Experts discuss school safety at conference

April 24 2008

TERRE HAUTE • From bullying to Internet safety to identifying potential shooters, Indiana State University School and College Law Conference focused on school safety and security.

The April 16 conference attracted about 175 attendees who heard experts discuss everything from dealing with the media to working with law enforcement and deputy prosecutors.

“It’s very much a hot button topic,” said Josh Powers, chair of the department of educational leadership, administration and foundations, which co-sponsored the 33rd annual conference, along with the Education Development Council. “I hope they will feel affirmed that they are doing some good things in the schools. Their schools are havens for learning. At the same time, they can be proactive so students feel safe and secure by being at school.”

Becky Ottinger, a guidance counselor with the Zionsville Community Schools, described the sessions as relevant.

“It’s a perspective that we don’t get in schools,” she said.

That gained perspective included an update by David Emmert, general counsel for the Indiana School Boards Association, on recent court rulings. As he ran several scenarios past the attendees, he also passed along advice.

“If chaos breaks forth, you must show that you exercised reasonable care,” he said. “School officials must take reasonable precautions once it could be foreseen.”

Jean Peterson, associate professor of counseling and development at Purdue University, spoke on a study she conducted about students’ experiences of bullying and being bullied.

Although bullying has been defined as overt, repeated acts or gestures, Peterson said she took exception to the word repeated. Even done once, an act could be bullying, whether it was verbal, written, physical or harassment.

“If kids do not feel safe in school, they’re going to stay home,” she said.

In the study, which looked at gifted eighth-graders at 16 schools in 11 states, 67 percent of all participants said they had been victims of at least one type of bullying.

“It is important to not dismiss it,” Peterson said. “Make it clear that it is not acceptable. Do something about it and do not blow it off.”

Capt. Perry Hollowell, instructor at Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, said there are several things all of the school shooters have in common. One of those huge red flags in their lives is that they feel bullied or like a victim, he said.

“Revenge is a huge motivator,” he said, adding it could be found as a factor in every school shooting case.

Other flags to pay attention to are:

- Change of appearance -- loses interest in bathing, hair or shaving; wears different style clothes.

- Change of social environment -- new friends, loss of friends, hangs out new places.

- Change of habits -- late for work or school, grades fade, recreational activities change.

- Emotions -- quick to anger, cries easily, lashes out at others.

- Change in values -- parents divorce; begins drinking, using drugs or lying; begins to devalue human life.

- Language -- begins to use jargon or to swear.

- Threats -- Makes threats against others in writings, in person or over the telephone or Internet.

Most important is communication between different groups when they notice the flags, according to Hollowell. Law enforcement, school administrators, teachers, parents and students need to communicate when a person is at risk.

By the different groups talking with each other, Hollowell said, perhaps future attacks could be stopped.

Terry McDaniel, assistant professor of educational leadership, administration and foundations, said the counselors, principals and superintendents attending the conference were focused on the various safety issues because they know it’s an important topic.

“Our schools have to be safe so we can teach the students,” he said.

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Contact: Joshua Powers, associate professor and chair of the department of educational leadership, administration and foundations, at (812) 237-2900 or at jopowers@indstate.edu

Contact: Terry McDaniel, assistant professor of educational leadership, administration and foundations, Indiana State University, at 812-237-3862 or at tmcdaniel@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, assistant director of media relations, Indiana State University, at 812-237-7972 or jsicking@isugw.indstate.edu

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/280422047_rPSYY-D.jpg

Cutline: David Emmert, general counsel for the Indiana School Boards Association, speaks during Indiana State University’s 33rd annual School and College Law Conference. ISU photo/Kara Berchem

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/280432073_na2iU-D.jpg

Cutline: Capt. Perry Hollowell, instructor at Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, speaks about what “red flags” to look for in possible shooters during Indiana State University’s 33rd annual School and College Law Conference. ISU photo/Tony Campbell

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From bullying to Internet safety to identifying potential shooters, Indiana State University School and College Law Conference focused on school safety and security.

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