Potentially Dangerous Student: Vol. 49
SAFER SCHOOLS NEWS-VOL. 49
The Potentially Dangerous Student
* Learn how to identify and separate them from just a prankster.
The title of this article is disgusting. No one should ever have to consider their students as “dangerous.” However, that is where we are in our society. Some refuse to believe it and rely on “it will never happen in my school” philosophy [Erfurt,Germany]. Fortunately, most of these officials are right. Most schools will never experience the horror of Paducah, Jonesboro or Columbine. Many other school officials have decided that playing the odds belongs in a casino, not in a school, and have taken proactive steps in trying to identify which kid will be the next shooter. This too, can be a perilous course with dire consequences for certain students caught up in the frenzy.
Any student who wears a trench coat. Any student who listens to Punk, Thrash, Gothic, etc. Any student who plays video games. This list goes on. These are well meaning policy statements, but they are statistics out of context. All students are a mosaic of different features, characteristics and backgrounds. To truly see a student, it is important to see the whole picture. Focusing on a single tile in the mosaic has caused pain and embarrassment to schools, students and families.
The infamous “Zero Tolerance” approach has probably caused far more problems than it has averted. An attorney (Mr. Whitehead) said, “zero-tolerance policies are flawed because they do not take into account children’s intentions and often result in school officials suspending a child before telling the parents about the problem.” A number of controversial cases of children being suspended and expelled for childhood pranks and little discretion as to what is considered a real school threat versus child’s play have brought national attention to school discipline and zero-tolerance policies in America’s schools. [Assessment Instrument helps determine Prank from Potentially Dangerous Student – Learn More]
The table below points up some the over-reactions recorded in the media.
An 8-year-old boy in Ark., was suspended for three days after pointing a breaded chicken finger at a teacher and saying, “Pow, pow, pow.”
The Colorado Springs school district suspended a 6 year old boy 1/2 day for giving another child a lemon drop candy. The child was disciplined under the school’s “zero-tolerance” drug policy for “distributing” the candy to another person. Answering public criticism, a school official pointed out that bringing candy to school was as disruptive as bringing a gun.
Two second-grade students in New York, who were suspended and criminally charged with making terrorist threats for pointing paper guns and saying, “I’m going to kill you.” The criminal charges were dropped.
Four kindergartners in New Jersey, who were suspended for three days after they pretended their fingers were guns and said they wanted to shoot one another.
- Cape Central High School today suspended 253 students who drove their cars to school. “We have a strict policy against any student who brings a weapon that can cause harm, injury, or disruption,” explained Assistant Principal Herman Stasi. “An automobile is the most dangerous weapon a person can legally own. It’s time we put a stop to this deadly menace.”
A five-year-old found a razor blade at the bus stop and turned it in to his teacher. He was suspended for having a weapon at school.
A six-year-old kissed a classmate and was suspended for sexual harassment.
A nine year old found a manicure set on his way to school. He was suspended for having a weapon.
A sixth grader came to school with a small knife in her lunch box for cutting chicken. She went straight to the teacher and asked if that was OK. She was arrested and taken from school in a Police car, then suspended.
If it does not work to focus on a single facet, then what are we to do? Obviously, the answer is to look at the whole student, but that takes a psychological assessment and the time and cost are too great for the average school to bear. What is needed is a simple set of observable characteristics and a method for school personnel to record and rate these observations. Multiple governmental agencies have developed lists from exhaustive research into the school shootings of the past 10 – 15 years and have identified a number of common traits. Unfortunately, each of these reports are as exhausting to read as they were to compile. Any attempt to use them without further refinement has left teachers and administrators frustrated at the effort. “Zero Tolerance” Policies were born out of this frustration.
The basic idea is good: “If a student is violent, quick to anger, from a broken home, listens to hard core music, plays violent video games, is an outcast, and the victim of bullying, he or she may be a P.D.S. (potentially dangerous student).” In practice, the problem becomes apparent when confronted with real kids who have varying degrees of such characteristics, or perhaps do not have some at all, or perhaps only experienced a particular trait one time. What effect would these variables have? Are all students then potentially dangerous? If classroom teachers become aware of these traits in a student, will that student ever again be treated fairly?
The good news is that there is a three-tiered program to help schools identify the Potentially Dangerous Student and to differentiate between dangerous students and the pranksters. This program, developed and taught by Keys To Safer Schools.com gives schools a method to observe, assess and get help for students who are following a path similar to that followed by school shooters. The heart of the program involves a simplified list of observable traits and characteristics gleaned from the multitude of well-researched national reports.
TIER ONE – The first tier in the program involves familiarizing the entire school staff with these characteristics and teaching them to be aware of and how to report their observations. The approach taken by Keys To Safer Schools.com does not add any additional burden or paperwork to the seriously overworked classroom teacher. It is important that schools include the entire staff in this process. Too often, schools reserve such training for the teaching or professional staff. It is important that support staff, Bus Drivers, Custodians, Maintenance, Food Service, Nurses, Aides, Volunteers and even involved parents, are included. These staff see all the students but in an entirely different relationship from the classroom and administrative staff. The instructional portion is essential. Without it, the staff will read the list of characteristics and flood the Assessment Team with reports on every student in school. The instruction, usually an in-service training, presents the characteristics but informs the staff how to observe in context and in developmental settings. What may be appropriate for a 3rd grader is reportable if seen in a 7th grader. What may be acceptable during a competition in the gym is not acceptable in the classroom. Not every single-parent home is a “broken” home. Once the staff is familiar with these characteristics, what do they do about it?
TIER TWO – The second tier of this program is establishing and training an Assessment Team. Each school district should identify 3 or 4 personnel from each school to form Assessment Teams. These numbers are not required for collaboration as a single, trained individual can perform an assessment. The numbers are to insure the ability of any staff member to reach a qualified Assessment Team person without undue delays for meetings, conferences and such. The Assessment Team is trained in the use of a unique one-page Assessment Instrument. Each of the characteristics is presented in detail and variations. It is then ranked on a lacquered scale for severity or number of occurrences. These are summed and applied to an overall rating
that tells the school if the student is in need of intervention immediately or should they continue to watch and observe. There is also a sample decision tree for the school to use in developing their own. A decision tree is important because it frees the administration from personal involvement with every case and allows the Assessment Team to put solutions into motion without having to wait until they can confer with the administration. When the training is completed, each Assessment Team member present is awarded Certification that is valid for two years. An abbreviated refresher training is required every two years to maintain Certification and stay current with trends and developments. The school is awarded a license to reproduce the Assessment Instrument without the added cost of having to purchase the copyrighted form. Schools that have this in place report great success with the added benefit of having an objective tool to record why disciplinary actions varied from one student to another. Another very important part of TIER THREE which is cover else where is the “First Responders“.
TIER THREE – The third element of the Potentially Dangerous Student program is entire student body. In every one of the school shootings, other students knew about it to some degree but either told no one or were ignored if they did report. The Keys To Safer Schools.com student assembly, Kids are the Keys, presents the concept to the students that they are responsible for what happens at their school. In many instances, it is a new concept for the students feel any ownership of their school. Many students think that telling an adult about what another kid is doing is “narcing” or tattling. This interactive Assembly introducing them to responsible reporting as good citizenship. The Keys To Safer Schools.com staff meets with the school staff before the assembly to map out ways in which the students can report with fear of reprisal. These methods are then presented to the students and the school follows through with drop boxes, voice mail, anonymous email or whatever system the school chooses.
* SEE – THE ASSESSMENT MODEL for determining the PDS
The biggest disappointment reported is that the schools were hoping to gain a “predictor of violence.” The Keys To Safer Schools.com program does not do that. However, every school that has adopted this program reports being satisfied. It has helped schools identify students who are in need of help or without help they could become a Potentially Dangerous Student.
Once again we ask ourselves, “Have we done all that we can to insure the safety of our schools?” Keys To Safer Schools.com is making a special offer to any school to review your Emergency Repsonds planning and provide a written critique of any shortcomings found. To take advantage of this offer, mail your school’s Emergency Responds Plan and supporting documents to:
Keys To Safer Schools.com
P.O. Box 296
Bryant, AR 72089-0296.
Programs to Combat Violence
- Kids are the Keys Assembly
- See the Lock Out Violence Everyday Campaign – A community violence prevention program.
- See SCHOOL SAFETY SITE ASSESSMENT
Keys To Safer Schools.com
If you have any comments or questions please Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the bottom of this page and type in your public comment.