Keeping Oceanside High School Safe

By CAYLEE COURTRIGHT

In the early afternoon hours of November 30th, students at Oxford High School experienced what can only be described as their worst nightmare. By the end of the day, 4 students had died and 7 people were injured in what was the 32nd school shooting of 2021. This isn’t something that should be taken lightly and has become a serious plague upon our country. Upon reading this, common thoughts are: “this could never happen in our school” or  “we live in a safe community” however these thoughts have been held by people who live in nice safe areas such as Newtown and Parkland. However slim the chance may be, it is a possibility and collectively, students and staff need to know how to be prepared in the event of something like this happening. In order to ensure I was receiving the most up-to-date information about our school specifically, I sat down with our principal, Dr. Mitchell. 

According to The Trace, Over 90% of all the firearm deaths among children and adolescents that occur in industrialized nations occur in this country, a good amount of them coming from school shootings. When asked what Oceanside High School is doing to prevent horrific events such as these Dr. Mitchell assured us that safety and security of the students is the school’s number one priority. Of course learning, sports, music, arts and all other great things are and should be happening here, but when it comes down to the most important and simple concern, it is safety and security. 

There are protocols in place at a school level, a district level, and a state level. Dr. Mitchell explained that the school even works with outside resources such as the police and fire departments but even outside experts to see where the strengths of our lockdown drills and procedures are, but also to let us know what we can do better. Dr. Mitchell emphasized that the main point is to be proactive and they do frequent training with their outside security consultant in addition to the inhouse lockdowns and training. 

There are building level safety meetings once a month and recent shootings are discussed and our school looks to learn from these tragedies. In a proactive manner Dr. Mitchell wants “ an overview and understanding of any suspicious behavior or any irregularities among our students.”  To assist with this we have our security staff, our faculty and “We have point-level people, like Mr. Miekel, who is our main point of contact for the safety of the overall building. That’s a big part of his job, which is to tighten up the drills and oversee what we can do better.”

There were multiple instances where the two of the teachers at Oxford High School saw suspicious behavior and reported it. They claimed they had seen “saw and heard something that she felt was disturbing,” The Sandy Hook Promise is a non-profit organization formed after the tragic school shooting that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. They claim that 93% of school shootings were planned in advance and had significant warning signs. The suspect, who will remain unnamed, had made multiple posts on Instagram that were very disturbing and had been very vocal about his plans, yet no student reported it, and the teachers that had brought up these concerns were dismissed. This has happened in the past, with multiple other shootings, and the plans that turned into action were ignored. With this as background and in an effort to ensure that our school takes these claims and incidents seriously, I asked Dr. Mitchell specifically about this. The following is transcribed from our interview.

CC: The Sandy Hook Promise claims that in almost every documented case of an active shooter, there were warning signs, how can students be attentive to warning signs?

Dr. M: “We always look for warning signs. We have, of course, GoGuardian, which is our computer monitoring system where we have filters in place for our networking system where can identify anything that might be irregular or for students and staff that will be alerted in the case that something suspicious is going on. To be proactive we have our PPS team, our People Personel Services team, like our school counselors, our social workers, that provide understanding and explanation of what those warning signs might be. They are there to constantly remind students and staff what to be looking for. We would always encourage them to reach out if they do see something unusual, you can never be too careful. More often than not it could be nothing, but we want to have the eyes and ears of the community to express their concerns. Students see and hear more than we do, so we want to know if a post or something someone says grabs their attention. We want you to come up to a social worker, or a guidance counselor to say ‘Hey, I saw this post on Snapchat, and it’s concerning me, and might want to be something you want to look at.’ We do ask everyone to work collectively as a community to report suspicious behavior.”

More often than not, when a student comes across a concerning post, as Oceanside students have seen in the past, it can be an empty threat or a bad joke in poor taste. Often students have come to a crossroads where it’s difficult to distinguish between something that was a joke or that has serious ramifications on the safety of our school and community. In teenager terms, often we’re scared to ‘snitch’ on the student. Especially if we’re wrong.

CC: How can students distinguish between warning signs and jumping to conclusions that can put a student in serious trouble? Or poor humor vs a serious possibility of crime?

Dr. M: “This is something we also deal with, whether or not to ask, is this a joke, or something in poor taste, or is there something more to it? What I would say to students if anything seems off, is let an adult know, let a counselor know. Let us decide the seriousness of the post, and if it comes to a student’s attention that it might be a joke, it’s better to air on the side of reporting it to see what level of truther or danger there is to it. If it turns out it was a joke in poor taste or someone blowing off steam, the student wouldn’t be in a tremendous amount of trouble, but it would be worth having a conversation as to how this could be perceived as concerning. It could be a learning experience for everybody. Take the guesswork out of it, let the adults determine the severity of the situation.”

Again, often students are afraid of the social ramifications of reporting an incident, post, or something they overheard in the hallways. For the reassurance and comfort of my fellow peers, I wanted to give them peace of mind that they would remain safe, as students who report these kinds of things possibly prevent their school from harm.

CC: For students, staff, and the community that report these kinds of incidences, is there a secure amount of anonymity?

Dr. M: “Yes. I’m glad you said that because that would be important to let the community know as a whole. For anything that is reported to us, we keep that information confidential and the student’s name out of that. We want to encourage reporting, and there would be no connection to the student that reported it and the student in question.”

When coming to school, it is the overall belief that students should come to school without the fear of one of their peers turning against them with violent intent. It’s disappointing to see our generation come upon a period of time where we have to watch our backs in hopes that we remain safe. Most if not all students have experienced that fear and possibly even heard rumors of a threat. It’s been twenty-three years since the Columbine shooting, and the frustration of parents and students has become more apparent. Too many lives have been lost to gun violence, 

Do you believe that it’s the student’s responsibility to watch for signs of possible violence against them? If not, whose responsibility is it? 

Dr. M: “As students, you have the right to have the expectation that you would come to school, which is a safe environment. I wouldn’t that to be perceived as part of your role, or responsibility as a student. That’s sad to me that we’d have to even ask that question, but it’s a reality of our country and the world we live in. I wouldn’t say it’s a student’s responsibility, but there’s a certain level of awareness that I want students to have to look for these signs. More often than not, we say ‘Oh well, that happened in Michigan,’ or ‘That happened in Florida,’ and we don’t see that here, in New York. And we certainly hope that never does happen here. We can probably come to the conclusion that the people at Parkland didn’t think it would happen there. The responsibility and safety of our school fall on me, and our team, and the administration. We want students and teachers to focus on learning, but at the same time, we ask if something comes up that they let us know.”

Why do you think school shootings continue to plague our country? It’s a very Americanized problem, across various social media platforms, I personally have seen many comments and posts that say, “This doesn’t happen in our country, that happens in America?” Collectively, what do you think we can do as a country to stem this violence?

Dr. M: “That’s a huge question. It’s tough, but I think what we can do is proactively look at the mental health of our students, staff, and society. I think for a long time there was an embarrassment connected to struggles to mental health and wellness. When a kid breaks their ankle, you can see that injury, it’s so apparent. And when you see it you try to offer assistance to help them. With mental health and mental wellness, it’s not as obvious. We know there are kids with straight A’s struggling and those with failing grades that are struggling and I think as a country, we have to pay more attention to the mental health and wellness of our students and staff. One, to proactively address those struggles, like homework, anxiety, tests, and so on. As well as the conflicts of being a teenager today, which is so different from when I was a teenager. And putting proactive systems in place to address these issues and better deal with them. This is why I am so excited about the mental health and wellness center we’ve been working on, which hopefully will be available by the end of this year, or by September at the latest. So we can have more opportunities for students during the school day to get the help they need and be able to understand the internal struggles that may be going on. Programs are certainly in place. With social media, there’s a platform for everyone and that puts pressure on students to be always looking at everyone a certain way. As well as getting that message out there that if you’re struggling and you think you need help, that it’s okay to ask for help. We often see it as a vulnerability or a weakness. I wish we had a real answer in order for us to do better, but we certainly always hope there is legislation and things in place to help to monitor access to guns and to make sure that people who shouldn’t have guns in their hands can’t get guns in their hands. I think that’s another part of it too.

Going back to the actual shooting in Michigan, some of the students are seeing footage where the shooter is saying he was a part of the police and said “you can come out now, it’s safe.” Some students actually escape via windows or other ways during these shootings which is contradictory to lockdown procedures. Is there any thought to revisiting our procedures to determine what is safest for our students?

Dr. M: “What’s interesting is that we’re coming in on an age where we’ve been doing lockdown drills for quite some time. Probably your whole life, you’ve done some lockdown drills and this is sad to say, but some of the potential shooters know what lockdown drills are. In that sense, it’s always good to reflect on the drills and the best practices. we rely on the experts, and people that are well versed in this kind of event, and can tell us how to best conduct a drill. and another reason why our drills are so important, we gather in our office with maps and analyze and go room by room to figure out and reflect what we could see, hear, and indifferent classrooms once the drill is over. We treat it with seriousness and know that the more data we have on our school specifically, the better prepared we can be for if something happens. There hasn’t been a major school fire in decades, but we still have them, and it’s always good to see what the process is.”

We don’t implement a bag check or any sort of caution to check our student’s bags as other schools do, is there any discussion on implementing that? 

Dr. M: “We’ve had discussions, and it’s a measure of balancing keeping our school safe while still running the operations of a regular high school. We’ve certainly talked about it, and seen the research of implementing it.”

What resources are given to the security guards in the event something like this were to happen?

Dr. M: “Our security has monthly meetings, and get training on these sorts of things. We bring in outside consultants to give them the most up-to-date information on how to notice certain behaviors and go about things like this. Particularly in our school, we have a lot of former police officers that have gone about training in their time as a police officer on how to handle things like this.”

https://www.thetrace.org/2019/08/children-teens-gun-deaths-data/

https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/school-shootings-by-country

https://www.statista.com/statistics/811541/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-state/

https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/gun-violence/16-facts-about-gun-violence-and-school-shootings/

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/multiple-people-injured-shooting-oxford-high-school-michigan-officials-rcna7128

https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2021/03/us/school-shooting-lockdown-drills/

https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/unannounced-active-shooter-drills-scaring-students-without

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