It is hard to believe that today is the last day of our 1st semester and we are halfway through the school year (Yeah!). As we bring the first semester to a close, I felt like this was a good time for me to talk with our school community about a growing concern that we are all aware of, which is the increasing number of school threats we are seeing and hearing about in schools, both locally and nationally.
I have always said it takes a whole community or village to truly keep our kids safe and this has never been more true than today as our students are growing up in world that is filled with violence, hate speech, disrespect, school shootings, self-harm and suicide. Although we as parents do our best to help keep our kids from being impacted by this, the truth of the matter is that given the abundance of technology our kids have access to, they too are being overwhelmed with information and sadly for many of our students, violence, school shootings and even suicide is becoming “normalized” and can become a natural part of their language, especially when they are feeling stressed, anxious, bullied or threatened.
What we are seeing in many cases that involve students making threats to hurt someone else or themselves is that the statements are often not being made with the intention of hurting anyone, but rather, they simply want the behavior/feelings they are experiencing to stop, knowing that these types of statements will create a sense of heightened awareness and will cause people to respond. In the end, these students really just want help and support, but often struggle to use the appropriate words to express how they are feeling or are not sure how best to get the help they need. As adults, we often struggle to express our fears and anxieties appropriately and for a young adolescent who is in the process of learning how to regulate and express their emotions, it can become extremely difficult.
This is so very important as regardless of why a statement is being made, we as a school district take all threats of violence or of self-harm extremely seriously and will respond with all of our available resources to make sure we can keep everyone safe, especially the person who may be making these types of comments. It is important for our school community to know that when any type of threatening comment is brought to our attention, we immediately initiate a threat assessment process/protocol that includes building administrators, social workers, counselors, central office administrators, district resource officer, our behavior specialist and myself. We also begin working directly with the student(s) and parents involved and through an extensive threat assessment protocol, we determine the intention of the statement being made, the validity of the statement and the steps/support necessary to ensure everyone’s safety, which may include additional law enforcement involvement, removal from school (suspension/expulsion), mental health support or immediate medical attention.
As we have seen from some local districts, the option to close school may have to be considered, but this would only occur if we felt that we could not proceed with the threat assessment due to a lack of data/information or we feel that we could not ensure the safety of our students, which often happens when an anonymous threat is made online in which the process of investigating becomes much more challenging. This has been the case with many of the situations we have been hearing about in neighboring districts. Fortunately for us, we have not yet had to work through this type of situation this year and with your help and support, we hope to provide our students with the necessary information, skills and resources to help them navigate some of life's challenges without resorting to threats or statements of self-harm.
In the instance that a threatening comment is made (regardless of the intent), our district resource office, Deputy Gwinn will be directly involved from the onset and is required to make a report to the Livingston County Prosecutor, who will then determine whether to bring charges against the individual given all of the information we are able to provide, regardless of the age of the student or reason for making the threat. This is so important for our parents to understand and stress with their children as we are seeing more and more students being prosecuted for making threatening comments, regardless if they were just “joking”, trying to get a day off of school or simply were frustrated with a situation they were in. Since the horrific tragedy that occurred in Oxford, local prosecutors are now following up with every report of threats, with a majority being formally charged.
I have provided below the Michigan Penal Code that contains the four possible charges that could be brought against a student who makes a threat (to an individual or school) and as shared by our legal counsel, they are working with hundreds of these types of cases throughout the state and our hope is to be proactive by having conversations with our kids as we would hate to see a student and family have to go through this difficult process, especially if a comment was made in jest or simply out of frustration. These types of situations can impact a student's ability to enroll in college, the military or jeopardize future employment opportunities, in addition to costing a family hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in legal fees.
We understand that our students will experience peer conflict and at times, bullying (both online and in school) and please know that we want nothing more than to help support our students who are experiencing these types of situations with not only getting it to stop, but also using it as opportunities to model and teach appropriate behaviors and social skills. It is also important for students and parents to know that harassing someone to the point that they feel the need to make a threatening comment to get it to stop is equally serious and we will also hold these individuals accountable, resulting in possible involvement from law enforcement, removal from school and legal prosecution.
Although our students have unfortunately become all too familiar with school related violence, self-harm, etc., at the same time, they have become much more comfortable and confident in recognizing concerning behaviors and are more likely to report information to a staff member, parent, friend than ever before. Additionally, our students are also becoming more familiar with available resources such as OKAY2SAY and the 988 Suicide & Crisis Hotline, which have become widely used resources for students in crisis.
I have said it before, but it is so important to know that we have amazing students here in PCS, but at the same time, these amazing kids are growing up in a very different world than most of us experienced and their brains, emotions and perspectives are being shaped and molded by what they are seeing, hearing and experiencing, much of if being on their phones and on social media. The mental health crisis amongst our youth is real and we in education are experiencing the impact of these challenges every day in our schools. This is one of the primary reasons we have made the commitment to minimize the access to their phones during the school day at Pathfinder and the high school as this tool has become a overwhelmingly negative influence on our students' mental health and their learning.
These concerns have also solidified our commitment to support the social-emotional learning of all our students with our vision being The Well-Being of All as the anxiety, pressure and stress that surrounds us can impact our ability to be at our best and we believe that our parents are the greatest asset in helping us achieve our goal in supporting our students.
Once again, I felt that this is a good time to share this information with our parents as we work in partnership to keep our students safe. We also want to provide the necessary information/tools needed to support our students in making healthy decisions while not putting them in a position to say or post something that may involve some pretty significant consequences.
Being a parent has never been easy and the challenges we face today can make it feel like we are continuing to fight a never-ending uphill battle, but we must remind ourselves that we are not in this alone and we must rely on one another in helping keep our children safe, allowing them to grow into the healthy and successful young adults we want and know they can become.
One of the programs we have in place to help support our students is WATCH D.O.G.S. at Navigator Elementary in which Dad's Of Great Students spend the entire day working with our students, mentoring and talking with them and just being present is so powerful. Yesterday, we welcomed Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy as our guest DOG and although he does not have children in our schools, he has always been committed to supporting our students and staff and his passion for our Pirates made him an immediate superstar! Thank you Sheriff Murphy for helping take care of our kids!
Thank you for being engaged in not only the well being of your own children, but in the well-being of all our students as your continued support and partnership will help us in our effort to continue keeping PCS a safe and enjoyable environment for our students to learn and grow. We look forward to the beginning of our 2nd semester next Tuesday and as always, GO PIRATES!!