Friday, December 21, 2012

Initial Observations from the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

  • This school had trained in lockdown drills and procedures. Teachers and students knew what to do and they did it which lessened the tragedy. Had the law enforcement first responders not arrived or were not activated by the 911 call, the shooter had hundreds of rounds and victims left. Their (school leadership, faculty, students, and law enforcement) preparedness saved lives. 
  • The shooter may break into the facility or room even if doors are locked. This speaks to the “Fight / Resist” to make it harder for them to make a smooth entry into the building / room.
  • It appears as the adult(s) (Principal pictured above) fighting the shooter slowed the shooter and bought time for others. If someone is going to kill you, don’t make it easy for them. Inaction is not an option.
  • Some people heard “booms”, gunshots, or a confrontation over the school announcement system.  There will be different ways of finding out there is an violent threat in the building.
  • Teachers hiding, reassessing and improving their hide site for students was critical to saving lives.
  • Teachers kept students calm and due to their young age kept them distracted and occupied.
  • The arrival of Law Enfocement in the rapid Active Shooter response is believed to have influenced the shooter to kill himself as he had 100s of rounds of ammo left and more potential victims.  (The sooner the Police show and close with the shooter, the sooner many shooters kill themselves similar to Columbine;  Nickel Mine,Pa;  Va Tech, and now Newtown, CT.)
  • Sometimes Running (as a response) to get out of threat area or as part of the directed evacuation is key. Responding Police clearing the school directed many children to Run to the Firehouse.
  • You may have to evacuate students / people past a violent (blood, bodies, etc.) crime scene.
  • School and First Responders had a known location for evacuation and student reunification (the firehouse).

RECOVERY RELATED:  Many of the recovery decisions are almost surreal after the fact so it is important to plan for them ahead of time, despite how distasteful the topics and decision points are. They won't get easier after an incident. 
  • The school is a crime scene to be processed for days, maybe a week. Once cleared, then and only then can clean up and repair happen.  Depending on when this happens, how long do you close school for? When do you re-open? 
  • It is more than just cleaning up the crime scene (bio-hazard clean-up, repair damage & bullet holes). What parts of the building off limits (library at Columbine, Kindergarten class at Sandy Hook, Norris Hall at Va Tech etc.) and how does that effect classes and a return to normalcy.
  • Crisis Intervention and Counseling services for everyone, ask for state and federal assistance. It is required immediately and will continue for years to come.
  • Loss of key Personnel (the Principal and School Psychologist, Teachers, Staff) calls for a rapid decision for replacing school leadership and Subject matter personnel. The decision for the assumption of leadership in the absence of others not being there, maybe temporary or permanent.
  • Coming back into school needs to be well thought out and phased: Parents visit school, Parents and Students visit school, Parents and students go to school and classes, Students go to school with some Parents visiting.
  • Columbine HS planned it as “taking back our school” and they excluded media due to the adversarial & invasive relationship they had at that time.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Letter From a Mom Who Has a Son With Mental Issues

Letter from a Mom Who Has a Son With Mental Issues and She Fears Him

Newtown School Shooter

Strongly Recommend you read this letter from a Mom (LINK ABOVE THE PICTURE) who has a son with mental issues that has manifested themselves in violent acts, threats, and behaviors. This speaks to the heart of one of the major issues of violence at schools, do we know who the people around our loved ones who have mental health issues? How do school communities assess these individuals and handle them to balance the needs of the student or adult with mental issues and the security and safety of the school community, and community at large.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


As is apparent in the "circular" initial media reporting, all of the facts about the Newtown, CT school shooting are not all in. Only after analysis of the incidents significant facts can we draw lessons learned. The significance of lessons learned only have meaning if they are applied before the next violent incident that can be prevented or mitigated.

A common strand in the majority of these mass shootings is SOMEONE SOMEWHERE was concerned at sometime about the shooter who went on the mass shooting rampage. The shooter's pre-incident actions or works "LEAKED" either their intentions or a feeling to others that something isn't right about them. That uneasy feeling is was based on a behavior (something the shooter said, wrote, looked, acted, purchased, etc.) or a reaction to bad news to them (being fired, negative evaluation, relationship changes. This caused family members, friends, co-workers, care givers, neighbors, fellow students or teachers, or administrators to feel or think "something" might be amiss, BUT IT IS PROBABLY nothing....?

The number one prevention step to preventing or mitigating these rampage shootings is quite simply:

Listening to that "little voice" that gives you a feeling that a person's words or behaviors make you nervous is significant enough for you to discuss this with your friends, family, supervisors, security, or law enforcement. That person you are concerned about can even be a family member and remember the best way of taking care of them is to refer them for professional help. Often times good people only see a "piece to the puzzle" and telling someone else can help raise awareness and complete the puzzle, and prevent a tragedy. Often violent mass shooter-to-be give others indicators (Columbine shooters, Va Tech shooters, Congresswoman's shooter, Aurora Movie Theater Shooters) called "leakage" by threat assessment authorities which go unrecognized and unreported. Most prevented school shootings are due to these "leaks" being reported.  SEE SOMETHING, HEAR SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING.  

The number one response step for an emergent act of violence is:

2.  RUN...HIDE...FIGHT...  (Watch the Video)


Monday, December 10, 2012

Student Drownings Generate Safety Standards Review

Student Drownings Generate Review of Safety Standards

Click on the Link Above for the story and the video link below for a remembrance ceremony.

A number of student drowning deaths have generated a review of school safety standards affiliated with students conducting swimming or swim training.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Modern Day Life Skill: Surviving an Active Shooter

School Shootings...Workplace Shootings....Shootings in Public Places (Movie Theater, Mall) are all examples of the potential of violence occurring wherever you may be. While it is not probable, it is none-the-less possible - so you must be prepared. Teaching students and young adults the LIFE SKILL of how to mitigate the dangers of an active shooter situation is prudent. The past belief and practice of merely calling the police and hiding from a gunmen (lock-down mode) until police arrive is no longer the only consideration you make when developing a plan of action on how to react. Watch the video as it suggests to RUN from the danger if possible, HIDE if you have no option to run (with some self protective considerations), and if there is no escape and you perceive you are about to encounter an active shooter, than FIGHT to increase your chances of survival. Individually or in a group that swarms an attacker using improvised weapon (books, chairs, fire extinguishers, hot water or coffee, etc.) increases your chances vise remaining a passive target.

This video (RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. Surviving An Active Shooter) is a DHS sponsored product created by the City of Houston which demonstrated the evolution of citizen preparedness to a violent encounter created by an active shooter situation.

Be Prepared and Make Your Luck by training and conducting capabilities through drills. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

High School Student On Public Bus a Target of an Armed Assailant


         On Oct 11, 2012 in Norwalk, Connecticut, a 21 year old man, Terrick "Scrap" Vanlierop, was arrested for allegedly repeatedly trying to board a Norwalk city bus to get to a high school student from Briggs High School that he allegedly had a dispute with. Vanlierop was also charged with shooting at another man on Woodward Avenue on the previous Monday afternoon. The man who was shot at said that as he was walking down Woodward Avenue and saw Vanlierop coming and was worried about Vanlierop's gang connections.  "This all is from an ongoing beef that started because of where I'm from. Because of where people live, there is an ongoing beef and people were getting shot and killed," he told police, the affidavit said. Vanlierop then pulled out a semi-automatic handgun and fired three shots at him. Norwalk Police found bullet holes in the siding of homes there and identified the shooter from a photo lineup.  Vanlierop was charged with criminal attempt at first-degree assault at his arraignment on Friday in a Norwalk court. He has three previous felony drug convictions on his record from 2009 and 2010, was ordered held on $91,000 bond.    

Points for Discussion:
  • Acts of violence (random or planned) that occur in our cities can carry over into or near our school environment.
    • June 2012, three Norwalk schools went into a lock-down after an alleged gang member was wounded nearby during a drive-by shooting. 
    • Oct 11, 2012, a distraught boyfriend armed with a high powered rifle created a standoff in a neighborhood where an after school recreation center full of students was located.
  • Gang activity is something that can "ebb and flow"and must be monitored by police, school resource officers (SRO), and the school (leaders, teachers, and students) community.  Violence can be triggered randomly (wearing the wrong colors, a perceived affront, etc.) so people must be alert.
  • This armed violent offender was going after a high school student on a public bus – what if he had not been stopped...?
  • While the bus this alleged assailant was trying to get on was a city bus it is still a threat to our students who ride those public buses. It could have very easily been a school bus, and where gang status is gained and increased by a gang member’s propensity and quickness for violence, the results could have been lethal.
  • Capability developed by periodic and well planned drills allows local leaders to mitigate an incident, as well as to respond and recover more effectively reducing risk to students and faculty. 

SEE SOMETHING, HEAR SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING probably saved that high school student's life because someone stepped up and reported a previous crime.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Student-Athlete Hazing Assaults on Younger Teammates = Arrests

CA High School Student Athletes Arrested For Hazing Team Members

Four Los Angeles-area high school student-athlete varsity soccer players have been arrested for physically / sexually assaulting younger team members in hazing rituals that victims said were conducted with the complicity of a coach. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department opened an investigation at the request of the school district after a parent of one boy who claimed to have been harassed by teammates came forward to lodge a complaint, school officials said.

Superintendent Barbara Nakaoka said she shared people's "shock and sadness." The Hacienda La Puente Unified School District statement is as follows:   "Our school community faces the tragic allegation that student-to-student hazing was taking place between members of a sports team at La Puente High School. The allegations are deeply concerning, and they have understandably caused tremendous anxiety and anger among students and parents," she said.

"The hazing incidents have gone on for several years and may have risen to the level of a crime," sheriff's Sergeant Al Fraijo said.  "At this point, there is no information to indicate that any member of faculty or coaching staff were directly involved," he added.

However, a lawyer representing the families of four boys who claim they were victimized said the hazing and assaults were carried out by team members against younger fellow players "at the behest and encouragement" of a coach.  Attorney Brian Claypool, said the coach "lured young boys to a back room to facilitate varsity members of the team sexually assaulting the boys by attempting to sodomize them with a foreign object."   One of the alleged victims, named as "John," told the Dr. Drew Show on cable channel HLN that six or seven people had thrown him to the floor and were "beating on me" in one incident.

The attorney representing the four alleged hazing victims has now hired a clinical psychologist to help them cope with what they say is sexual assault. "This is not hazing, this is a sexual assault. These boys when I saw them were in serious trauma. I did a suicide assessment on one of them," psychologist Michelle Golland said. She said the alleged victims were going through something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder. "PTSD untreated will go into serious anxiety, serious depression. All of the families involved, they all need therapy as well, because they are in this vortex of trauma," Golland said.

Points for Discussion:

    • A short conflict or recurring dislike between students is not bullying or hazing. But if there is a continued or systemic negative physical, psychological, emotional behaviors targeted against an individual student or a select group of students is bullying / hazing.
  • PHYSICAL HAZING and BULLYING can become SEXUAL ASSAULT in some cases.
  • HAZING / BULLYING can result in arrests, loss of career, depression, suicide, investigations.
  • Hazing and Bullying typically is not viewed as " important" until it happens to YOUR child or at YOUR school, then people get energized after the incident and take a "never again" attitude.  
  • The effects of bullying / hazing have a long lasting impact on individuals, their families, schools, and communities. ALL OF THIS CAN BE AVOIDED.
  • IF YOUR SCHOOL DOESN'T HAVE AN ANTI-BULLYING PROGRAM, the likelihood of hazing / bullying taking place at your school is considerably higher and you won't know it until it is too late. 
  • Many adults (including sometimes parents of bullied students) chose not to speak up to report bullying because they are afraid to "make a big deal out of it" or they "don't want to get anyone in big trouble". Unconsciously, they are choosing the concerns of the bully's and their own discomfort over that of the child being bullied which is a lack the character and moral courage to do the right thing. 
The Fostering and Maintenance of Respect in a Family and a School Climate 
is the Greatest Means to Prevent and Mitigate Bullying 
in our Communities.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

12 Yr Old Boy Dies 4 Days after a Staph Infection Caused By a Scrape in Gym Class

Memorial Website with Info on Staph Infections

My hometown lost a beloved retired teacher who cut himself at home and his cut got infected resulting in his death, similar to the tragedy of Rory Staunton. He was a 12 year old boy, scraped his arm diving for a basketball in gym class, nobody thought much about it. His parents took him to his doctor who diagnosed his problem as a stomach virus that was going around. The doctor told the parents to take him to a nearby hospital to get re-hydrated which they did. They also ran tests on him, but the results came in after he was released. the tests showed his white blood cell count was unusually high. No one from the hospital contacted them. But two days later, the 12-year-old was fighting for his life in a New York City hospital as bacteria from the injury raced through his bloodstream. He died in the intensive care unit. The bacteria and his body’s reaction to it, a condition known as septic shock, killed him. 

Parents Try To Recognize The Signs and Ask The Right Questions:

Because it can be so difficult to diagnose sepsis (toxic shock syndrome) early, parents, the ones who know their kids the best, need to know what to watch out for, Doctor Gaieski said. “If your kid has a scrape it shouldn’t cause a high fever or pain that is out of proportion with the injury — or in a different spot from where the scrape is,” he added. “You should also be concerned if your kid has an unexplained rash, trouble breathing, or a fast respiratory rate or lethargy without typical cold symptoms such as a runny nose, a sore throat or a cough.”

Strongly recommend that parents assume nothing and aggressively pursue the doctor and the hospital to close the loop with them concerning test results. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lightning: A Deadly Hazard to Outdoor Events

Lightening is the MOST UNDERRATED Weather Threat. As of 2001, it  has killed more people that hurricanes & tornadoes combined....


Lightening Strike During a Men's Soccer Match: Recently in northern part of Houston, Texas during a soccer game two adult men were killed and a third injured after lightning struck a tree under which they had been seeking shelter from the rain during a soccer match according to law enforcement. A men's league soccer club game was being played when it began to rain around 12:10 pm. A group of players took shelter under a tree. Lighting struck the tree, killing one man at the scene according to Deputy Sheriff Thomas Gilliland. Two other men were transported by ambulance to a hospital. One was pronounced dead on arrival and the other was in stable condition, according to police. There were more people who took refuge under the trees during the storm (which is a dangerous mistake), but fortunately weren't injured.  According to the National Weather Service (NWS), nine people have been killed in eight states so far this year due to lightning. 

Here is a great resource for Principals, Athletic Directors, Coaches, Teachers, Athletes, and Parents to review:

Safer Design for Safer Play with the threat of Lightning  (Check this website out)

Points for Consideration:

  • As parents, teachers, coaches, and spectators; what are the safety guidelines when it comes to thunder and lightning? (Check out the above website)
  • How often do educational or athletic leaders take a look at inclement weather, and determine a bad weather decision point to cancel or reschedule an event?
  • Lightning during an outdoor school event (graduation, sports game, gym class or even a school trip) can lead to a calamity, it the right decisions are not made in a timely fashion. Hundreds of people sitting outside in metal bleachers...
  • If an event is ongoing and bad weather (thunder & lightening in the distance) occurs, there is a tendency to try and "gut it out" in the hopes it will "blow over" so we can finish the event. 
    • What is more of a distraction? Stopping an event and transitioning it indoors, if possible OR gambling with the safety of everyone and risking their lives? 
      • Mass Casualty, Loss of Life, Investigations, Law Suits, Memorial Services.... 
  • While weather is often predictable, it is not always accurate, but the consequences of disregarding lightning can be fatal. 
  • A lightening strike during a large event can cause a mass casualty event with numerous people having to be resuscitated often at the same time. Do you have a mass casualty plan other than calling 911?
Our goal is educating ourselves to prevent a hazardous incident from occurring. A key element to that is preparation by learning as much as possible about the threat of lightning in the first place, check out the above website.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Failure in Ethical Leadership & Civic Responsibility at an Academic Institution

Former FBI Dir Freeh Report on Penn State Scandal

An excerpt finding from the report:

Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized. Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

4 Kids Killed by Electricity in 3 Separate Recreation Incidents

Four children were electrocuted in three separate incidents involving routine summer activities. Electricity and water are a deadly combination and kids, parents, guardians, and recreation facility personnel need to pay more attention to this man-made hazard to avoid any more deaths or injuries.  

  • June 28, 2012: An 11 yr old girl, Ashton Jojo, who was vacationing with her family was electrocuted and died at a miniature golf course at at Orange Lake Resort in Kissimmee, Florida. She was electrocuted as she tried to retrieve her ball she hit into a small 2 ft deep pond on the course around 2 pm. She and her family were on vacation from New York.  A man was injured trying to pull her out of the water. The course is closed and an investigation is pending. 
  • July 4, 2012: A 13 yr old girl (Alexandra Anderson) and her 8 yr old brother (Brandon Anderson) were electrocuted and died while swimming near a private dock in the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. They could not be revived and were pronounced dead at the hospital. An investigation is pending and they are looking at electricity powered lights and a pump that supplies water to a children's slide used at the dock. 

  • July 4, 2012: One boy (unnamed) was electrocuted and died while swimming between two house boats by a dock near the German Creek Marina on Cherokee Lake in the town of Bean Station, Tennessee. Another boy swimming with him was shocked at the same time but was revived on a medical helicopter flight. Bystanders who tried to rescued them were shocked as well. The marina was evacuated as a precaution afterwards and an investigation is pending as they try to determine the source of the electrical current. The wiring at the bottom of one of the houseboats may be the source, but it is undetermined at present. 
Points for Consideration:
  • All three of these instances are tragedies which will affect the families and communities for a long time.  
  • All of these tragedies could have been avoided with proper installation of electrical devices and safety inspections of recreation facilities and recreation craft.
  • There will be lessons learned but often it takes a tragedy to bring attention to safety issues. 
  • If your children are near water or entering a water environment where there is electricity, these tragedies teach us to  "assume nothing". Often people are embarrassed to ask safety related questions, but that type of engagement helps keep others honest, and may save a life.
  • Electrocution injuries involve a burn as well as a shock. There are special First Aid considerations not discussed in this blog post. Always activate 911 immediately.
  • Rescuing someone who is receiving an ongoing electric shock requires special consideration. First,  try to shut off the source of power. If you are unable to shut off the source of power than try to use a wooden stick (broom handle) or dry material to break the victim away from the source of electricity. If those attempting to rescue and render aid become victims than it makes a bad situation even worse. 

When in doubt, always check the safety (risk management) of whatever activity your children and loved ones participate. As preposterous as checking for the threat of electrocution is during a lake swim or miniature golf, it could have prevented these deaths. Unfortunately, you make your luck when it comes to safety and security of our children.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

3 Norwalk Public Schools Go into Lockdown Due to Nearby Gang Related Shooting

     At 1:40 pm on June 1, 2012, a 22-year-old city man was shot multiple times while walking on Grandview Avenue between Kellogg Street and Leuvine Street. It is believed by the media (The Hour) that the victim is a member of the MGs, a Meadow Gardens-based gang. A car drove by and someone shot at him multiple times. Residents reported hearing between four and seven shots. Police believe the shooter was in a gray, four-door Honda Civic with no front license plate. The car, described by witnesses as a 2006 or 2007 model, was seen speeding from the crime scene. The shooting was the second shooting in three days. A 19-year-old man was shot at the playground of the Meadow Gardens housing complex Wednesday night.
      The shooting happened just a few blocks from Jefferson Elementary School. Ponus Ridge Middle School and Jefferson and Kendall Elementary schools were locked down while the investigation was taking place. Shortly after receiving the initial call, police discovered that the crime scene was on Grandview Avenue, and the road was blocked off from Kellogg Street to Leuvine Street.
     Superintendent Susan Marks said it is standard procedure to lock down the schools during a police investigation of a violent incident that happened so close to a school. "As I understand, the police had a great presence at the school. We always stand down based on what the police direct us to do," said Marks. "Unfortunately we've done this before and our schools do know what to do." 

Points for Discussion:

  • Executing a Lock Down to prevent violence from occurring or from spreading within a school OR a Lock Out to secure the school from violence entering the school are incident responses which require a simple plan, discussion, and practice drills to ensure you are capable.
  • It is always good to review situations to discuss other related contingencies:
    • What if the shooting victim stumbled into the school looking for help?
    • What medical capability resides within the school while you awaited alerted 911 response?
    • What if the kids were outside in post lunch recess and you heard gunshots? Drop and Cover and Reverse Evacuation back into the building?
    • Do you plan for Crisis Recovery teams to help the students and staff recover from the incident?
  • Conducting an After Action Review following the incident is critical to capturing vital lessons learned and shared with other schools throughout your district. 


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Talk to Students, Staff, and Parents About SUMMER SAFETY


As the end of the school year approaches, our concern for our students, staff, and families does not. NOW is the time to talk to them about SAFETY and SECURITY prior to school ending for the summer. All of us would admit that having a SAFETY and SECURITY MINDSET should be a year-round philosophy, it often is not. Life's activities get in the way and the daily grind can distract us from apportioning and allocating the proper amount of time to ensuring the one's we care about are safe and secure. THIS IS ALSO A LIFELONG LEARNING CONCEPT that our students (and kids) need to understand if they are to grow up to be aware, caring, and involved adults, citizens, and parents to their own families. Accidents, attacks, and injuries are often the drastic events that occur, shock us, and remind us to stay focused. HOPING your loved ones and students stay safe and secure is not a recommended technique, instead educate them and if necessary train them so they are prepared. Here are just a few discussion points that may be helpful:

  • Swimming and Diving and Surfing
  • Boating (power boat, canoe, kayak)   
  • Lightning
  • Fires
  • Public Bathrooms
  • Cars
  • Extreme sports
  • Not wearing helmets (head injury)
  • Jogging or Walking or Biking alone or with headphones
  • Parties or Dates gone bad

  • Calling 911 when someone is hurt or unresponsive. Stay on the phone to give information.
  • Lost kid: Do your kids know what to do if they get lost? Asking a woman is the safest response.
  • Helmet Protection versus Head Injuries: It becomes an inconvenience until it is too late, preventing head or brain injuries from something as simple as falling off of a bike or a skateboard can be a life saver. Kids think it is not "cool" but I tell them look at professional athletes or military folks, they don't do any training without a helmet of some kind.
  • Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs): If you go in a watercraft of any sort, do you wear a personal flotation device (PFD)? Remember sometimes the best swimmer gets knocked unconscious...have you ever tried to keep someone besides yourself afloat...?
  • Stranger Danger: What to do if approached or accosted by a stranger? Be loud, rude, and assertive and be ready to fight (scream, bite, scratch, gouge, kick, etc.)
  • Grown-Up Alone Time with Your Kids: Who has access to your kids, remember most assaults against children (infants, toddlers, teenagers) are by people the family knows, not strangers... be especially aware of those grownups your kids think "are cool or treat them grown up".
  • Travel in Groups: Never go anywhere alone if you can help it, to include going into the bathroom at a public place (store, movies, etc.) Make everyone responsible for everyone else, not just themselves.

  • Basic First Aid
  • CPR and CPR for an infant  
  • Swimming lessons for non-swimmers
  • Self Defense: What to do if someone tries to grab them.
  • Scenarios Where Grown-ups try to Trick Them: Avoiding being tricked by predators (Can you help me find my puppy? Your mom sent me to pick you up? I am a policeman and  here is my need to come with me.) Discuss Date Rape scenarios where being drugged, high, or intoxicated at a party can lead to an assault.  


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Combating Girl vs Girl Bullying Program: The Kind Campaign

Interesting Article about an Anti-Girl Bullying Program

Great article by Alyssa Longobucco (Self Magazine) about two Pepperdine University students (Lauren Parsekian and Molly Thompson) who founded The Kind Campaign. Interesting to see her shared views on an anti-bullying campaign targeted specifically towards females. While it is important to look at the effects of bullying on all students, this article made me think about the unique needs of each gender in that regard. also, the preventative educational measures can be tailored for each gender to be more effective. Also thought the author's insight that youthful bullies can, and often will, grow up to be adult bullies adds more urgency into these anti-bullying campaigns to increase civility and respect not only in our schools, but our society at large. Great article.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"HUMOR" Gone Awry...Kid's and Even Adults Taking Risks for a Laugh

Kids, and unfortunately even some adults, have participated in some risky behaviors and activities as a "goof", for a "laugh", or even their "15 minutes of fame" on YouTube.

Ashley Long, age 14 died from inhaling helium
Kids being kids and trying new things without using judgement, coupled with a youthful feeling of invincibility can result in disaster. Also, some adults lacking maturity, or in some cases the knowledge of what their kids are doing, can contribute to some of these horror stories. The risky behaviors listed below have been around for at least the last 20 to 30 years. What is different is our 2012 awareness (due to the information age) on how dangerous these seemingly simple "kids will be kids" behaviors really are.

Adult behavior allowing or facilitating these risky behaviors:
  • A school principal (Clinton Avenue School Principal in New Haven, CT) was placed on paid administrative leave due to allegedly observing students participating in the "cinnamon challenge" in the cafeteria and not stopping it. 
  • A Tutwiler Mississippi police chief (Police Chief Terry Tyler) and four of his staff were fired for coercing a mentally challenged youth who was doing community service at City Hall to participate in the "cinnamon challenge". Miss. Police Chief & Staff Fired
  • Katerine McAloon (27 yrs old) allegedly provided alcohol and marijuana to minors and held a party at her house with the helium tank where Ashley Long died from helium poisoning. There were allegedly three other adults present at this underage party. Ashley Long Dies from Helium
Some of the activities are:
  • The Cinnamon Challenge
  • The Choking Game
  • Inhaling Helium 
Videos about Risky Behaviors:

Cinnamon challenge is dangerous

Choking Game is a Problem

Inhaling Helium can be Deadly

Final Comment: Kids being adventurous and having fun in their lives is a part of life. However, we need to be aware of what are kids are doing, who they are doing it with, and what is acceptable and what is not in regards to risky behavior. We need to teach, not inspire, our kids to realize how dangerous these "games" really are and how they can injure or kill themselves accidentally. Like Ashley Long, it was her first party and first time participating in this risky behavior...sometimes the first time can be the LAST TIME. Prepare our kids and young adults for these situations before they occur. Preparedness, not Paranoia.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Freshman Drowns in East Hartford High School Pool during Gym Class

Jan 2012: A 15-year-old freshman student, Marcum Asiamah, drowned during a high school gym class at East Hartford High School. His family said he was excited to learn to swim during his gym class. Adults were present when students saw Marcum at the bottom of the pool. The teacher jumped in and performed CPR until first responders arrived. The teen was rushed to Hartford Hospital but did not survive and was pronounced dead at Hartford Hospital. the autopsy determined he was the victim of an accidental drowning.
Word of the accident spread quickly and many parents for calling their children to make sure they were safe. "A lot of the kids were freaked out and they were starting rumors about it," student Tracy Holmes said. "How do you let that happen?" said Solese Natta, another parent at the school. School Superintendent Mark Zito says the drowning remains under investigation. News 8 even called the CT State Department of Education to ask what the rules are for school's with pools. The representative reached said “They said they will look into this.” Manchester School Superintendent Mark Zito said in a prepared statement:
"Today there was a tragic event at East Hartford High School where a student drowned. The incident is under investigation and we have no findings that we can share with you at this time.  Student safety is of paramount concern and the school district will continue to work with the East Hartford Police Department to investigate this incident.  The pool will remain closed pending this investigation. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the family and friends of the student involved in this incident.  The school district is planning to provide grief counseling and support for students, faculty, and staff. The details of that support will be made available shortly."

Students who were at the pool when the incident happened were sent home early. Some other parents elected to pick their children up from school early due to the incident. Superintendent Mark Zito, visited the family's home to offer condolences and a referral to a therapist to help them cope with their loss. Grief counselors were be available for students, faculty and staff at school the next day. A vigil was held two days later on a friday night at 5:30 p.m. so students can come together to remember this young student. At the candlelight vigil, Joshua Dillon, president of the East Hartford High School student council, asked students to speak, and a few accepted, offering prayers and condolences to the family.

Points for Discussion: 
  • Don't wait for a tragedy to occur to determine what are the best safety practices for your facilities, and if there are associated risks, how you can mitigate them to an acceptable level.
  • A swimming pool in your school offers unique opportunities for your students and staff as well as unique risks (drowning, head injuries due to diving, chlorine chemicals, etc.).
  • Are there state department of education guidance or guidelines for pools at educational institutions, if not, why not?
  • Some safety procedures to discuss:
    • In military swim training or waterborne activities, those individuals who are non-swimmers and poor swimmers are identified and handled differently from those who can swim. 
    • Establishing a supervised peer buddy system between students can aid in a student not wandering off or doing their own thing. This is an added layer to existing supervision and increasing student's level of awareness of looking out for each other. 
  • The knee-jerk reaction is to close the pool indefinitely. While this is safest thing to do from a litigious standpoint, more good can be done by teaching children to swim and float to prevent further drownings.   
  • Comment on School Leadership: While not knowing the results of the drowning investigation, I applaud the superintendent actually visiting the family to offer his condolences and support to them. This type of personalized leadership is often unrecognized by people in educational leadership positions due to a lack of leadership education and training, and a fear of litigation.

Friday, January 6, 2012


An unfortunate tragedy occurred when police responded to a Lockdown incident at Cummings Middle School in South Texas. The shooting happened during first period at the school in Brownsville, a city at Texas' southern tip just across the Mexican border. Responding officers were required to shoot an eighth grade student who was holding a weapon.
The fifteen year old student, Jaime Gonzalez, had assaulted a fellow student and pulled a black pistol (see picture above) triggering the Lockdown response by school authorities. Jaime had walked into a classroom and punched a boy in the nose for no apparent reason. Police did not know why he pulled out the weapon, but "we think it looks like this was a way to bring attention to himself."  Teachers were notified over the school intercom that the school was on lockdown. They locked classroom doors and turned off lights, and some frightened students dove under their desks. They could hear police charge down the hallway. Students described the panic they felt during the lockdown. Renee Almazon, 15, crouched with her teacher and classmates away from all windows and doors. "We all moved to the corner where they couldn't see us," she said. Her teacher kept telling the class, "This is a real thing,"

A recording of police radio traffic posted on TV website indicates that officers responding to the school believed the teen had a handgun. An officer is heard describing the teen's clothes and appearance, saying he's "holding a handgun, black in color." The officer also said that from the front door, he could see the boy in the school's main office.  The student continued to brandish the weapon while police arrived and police repeatedly instructed him to drop the weapon which he failed to comply. The police were required to shoot him for their safety and the safety of others. Officers shot the teen with assault rifles, the interim police chief said. Unfortunately the boy died and his weapon turned out to be a replica (see picture above) Glock pellet gun. About 20 minutes elapsed between police receiving a call about an armed student and shots being fired, according to police and student accounts. Authorities declined to share what the boy said before he was shot. Police Chief Rodriguez said the teen was pointing the weapon at officers and "had plenty of opportunities to lower the gun and listen to the officers' orders, and he didn't want to." The chief said his officers had every right to do what they did to protect themselves and other students even though there weren't many others in the hallway at the time. Police said officers fired three shots.

Parents Reaction: Jaime’s distraught parents demanded to know why police took lethal action against their son. "Why was so much excess force used on a minor?" the boy's father, Jaime Gonzalez Sr., asked The Associated Press outside the family's home Wednesday night. "Three shots. Why not one that would bring him down?"  Then she flipped through three close-up photos she took of bullet wounds in her son's body. "What happened was an injustice," she said angrily. "I know that my son wasn't perfect, but he was a great kid." Jaime had gunshot wounds on his shoulder and rib cage, and one in the back of his head. "That's the shot that bothers me the most," Jaime Gonzalez Sr. said to The Brownsville Herald.

The officers will be placed on leave, a normal procedure in this type of event. Students, who were bused to another high school after the incident to meet their parents, Administrators said the school would be closed Thursday but students would be able to attend classes at a new elementary school that isn't being used.

Superintendent Carl Montoya remembered Gonzalez as "a very positive young man… Just something unfortunately happened today that caused his behavior to go the way it went. So I don't know," he said Wednesday. Gonzalez Sr. said he had no idea where his son got the gun or why he brought it to school, adding: "We wouldn't give him a gift like that." 

The Associated Press and The Brownsville Herald contributed to this report.

Points For Discussion: 
  • While this is certainly a tragedy, if ANYONE in a school commits a violent act and then brandishes a weapon (real or a realistic replica) causing a LOCKDOWN which then triggers an emergency law enforcement response (active shooter or hostage situation), and that individual refuses to put the weapon down when directed by police, they will be shot, and if shot, they stand a good chance of being killed.
  • Many school shootings are over in the first few minutes before law enforcement arrives adding to the sense of urgency by law enforcement.
  • Where did the boy get the replica pellet gun from? Why did he bring it to school?  Who else knew he had it?
  • If this young man brought the replica gun to school to get attention, he did, and the replica gun put his own life at risk, and his failure to comply with armed officers cost him his own life.
  • All students KNOW any weapon or something that looks like a weapon is FORBIDDEN to be brought into a school for this very reason.
  • When Law Enforcement tells you to do something requiring them to draw a baton, taser, or firearm, YOU DO IT. You can ask questions later, complain, or make a complaint if you feel justified, but YOU COMPLY, especially in an emergency.
  • After the fact, hindsight can appear to be 20/20 but unless YOU have ever responded in-extremis to a life threatening situation requiring the use of deadly force with even a rudimentary understanding of terminal ballistics, then you shouldn't second guess the police.
  • This shooting like all shootings will be professionally investigated and the results and actions will be reviewed and disseminated.   

Final Comment: I feel sorry for the young loss of life (although understandable under these circumstances) and for the law enforcement professionals that were required to use deadly force because they faced a threat to the safety of the school community and their fellow officers. My prayers go out to his family and the law enforcement officials (and their families) who will bear the burden of what happened. God Bless.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

High School Teacher Arrested & Fired For Hitting Administrator Following an Evaluation


Dec 13, 2011  

A Springfield Mass. High School of Commerce math teacher of nine years, Willie Vega (44 yrs old), was accused of and arrested for punching the female Vice Principal in the face after he received a bad evaluation. Police said Vega became “enraged with his evaluation,” stabbed it with a pen and crumpled it up before he punched the 41-year-old female vice principal. The vice principal tried to flee her office but police said Vega blocked the door. The vice principal then grabbed her portable school radio and called for help, police said. Vega’s punch caused the vice principal’s left eye to swell up, 

Vega will be summoned to Springfield District Court on Jan 25th on assault and battery and kidnapping charges, Springfield Police Sgt. Delaney said. Vega, was placed on administrative leave with pay while an internal review was conducted. The accused teacher Mr. Vega refused to answer questions at a school disciplinary hearing about the alleged assault. His decision to remain silent was based on advice from a teacher’s union lawyer, according to Timothy T. Collins, president of the Springfield Education Association. The internal review resulted in the termination of Mr. Vega's employment as a teacher according to Springfield Public Schools spokeswoman Azell Cavaan. 

School officials were “shocked” and “shaken” by the allegations and are “cooperating fully” with police. the school Principal Charles Grandson IV said yesterday the school made counselors available to students and faculty. “All of us are reaching out to and supporting the administrator involved and making sure that that person is taken care of mentally and physically,” Grandson told the media. “She is getting better and school officials are working to make sure she has the support she needs.” The accused teacher said he has a meeting scheduled with two lawyers today as he faces assault and kidnapping charges. “I can only say I’m going to defend myself fully and use every resource I have to defend myself,” Willie Vega, told the media, declining to comment further. He was released on personal recognizance. The accused teacher must obey a no-contact order with the victim, and also has to obey the school’s trespass order. 

Points for Consideration:
  • As an employee, no one likes to be told their professional performance or behavior is substandard, but accountability is critical for any organization to function effectively. 
  • As a supervisor, few are comfortable with face to face (F2F) performance evaluation counseling if it is negative in nature.
  • A supervisor must prepare the performance counseling properly, especially a negative counseling. Things to consider:
    • The environment: where is this taking place, observers in the room, physical setting, etc.
    • Rehearsing and war-gaming the employee response: how might the employee respond, factoring in the dignity of the teacher, rebuttal scenarios, control of the meeting.
    • Personal safety: if it is anticipated that the employee will react emotionally;  having another administrator, security, or even the School Resource Officer (SRO) standing by in a "low profile" manner can be a prudent measure.
  • Personal and professional maturity of the employee receiving negative performance counseling AND the experience level of the administrator providing the negative performance feedback are factors to consider. 
    • Strongly recommend the Administrator's supervisor rehearse and role-play a variety of counseling scenario outcomes. 
    • If you anticipate the employee's response might get emotionally heated or even violent, you must rehearse the responses for this with the key personnel that could be involved.   

Remember, having to do more with less or reducing staff in tough budget times can cause great emotional and psychological stress causing unprofessional behavior and even violence at times. Educational leaders and administrators must prepare for this potential through realistic planning for the worst case scenario.