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This week, the nation’s two largest school systems received threats of a terrorist attack. Los Angeles closed all its schools, affecting nearly 700,000 children and their families. But New York dismissed the same threat as a hoax. The incident highlights the difficult choices facing schools in these situations — they must consider not just student safety, but financial consequences, and the message a decision sends to parents and the community. One recent report says violent threats to schools are on the rise. But some worry we are at risk of going overboard, cancelling school and disrupting learning too often. Managing threats against our schools.
- Kenneth Trump President, National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based national school safety consulting firm
- Frank Cilluffo Associate vice president & director, Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University
- David Osher Vice president & institute fellow, American Institutes for Research (AIR)
- Joshua Starr CEO, PDK International, a network of education professionals; former superintendent, Montgomery County Maryland public schools
- Rosa Atkins Superintendent, Charlottesville Virginia city schools
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. When a school receives a threat of violence, it has hard decisions to make and fast. Just weeks after the deadly attack in San Bernardino, the Los Angeles school system closed all schools in reaction to a terror threat. New York deemed the same threat a hoax and both cities' decisions received criticism.
MS. DIANE REHMHere with me to look at how we assess violent threats to schools, Frank Cilluffo of the George Washington University and David Osher of the American Institutes For Research. On the line from Baltimore is Joshua Starr of PDK International, that's a network of education professionals. On the phone from Cleveland Kenneth Trump of National School Safety and Security Services.
MS. DIANE REHMI'm sure many of you have concerns about our nation's schools and their safety. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MR. FRANK CILLUFFOThank you, Diane.
MR. JOSHUA STARRGood morning.
MR. KENNETH TRUMPThank you.
MR. DAVID OSHERThanks for having me.
REHMFrank Cilluffo, I'll start with you. You had two school systems, New York and California. One decided it was a hoax, one closed all schools in Los Angeles. How do schools decide if a threat is a credible one?
CILLUFFOYou know, I think it is a tale of two cities here. They got very similar threats. One deemed it a hoax. One, understandably in the wake of the attacks in San Bernardino, took a very different approach. Ultimately, these are decisions that are going to be made at the local level and, ultimately, this was the superintendent's decision to close the schools in Los Angeles. But I think it begs the bigger question here and that’s the challenge of communicating risk.
CILLUFFOCommunicating terrorism. I mean, at its very core, the word terrorism is about terror. It's aimed to instill fear, to erode confidence in governments, institutions, officials, et cetera. So we need to find a way to be able to constructively act upon information and communicate it in such a way that we can operationalize it and not do it on game day. We need to do this well in advance.
CILLUFFOAnd, unfortunately, schools have been soft targets of terrorism in the past. If you look globally, one of the most horrific terrorist attacks of recent history was in Beslan in 2004 where you had over 185 killed -- children massacred by jihadist terrorists. You've seen other activities, unfortunately, in Kenya, in Nigeria, initiated by Boko Haram. Women, in particular, have been targeted in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the Taliban.
CILLUFFOAnd then, to the other extreme, while not a school, you had the Brevik case in Norway where you had a number of children killed by a terrorist at a summer camp. So, unfortunately, we need to take the issue seriously, but we need to do it in such a way where we're not instilling panic.
REHMSo Kenneth Trump, how do we decide if a threat is serious?
TRUMPWell, schools need to have three things in place, school threat assessment teams, training for those teams and protocols in place along with their law enforcement and the community first responders so that when an incident happens, they can hit the ground running, oftentimes under a great deal of constraints. There are two different dynamics that are going on, though, today that make it different than in years past.
TRUMPOne is the assessment of the credibility of the threat, the other is managing the crisis communications and social media hysteria that occurs alongside of that. School administrators may very well, quickly in some cases, assess the credibility of the threat as was done in New York. However, the other component that weighs in on a superintendent is -- and school board is how do you manage the community anxiety. And I've had some superintendents who have told me, I'm pretty confident that the threat was not credible, but I just decided that with the bombardment from parent and community anxiety, I was going to just close schools or evacuate to appease the parents.
TRUMPBut when you do that, there's some serious implications. When you evacuate schools or when you close schools, you put children in less supervised and possibly even more unsafe situations than if they continued on in school under heightened supervision.
REHMSo in each case, what you're saying, you've got to have teams in place. You've got to have training and you've got to have a certain protocol. What did Los Angeles have that was different from what New York had, Ken?
TRUMPWell, I think one of the things that was going on there was the proximity to San Bernardino and if you look at the shootings in San Bernardino, we know a couple of things that have been published publically. One is that the shooter had actually held a public health inspector position where he had inspected at least ten or more schools in that capacity, had access to school cafeterias. And according to one report, one of the recovered cell phones actually had photos of the exterior of another school.
TRUMPSo I'm sure that proximity weighed into the superintendent's mind in Los Angeles. I think that the problem is or the question, I should say, really is did the police department, both the local law enforcement and the school district police advise the superintendent it wasn't credible and then he decided anyway to deal with community anxiety, to avoid the issue of the credibility of the threat and deal with the anticipated community pressure?
TRUMPSo the problem we're seeing, we studied more than 800 violent school threats in the last -- beginning of the last school year, the first five months, and what we found is that far too many schools react and then assess, rather than assess and then react. And that lead to more than 30 percent of those schools evacuating, more than ten percent actually closing and many of those unnecessarily and prematurely.
TRUMPI think that New York City definitely got it right on this one. I would be very curious to see what happened behind the scenes that we may not know about that lead to the superintendent in LA taking a different reaction and whether or not that was really based on the threat or based on the community pressures and potential political implications of backlash from the parents and the broader community.
REHMAnd Joshua Starr, were these the right calls in your view?
STARRWell, so as a superintendent for ten years, I don't typically second guess, you know, the decisions that people have made. Context matters significantly. Ray Cortines is a, you know, has been a superintendent for a long, long time. He's got great judgment. And people have to remember, these are judgment calls. And assuming you have everything in place that was mentioned before, the threat assessment team, the protocols, the training, the great relationships that you need to have at all levels with the police department and anybody else who is involved and then you make a judgment call.
STARRTiming is a really important issue as well. You know, the threat in LA came in when they could still close schools, right? If it had come in later in the day, would they have? You know, there are all these decisions that need to be made. I think Ray Cortines is a great superintendent and I wouldn't really second guess him, frankly, and you make the best information you have -- the best decision you can with the best information you have and you make a judgment call. That's what the job's about.
REHMDavid Osher, having kids out of school, are they safer in school or out of school?
OSHERIf we look at the United States, all things being equal, young people are safer in school. School provides structure. School provides routine. School provides access to caring adults. School provides, in many cases, access to trained adults whom, if you are responding with anxiety, can help you. Ideally, it provides you with supportive peers as well. And so all things being equal, that's where you want young people to be.
CILLUFFODiane, if I can say...
CILLUFFOIt's got to be predicated also based on the specific threat and risk they're dealing with at that moment 'cause sometimes when a shelter in place...
REHMBut that's what I wanted to know, whether any of you has actually seen the wording of the threats that both Los Angeles and New York had. Were they identical in nature? Were they similar in nature? Kenneth Trump, what do you think?
TRUMPWell, according to the reports that have been published, I don't think that any of us have actually had it in our personal hands or directly received it, but as we speak, Houston and Miami Dades schools have also received...
TRUMP...threats that -- today, as well as other school districts, large school districts, and we know that according to the reports, the New York and LA were very similar. You know, generally, the rule is the detail -- the greater the detail and specificity, it can help determine the credibility of the threat and that can go in either direction. Oftentimes, the greater detail and specificity, the greater the credibility of the threat.
TRUMPIn this case, according to the New York Police Department's evaluation, the details actually helped them identify that it was likely not credible because of the content, the way that the language was structured, sort of the -- someone described it as they threw in everything but the kitchen sink ranging from the threat that they were possibly bullied and then mentioned Allah and then mentioned comrades and so on and so forth.
TRUMPSo I think all of that comes into play. But we recommend schools, based on our experience, be conservative and assess and then react. Not the other way around. And the question on LA is did they do it in the other direction? It is hard to armchair quarterback. Cautious to do that, but we have seen the need to make sure that everyone's trained, including our superintendents that...
REHMOkay. Kenneth Trump, he's president of the National School and Safety Security Services. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd we're talking about school safety, the safety of our children, as threats come in -- certainly, surely, after San Bernardino -- Los Angeles, this week, and New York received similar threats. New York ignored it, calling it a hoax. I shouldn't say ignored, because they went over it very carefully and decided it was a hoax. Los Angeles, instead, decided to close all its public schools. Here's a comment on our website. Aren't these threats all hoaxes? If someone is really going to shoot up a school, the last thing they're going to do is tell anyone about it. Frank.
CILLUFFOYou know, I think you have to take the veracity of the information and take every one seriously. Evaluate the information, assess it and move based on that. Because let's look back to even San Bernardino, where one of the terrorists, Ms. Malik, was advocating violence through social media. So sometimes they do. They're not hiding. They don't always conceal.
CILLUFFOThey make it -- they're hiding in plain sight.
REHMDavid Osher, what do these disruptions mean for the schools? What do they mean for students, for teachers, this atmosphere of fear?
OSHERYeah. Well, I think we want to start with the fact that young people today are growing up in environments where there is fear. There's fear at home, there is fear in the community and fear at school. And so these threats exist within that context. And there are different young people who are coming to school, just like different teachers. Some people are relatively unanxious, some people are relatively mindful, others are more anxious and are more stressed. Even in the best of conditions, schools have to deal with that. And good schools really create social and emotional conditions that help young people and adults deal with it and build social-emotional competence.
OSHERHowever, when you get an event like this, unless people are prepared before -- and my colleagues talked about preparations -- but there's also social and emotional preparation. There's preparation to understand how you handle adversities and how you can ultimately be successful if you handle them well. Unless there is that preparation and unless there is processing of things afterwards, what can happen is an event like this can make people even more anxious.
OSHERAnd let me just add, is that this both affects the learning process directly, because things like anxiety actually affect learning memory. It also takes and captures kids' attention. But, in addition, when the learning process is undermined, it gets even undermined more because when teachers and students are working well together, then what happens is it's something that engages them. And if we were just doing drill-and-kill teaching, which I know Joshua Starr didn't want and I wouldn't want, you would still have an interruption. But now that we really are talking about deeper learning, project-based learning, this is not something where you can just start and stop. It is a flow that has to continue.
REHMJoshua Starr, I'm sure you'd agree.
STARRI do. Absolutely. And, you know, the -- we have to be really, really attentive to the needs of kids and how they are feeling in schools. And, you know, one of the things we do at PDK is we poll -- for 47 years, we've been polling the public. And, frankly, parents feel that schools are really safe. And even after Sandy Hook, when we polled them on student safety issues, they felt that elementary schools are safe. They want to keep them safe. They want more mental health services for kids. And they don't necessarily want armed guards. And there's a real feeling that schools have to be a place of safety, both psychologically and, of course, physically. And schools work incredibly hard to make them so. And then these kinds of events happen, right?
STARRAnd it throws, you know, unless you have the training and, you know, schools -- after Columbine, schools put so many protocols, so much training into place to ensure that it's a safe environment...
REHMSo when you, Josh, were a superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, what did the protocol look like then, compared to what it looks like now?
STARRWell, the protocols, you know, over the last few years have been pretty much the same. One is, you have to have really good relationships between the -- I mean, so it always starts with the relationships, right? At the middle management level, meaning the police department and the county and the school system, you have to get really good information, right? You have to make sure that there's training in place at every school and that principals are accountable for doing lockdown drills. You know, we all remember doing fire drills. You've got to do lockdown drills. You have to know what a shelter in place is. Kids have to do them.
STARRYou have to undergo what we call table-top exercises where you go through, with the police department, the security department, you go through the different scenarios. And then you also have to know who's in charge and who makes the call under certain situations. You have to have written MOUs. Everybody has to understand them. And it's got to be really clear about who's in charge and who makes the call.
REHMHowever, Kenneth Trump, have the protocols changed since Sandy Hook, since these incidents that we've seen? And has the federal government itself been brought in?
STARRCan I just jump in on that too, Diane, at some point?
STARR(unintelligible) remember, you know, Sandy Hook was just such a tragedy. The school did just about everything right from all the reports, right? It wasn't, you know, they were doing things right. Now, they -- there was a mad man with a gun, with multiple guns. And, remember, part of this is that people, you know, have access to firearms in this obscene way in this country. But it's not like the school was wide open and they didn't know what to do necessarily. It's can you stand up against a threat when you have a -- someone who has access to all these kinds of guns. And I just wanted...
TRUMPWell, Diane, to actually -- to answer the question that you directed to me, Diane, is that they're actually -- the best practices that were established after Columbine, are still really effective and applicable today as best practices. The challenge, you know, in that is assessing before you react, having threat-assessment teams, the training and the protocol. It's changed in the last couple of years in what, how it's different from Columbine is that, first of all, we have a whole new generation of superintendants, principals, school resources officers, who need to be introduced or reintroduced and refreshed on those best practices.
TRUMPI just spoke with group of superintendents in Ohio about a month or so and asked how many of those individuals, leaders, were in those same positions or any superintendency at the time of Columbine and thereafter and I got one or two hands in the room.
TRUMPSo I think we need to take that time to revisit that. The other thing that's happened after Sandy Hook is there has been a very skewed focus on physical security measures, on hardware, on throwing in cameras and fortifying front entrances. And those things can have a role as a part of the comprehensive part of school safety. But your first and best line of defense is a well-trained, highly alert staff and student body. And we're in competition -- I just spoke with a school district who wanted training for their leadership team and crisis teams, but they were so constrained due to academic pressures that they could only meet for a couple of hours, when they really wanted a whole day.
TRUMPAnd that's part of our biggest challenge. And we have to -- and school safety is a leadership issue and we're finding many of our new superintendents and boards are putting that leadership in place to put it on the agenda and try to make both the academics and the security a priority in professional development and where they focus their resources.
REHMAll right. And I do want to open the phones here. We've got many callers, lots of email. Let's go first to Michael in Houston, Texas. Michael, I gather you all have had a threat there today.
FAISALHello? Oh, yes, my name is Faisal. Am I on line?
REHMYeah, you sure are.
CILLUFFOOh, okay. Thank you. Yes. So, thanks for taking my call. So I had a question behind, you know, what's the principle rationale behind the -- in principals opposing having more armed guards on school campuses. You know, all things equal, wouldn't it be better? And why are schools the only places where that argument that, you know, armed guards will make the place less safe? And we literally apply that principle to places where material possessions, high-profile individuals and comfort could be at risk.
OSHERThank you for that question. I mean, I think the issue is one about how you deploy resources, that you need a certain amount of resources that go to security. And at the same time, you know, as Ken Trump talked about, what we know and we know post-Columbine -- and I was involved in a lot of that -- is the fact that if you really want to create safe environments, you need both to create ways in which you are providing security but, more importantly -- or I should say, as importantly, you want to make sure that young people feel safe -- both feel safe in the moment but also feel safe enough so that if they see or hear something that is threatening, they feel comfortable passing it on.
OSHERWhat we knew about Columbine and the shootings that took place before then, there was what people called that conspiracy of silence. And it wasn't that young people were nasty, it was that young people did not necessarily trust whether or not adults would act in a responsible way.
REHMBut you're not answering the question posed.
REHMWhat about armed guards?
OSHERWell, the question is whether or not you want armed guards -- if you're only choice is between armed guards and on counselors, and armed guards and training for staff, and armed guards, say, in New York City, where you also have good relationships between police who are sometimes armed and the student support and youth engagement office, there are tradeoffs here. And I would go back and say that, if you look at American schools right now, American schools are largely safe. And they're...
REHMAll right. Ken Trump.
TRUMPYeah. I would say that this -- and this is really important -- I believe that the only armed presence on campus should be focused on a trained professional law enforcement officer, a school resource officer. But one of the interesting things about our SRO programs is that those officers actually prevent a lot more than they arrest. There are questions today, they are legitimate and we're working with schools on helping administrators and police better define their roles on what's a disciplinary matter, handled by an administrator, versus a police officer.
TRUMPBut your officers who are in school are trained, certified law enforcement officers. And that's just different than arming your school staff because that is a professional law enforcement function. If we ask someone to carry -- if they choose concealed-carry to protect their family, that's one thing. If you're asking them to provide a safety function to protect hundreds if not thousands of people in one school, you're asking them to perform a public safety function and we believe that should be trained, certified, commissioned police officers.
REHMAll right. Joshua Starr.
STARRJust real quick on these issues. First off, the issue of the SRO is absolutely right. That started as a way to build community relationships between the police. They're not there for security purposes. Many people see them as security purposes. They certainly -- they're an armed presence and they can help, but that's not the intent of that. Secondly, our poll results show clearly, parents do not want armed guards. And if you look at the email that was sent, that caused the closings, right? Even those folks, they talk about nerve gas. They talk about this major, massive thing. One armed police officer, you know, standing outside a school, is not going to prevent what was being described in the email. So it's an apples-to-oranges kind of issue here, frankly.
REHMAll right. And joining us now from Charlottesville, Va., Rosa Atkins. She's superintendent of the Charlottesville Virginia city schools. Rosa, tell us how Charlottesville has reacted to threats of violence.
MS. ROSA ATKINSAll right. The conversation that has enumerated how a school division becomes prepared for the potential for a threat are on point. In Charlottesville, we are very fortunate to have Dewey Cornell, who is a professor at the University of Virginia and has been intimately involved in the development of threat-assessment teams and the protocol that's involved with that. We have in our schools -- each school has a threat-assessment team that is the first level of response -- other than our police officers, who are now outside partners -- first level of response when there is a threat, either to a student or to any of our facilities.
REHMSo, tell me about the kinds of procedures you go through.
ATKINSWell, the first thing we do is determine the nature of the threat, whether we need to call in law enforcement, get them involved in that threat. We look at the details of the threat. We investigate to determine where the threat is originating, bringing in our partners from the community, and then assemble the threat-assessment team. The threat-assessment team is charged with going through a very proscribed protocol to determine whether that threat is a transient threat or a substantive threat.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's -- however, what I am wondering, how long does all that take? It would seem to me that time is of the essence in a situation like that, Rosa. Is that not the case?
ATKINSI think Joshua and David both have said, many of these activities are going on simultaneously. You have a host -- there's not one person who is controlling all of the decisions. Because the school system has gone through the preparation, the training and the process of assembling teams prior to the threat occurring, it -- most of these functions are happening simultaneously.
REHMSo would you be in favor of having armed guards within your schools?
ATKINSThe discussion about school resource officers and whether their role should be one of building community and collaboration or their role should be one of being prepared to a threat is a discussion that we're having currently in our community. If we're going to have armed officers in our building, I am certainly feeling that they should be prepared, if there is a threat to either the property or the individuals that are in the school, being prepared to respond to that threat is something that our community and our constituents and staff would expect.
REHMSo what you're saying is you are having this discussion right now as to whether to place an armed teacher or a professionally trained armed guard into each school.
ATKINSA threat actually centers around the role of school resource officers. We have them currently in our schools. So now the role has changed and the discussion about their role has changed. We are making decisions now as to what should be the primary focus.
REHMAll right. And…
ATKINSIs it building community or safety?
REHMAnd Kenneth Trump, I know you're going to have to leave us. Just give me your final word on whether you'd like to see armed guards in the schools.
TRUMPI believe that the armed presence should be only a trained, certified, commissioned resource officer. They serve more of a role of prevention versus enforcement on a day-to-day basis. But they also are onsite and can intervene when seconds count. So they do play a role. It's not completely ineffective at all in that way.
TRUMPAnd I think that we need to work on training and distinguishing those roles so that on day-to-day that they distinguish from the administrator's job, because...
REHMAll right. I'll have to stop you there. Kenneth Trump and Rosa Atkins, thank you so much for joining us. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. I'm going to go back to the phones. 800-433-8850. Let's go to Elk Heart, Indiana. Ryan, you're on the air.
RYANHi Diane. I really enjoy your show.
RYANI just don't think that the children are going to be safer inside the school in a group setting. Because it's not like the territory of nations or even just people who are making threats up. They're not targeting peoples' homes, even for (unintelligible) . They're targeting schools and big group settings. So, I can see why in California, they would send the children home, because it seems like they'd be safer there.
REHMFrank Cilluffo, what about a crowded classroom rather than being at home?
CILLUFFOYou know, it's all predicated on the actual threat risk they're facing at that given time and moment. Because sometimes you do want a shelter in place. Other times, you want to evacuate. Other times, you don't want to be near the schools at all. But it's all going to be predicated on what you know. And there's one thing that I think is important to mention here. You almost never get all the information you need to make a good decision. It's like the fog of war in an overseas environment.
CILLUFFOYou're getting bits and pieces, and ultimately, these are judgment calls. And what you need to be able to do is think through all the various scenarios in advance. So you're not thinking it on the fly, not on game day. You need to have the relationships in place. And I think you need to empower the students, not just those that are responding, but empower the students. Arm them with knowledge. Let them be...
REHMHow do you empower the students?
CILLUFFO...to think through these issues, so they're not doing it through fear alone. In other words...
REHMBut now wait a minute. Come on. Let's be real here. Somebody comes in and says, okay everybody, there's a threat here in the school. Somebody has walked in with a bomb. Now, how do you expect kids empower?
CILLUFFOTo be able to know exactly how they should respond because they've thought through various scenarios in advance.
STARRSo I think there's some legitimacy there. But let's first remember, schools are much more safe than not. They're overwhelmingly safe. And let's also remember the heroic actions of many educators. Teachers, support professionals, Assistant Principals and Principals who have died protecting kids.
STARRWhen you have highly trained educators, and they are, they know what to do. And you do have to train the kids. And they need to know as well. When you have highly trained people, and we have -- there are teachers and other educators that have died in the line of duty because they're protecting kids. And because they're trained and they know what to do. Schools are overwhelmingly safe. I would rather have my -- I have three children. I would rather have them in school than in a mall or something like that when there's threat assessment going on.
STARRBecause I know they're trained professionals. And unfortunately, we've seen them lose their lives, you know, protecting kids.
REHMAll right. Let's go...
OSHERDiane. And you brought up before Sandy Hook. You know, if we look at what happened in terms of the responses of the young people in Sandy Hook and the teachers, they stayed together. They protected each other. There was less chaos than there could have been and that's related to the fact, I believe, that Sandy Hook had a process in place called response of classrooms that really connected students with each other and adults. So in that moment of terror, people at least did not respond in a chaotic manner.
CILLUFFOCan I just piggyback one thing there?
REHMLet me go back to the phones to Christian in San Antonio, Texas. You're on the air.
CHRISTIANWell, I was calling recommending an alternative to the shelter in place, because it seems like in these mass shootings, a lot of these things, a lot of the casualties are happening inside a classroom or someone in a library. Or people who are shelter in place.
CILLUFFOSure, an active shooter's gonna be a very different scenario than an improvised explosive device, for example.
CILLUFFOAnd one can save lives and the other can actually cause more harm, if you respond in the wrong way.
REHMSo, he's saying if you're in a classroom, if you're in a library, what should kids be doing?
CILLUFFOYou know, I think first and foremost, and I think it's been mentioned by a number of the guests here, that you have had the front line prevent incidents in the past. If you think back to Paris, even before the terrorist attack, it was three military personnel that prevented a major terrorist incident on a train. When you think back to our Abdul Mutalib, who attempted to take a plane down coming in to Detroit.
REHMBut that's not...
CILLUFFOIt was alert passengers.
REHM...a crowded classroom of kids.
CILLUFFORight. But they're closed environments.
REHMI recognize that, but we're talking about school children. Josh.
STARRYeah, I mean, again, you know, it's unfortunate that we do have to make our kids aware of this, but you go through protocols. You know how to lock the doors, it may be, you know, shelter in place, you might all be going into one corner of the room. It just really depends on what the threat is. It's why training is so important and it's why schools do so much training these days. But parents and the public do not want armed guards. They also don't want teachers and administrators to be armed.
STARROverwhelmingly, our polls show they want mental health services. They feel schools are safe and they don't want, you know, all the adults running around armed, despite what the NRA may say about that.
REHMAll right, let's go to Joe in St. Louis, Missouri. You're on the air. Joe, are you there? I guess not.
REHMYes, go right ahead, please.
JOEI'm sorry. It's an honor to call in. I'm sad to see you go, Diane. I've listened for quite a while.
REHMI'll be here for a while, not to worry.
JOEI know. To the election, at least. So, my question, I have a wife that's a teacher. And I keep hearing the argument brought up that we need these armed guards in schools and all of this, and you know, the numbers of how many and all that, but that's going to cost a lot of money. And though it's never brought up when that's brought up, it's how much that would actually cost. They shoot down tax raises for, you know, everything, we can't afford to put iPads in classrooms, but we can afford to put armed guards in every school.
JOEIf they're going to bring up that argument, they need to bring up how much it would cost us in taxes, and sell it that way that, you know, because I think that would reframe the gun debate if it's really going to cost people in the pocketbook to afford to increase taxes to pay for armed guards in every school.
REHMAll right. Josh.
STARRDiane, can I address that real quick?
STARRHe's absolutely right. And not only that, the other issue is who pays for it and who do they report to? In every jurisdiction I've been in, the question of who the SRO reports to, are they a police officer who's accountable to the police department? Or is the principal in charge? Is a source of tension, even in a place like Montgomery County where we had a fabulous relationship with the police department. It's a source of tension, and it becomes a political football as well. So, the caller's absolutely right.
STARRCosts are important, who they're accountable to, and who is in charge of the building when these things happen unless it's spelled out very, very clearly. And there's great relationships. That can be a great source of tension in these situations.
REHMAll right, to Jose in Cape Coral, Florida. You're on the air.
JOSEHi Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
JOSEYou know, I hear about the polls being made about parents, that they don't want armed guards in the schools. You know, are these parents living under a rock? They're not seeing the mass shootings going on? You know, there's kids with mental health issues playing, you know, single shooter games at home. You know, there's people being radicalized here, you know, in the States. You know, why aren't we investing more in securing our schools? Maybe, you know, secondary security doors that only staff can allow people into the schools.
JOSEYou know, why aren't we investing more in securing our kids at home? We're living in a different age now. And, you know, I hear about this money talk, about, you know, spending money on security. Really, you're putting a dollar bill on my kid's head? You know?
REHMAll right. Frank.
CILLUFFOI think the caller makes some very valid points. And I think Ken Trump was the one who said it. It's about making sure that those that are armed are trained and certified. That in itself will not be a silver bullet, but I think it can and does play a significant role in preventing acts of terrorism. When you look at the economics of terrorism, I think that the school closings in Los Angeles cost in the millions of dollars, probably tens of millions of dollars. So, I agree. It's very hard to put a dollar figure on this.
STARRYeah, can I just weigh in on the poll results real quick, Diane?
STARRSo, parents are much more concerned about the actions of other students than they are about intruders coming into a school when they look at school safety. Parents, a fewer percentage of parents, a smaller percentage want armed guards than the public does. Parents do however want tighter screening procedures. So the caller's right. We do need tighter screening procedures. Parents do see that. But this is right after Sandy Hook and it's been consistent throughout the years there. Not, they don't feel that schools are unsafe from outside threats despite the public may feel that schools are unsafe. The parents who are there, they're not seeing it.
OSHERThe issues here, they're about promotion, they're about preventing things in the short run, including Jose raised the issue of mental health issues and getting support. What we also haven't talked about is how do we help young people who are going to face things about this, whether they read it or not? Process these things in the long run. What we can't afford as a society is people who live in terror. We need to have people who know how to handle these situations, while at the same time, we want to try to prevent them as much as possible.
OSHERAnd I think all of the commentators today have really been saying the same thing, which is you want to have a systematic process in place that includes the ability to assess threats, the ability to use SRO's in the right way. But at the same time, building the social and emotional competence of young people, the social and emotional competence of adults, to both prevent things, to help them respond better in the right moments. And also to have them process these events if they live with them.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. And I must say, I recall getting under the desk at the time...
OSHERDuck and cover.
REHM...yeah. I mean, and goodness gracious, today, you have to wonder, exactly what it is children are being taught as to what teachers say at the moment he or she learns that there is a threat. What that teacher tells his or her students and where they go. What is the procedure now? And I recognize each and every school has a different procedure, but I've not learned yet, this morning, any example of what that procedure is.
STARRSo, this is going to be an unsatisfying answer, Diane. It depends, right? And the fact of the matter is, in order for educators to be able to effectively talk about these really difficult issues with kids, they have to be trained. And we can't expect teachers to necessarily be mental health professionals. They need to know their kids well. They need to understand, you know, how to talk to them. But the -- I don't know of any one, you know, one way that everybody is approaching it to make sure that 3.5 million teachers are saying the exact same thing to kids about training, about safety issues. And it depends on the community context, as well.
REHMAnd what about the federal government? Does that get into the picture here, Frank?
CILLUFFOSure. I mean, one of the challenges the federal government has had for a number of years now is how it communicates terrorism threats and risk to the general public. So initially, we had the Homeland Security advisory system.
CILLUFFOThe color coded system. That was very easily triggered and in many cases, some would say in hindsight, very disruptive.
REHMToo easily. Yeah.
CILLUFFOThen in 2011, they titrated it with the National Terrorism Advisory System. And that trigger, that bar to trigger that, was demanding both specific information that's corroborated and credible. So, if we have that information, we don't have a communications challenge, because we're going to prevent those incidents. So, and not to make light of it, but it's sort of like Goldilocks. One was too hot, one was too cold. So I think we've got to calibrate that in such a way that not only communicates, but has actions that people, that will resonate with individuals.
REHMAnd one last caller in Herndon, Virginia. Ganesh, you're on the air.
GANESHGood morning, Diane. I'm a big fan of your show. And we will really miss you when you retire next year. Here is my solution, Diane. How about we take two or three teachers in every school. Two teachers or three teachers who are known to be highly stable, mentally and emotionally, put them through extensive FBI weapon training, arm them and then we widely publicize this fact, saying that every school has two or three teachers that are armed. This will prevent any shooter from, you know, they'll think twice before they enter any school. Any shooter or any terrorist.
GANESHBecause we know that law enforcement cannot do it. They take at least six minutes, and by then, our kids will have 50 or 100 kids dead. We know armed guards is not a solution, because, you know, I mean, it's a cost issue. I can't think of any other issue other than, you know, arming teachers.
REHMAll right. Frank, what do you think?
CILLUFFOYou know, I think there is a role where we can look to how we train individual teachers. But ultimately, it is going to be that teacher in that particular classroom. So, that resonates with that group of students in particular.
REHMAnd Joshua, your reaction.
STARRSo the answer to guns is not more guns and the answer to violence is not more violence, right? So, I wish that as much attention was being paid to reducing access that people have to guns and reducing threats of violence. And, you know, that...
REHMYou wish, but unfortunately...
STARRWell, so, and having armed guards, first of all, parents don't want that, right? Second of all, it is not going to prevent any of the mass, you know, anything on a mass level. Might it make some people feel better? Sure, but I don't think that that is an effective, an appropriate approach to actually causing a situation to be de-escalated. In fact, it could potentially escalate a situation.
OSHERYeah. Yeah, what we are talking about is a public health problem that requires a public health approach and that includes reducing the incidents and at the same time, having the right way to respond that is much as possible. We also know that if you look at situations where well trained police also unintentionally sometimes hurt people, unintentionally make mistakes as people do in the moment, I do not think you're going to get them trained amateurs to be able to do that. And as a parent, I would really worry about the OK Corral in my classroom.
CILLUFFOThe training the certification is critical and important here. I just want to underscore polls should not be dictating how we respond to kids' safety. This is too big of an issue. I do think it plays a role...
REHMBut the polls, the polls are saying no guns.
CILLUFFO...exactly. Exactly. And I'm saying this issue is too significant to rely -- polls change based on events you're seeing. So, I'd be curious immediately afterwards…
REHMSo you think the polls could change in that regard.
CILLUFFOI think they could change, based on events, and they often do. I mean, when you look back to TSA, for example, and aviation security, after a major incident, everyone wants every security mechanism put in place. Six months later, otherwise.
REHMFrank Cilluffo, David Osher, Joshua Starr, thank you for your work.
OSHERThank you very much, Diane.
REHMAnd your ideas.
CILLUFFOThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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