In light of recent school shootings, including an attack on an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas May 24 that left 21 students and teachers dead, Unified School District 435 Superintendent Greg Brown spoke about school safety at the USD 435 Board of Education’s June meeting.

“Whenever those kinds of news stories hit, it really grabs our hearts and makes us concerned for local schools — rightfully so,” Brown said.

He said the “crux” of emergency management within Abilene’s school was on relationship-forming among students and their peers, between students and their families and between students and staff.

“I really do think relationships — student-to-student relationships — are extremely important,” he said. “It’s not hard to imagine. We hear things about bullying prevention and that kind of stuff and sometimes the bullying behavior is what prompted a young person to do something that would otherwise just be atrocious to think about.”

Brown talked about a time when, in a previous job in a different district several years ago, a young boy who was being bullied by his classmates showed up on the school bus that morning “with a gun, ammunition and a list.”

Brown said he showed them off on the bus that morning on the way to school.

“A couple of girls got right off that bus, went straight to the principal and told the principal about it,” Brown said. “And it was taken care of.”

He stressed the importance of students taking care of themselves and each other, speaking up to teachers and school administrators if they heard something on social media or from a peer that might indicate someone was planning something violent.

This kind of communication primarily happens when students feel comfortable talking to staff, which is one reason why Brown believes it’s important to stress positive relationships among students and staff.

“We want to encourage engagement, we want to discourage dismissal,” Brown said. “When a kiddo messes up, we don’t want to just turn them loose. We want to do everything we can to help them get a diploma. We don’t want to just expel them and forget about them. That’s just a problematic situation.”

The district also has a strong relationship with the Abilene Police Department and with the district’s mental health intervention team, he said.

Brown said the district’s schools are also secure, having been updated several years ago.

All the buildings have fob key locks on them. McKinley Elementary School lacks a foyer, but all other schools have them. Visitors can access the foyers, but can’t get past that point without authorization.

“Research has shown that those that have done the unthinkable and begun to shoot in a school system do not shoot the locks off or try to shoot through windows or that kind of thing,” Brown said. “That has no typically happened. If the doors are locked, they move on to a path of least resistance.”

The district has surveillance equipment in all its buildings.

Every student has an app installed on their school-issued iPad which allows them to anonymously report problems — including bullying and threats by fellow students.

He referenced the Columbine shooting and the ways in which coverage of school shootings has changed since Columbine.

News agencies have begun to abstain from using school shooters’ names.

“Typically, most of our news agencies — now with social media being what it is, it’s not quite as effective as it was even 10 years ago — but our news media will not publish the shooters’ names,” Brown said. “There was the thought that some folks want to make a name for themselves and be famous.”

He also hearkened back to the early days of his career when a shooting took place closer to home, in Goddard.

The Principal of Goddard Middle School who was killed in the shooting was someone Brown went to church with.

“These things are very serious in all kinds of ways,” Brown said. “I think sometimes people think, ‘well, this could never happen here’ and yeah, it could. So we need to be very attentive, very intentional about the efforts that we make at school and to make it a safe place in many ways.”

 

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