash for their lack of preparation.”

She also noted that widespread anguish and chaos among parents erupted as 60  districts around Oxford shut down due to copycat threats and reports of guns on campus “largely due to anxiety and no awareness of this being a crime to fake a threat.”

She also suggested that a strong education and training program could easily be funded with about $150,000 of the district’s third round of federally fueled Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief money.

Narducci told McPherson, “We can never take prevention lightly. We will review the information you have sent and in the process of conducting threat assessment protocols across our district.

“This was something that our Safety team has been involved with coming out of last year and going into this year,” he continued. “We will review the scope of work that is in place and see where we can strengthen our threat assessment planning based on the additional information you provided.”

He also said the district already has allocated some of its ESSER money “for intensive intervention work at our most vulnerable school sides” and that “we have increased our staffing to include social media review, analysis, etc.”

CUSD spokesman Terry Locke told this newspaper: “We appreciated receiving information from Mrs. McPherson just before the break. We will review the information as we continue to discuss our protocols of conducting threat assessments. This includes reviewing the scope of work that she identified.”

McPherson identified several “blind spots” as she urged Narducci to develop “a more comprehensive and collaborative approach and provide a district-wide plan that addresses the needs of the entire CUSD community and not just a select few. 

“There is a need to be proactive and not reactive,” she said. “This is an opportunity for true change and not just ‘thoughts and prayers.’”

The areas she identified included:

• “Social media containment and leakage reporting.”

She said children “need to be reminded on an ongoing basis on the principles of social media responsibility and how to report students that are escalating. They need to know the warning signs of classmates that are posting violent and/or self-harm material and when and how to report in anonymous ways that align with teen brain.”

Along with this, McPherson said, CUSD needs to increase parent awareness “around not sharing, re-sharing, and inciting more chaos during a crisis or potential lockdown.”She said Chandler Police and other experts can help the district.

• Behavioral health teams/multi-

disciplinary mental health teams. 

McPherson said when she worked at Gilbert Public Schools there were weekly meetings of a team that included a special education lead teacher, police officer, nurse, attendance clerk, assistant principal, principal and counselors.

She said the team assessed children and identified those who needed some intervention based on three different levels of anxiety, depending on what life-changing situations they were trying to deal with.

“I am a bit baffled that CUSD is not utilizing this proven model with a mountain of success data behind it,” McPherson told Narducci, noting that if the district does that for academics, it should be doing it to aid students’ mental and emotional well-being.

• Threat assessment protocol and interventions.

McPherson said the Oxford High shooting “showcases without comprehensive threat assessment training for adults AND preparedness training for students this could very likely happen here. The kids at Oxford HS knew exactly what to do when that shooting occurred because they had been extensively trained. The adults were scrambling and still are.”

She explained, “Assessing a student for self-harm or suicide, is much different than assessing someone for the pathway to violence.”

The shooter in the Oxford case appeared to be suicidal to counselors, she said, “and due to lack of evidence of a concrete plan, kill list, threat, he was dismissed  alongside of the graphic drawing and research of ammo as a video game designer, and the adults bought it.”

“Behavioral Threat Assessment is a fact-based, systematic process designed to identify, inquire, assess, and manage potentially dangerous or violent subjects,” McPherson wrote, noting the difference between “an individual who makes a threat versus one who poses a threat. 

“Threat Assessment teams and programs are designed to address any behavior or communication that raises concern that a person or situation may pose a danger to the safety of the school, campus, or workplace,” she said, noting the district needs to implement both “behavioral threat assessments and vulnerability assessments.”

The latter “focuses on the facility, policies, and procedures, not individuals” and “should be scheduled and conducted on a periodic basis to examine the security of the physical plant, the daily operational practices, and to detect potential vulnerabilities or risks.”

• Environmental analysis and approach to student wellness supports.

McPherson asked Narducci if there are “student voices present at our tables of decisions and policy making?”

“Has anyone formally surveyed their wellness or asked what students think and what impact the pandemic or the world has on them? Are there cross sections of the student body present and equitably represented on District committees about student wellness? Many neighboring districts have asked the question and used a well-being survey metric to analyze where they are doing well and what potential pitfalls or blind spots they may have.”

She urged Narducci to contact several local, internationally renowned experts on student wellness and that “a comprehensive framework and evidence-based model with training that is embedded in the culture of the school” would outlast any changes in personnel and that new employees could be trained in using it.

“There are many things we do well in CUSD,” she said. “This is one we cannot afford to get wrong.” 

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