The modern schoolhouse presents a variety of opportunity for crisis events to occur. An estimated 43 crimes per 1,000 public school students are committed each year at public schools, varying percentages of students report being afraid of harm at school, and varying percentages of teachers report being threatened by students while teaching in our public schools (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010; as reported by James & Gilliland, 2013). While schools are designed to educate young, impressionable minds, the byproducts of gathering all children and adolescents together include violence, gang activity, bullying, cyberbullying, substance abuse, mental illness, suicide attempts, and other problems easily considered to be counterproductive to education (James & Gilliland, 2013). Given the broad diversity of acute and chronic factors that can induce individual or group crisis in school settings, it is imperative that schools plan and train for crisis in the education system. School crisis response teams are most effective as multidisciplinary teams which can include positions designated for crisis response, crisis intervention, media relations, security, medical response, parent interaction, community interaction, and more (James & Gilliland, 2013).
When responding to a crisis situation at a public school, the safety and security of students and staff should be a primary and continuous objective. As such, schools who utilize security personnel and/or police officers should include those officers on their crisis response team. Police officers typically receive crisis intervention training and, in many states, have legal authority to detain individuals who are in crisis and are a significant threat to themselves or others. Police officers assigned to schools also have the ability to quickly request and deploy additional police and security resources in the event of a critical incident in order to provide for the safety and security of everyone on the school campus (James & Gilliland, 2013). Simply put, the role of the school police officer is to ensure a safe environment so that the rest of the school crisis response team can perform their functions.
While small scale school crises may only require crisis intervention for one or a handful of students and can usually be handled by the school counselors, larger scale crises may quickly overwhelm the resources of the school’s counseling office. As such, training other school personnel, such as teachers, in basic crisis intervention techniques can help provide rapid response and psychological first aid to a larger number of students and staff members impacted by a larger scale crisis such as a school shooting, suicide, or accidental death on campus during the school day (James & Gilliland, 2013). James & Gilliland (2013) recommend teachers from a broad variety of school subject matters be cross-trained as crisis interveners in support of the school crisis response team. While not every crisis would need the assistance of all of those cross-trained teachers, the pre-planning and availability of those resources may be of critical importance in a crisis event impacting multiple students.
Bereavement at a school can be a complicated issue, depending on how the death occurred. In the case of a school shooting, the school’s crisis response team can both help and hurt the school community through its response. Providing proper crisis intervention and debriefing can help other students who may have thoughts of revenge against the perpetrator or associates of the perpetrator. Further, avoiding holding memorials at the school can help prevent the possibility of copycats who would seek the “fame” of causing such a disruption to the school environment (James & Gilliland, 2013).
James, R. K., & Gilliland, B. E. (2013). Crisis Intervention Strategies (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
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