School administrators and police officers from across the region met in Cranberry Wednesday to discuss school violence prevention at the U.S. Attorney's sixth annual Regional Gang Awareness Conference. Principals and counselors learned how to develop and manage a "threat assessment team" to intercept school attacks before they happen.
Art Kelly III of the U.S. Department of Education's Safe Schools Initiative said the goal is for each individual school to tailor its team to its community. He said that means involving carefully chosen police officers, counselors, teachers, and after-school supervisors. "If you have five different schools from across five different parts of the United States, they're all going to look a little different," said Kelly. "But the intent is to identify the threats or the risks, assess ('Do they pose a risk?'), and then figure out how to manage."
Kelly said it's also important that schools create an atmosphere where every student feels comfortable about approaching adults with school attack information. He said that as a Secret Service agent, he dealt with several cases where children who had knowledge of a planned attack didn't come forward because they thought they'd be ignored or punished.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton said crime prevention efforts like this are preferable to prosecution. "We can save a victim; we can maybe save a life of a troubled individual who might be a perpetrator of a crime; and from the pure dollars and cents standpoint, it's a lot more inexpensive to prevent crime than to prosecute it," said Hickton.
Hickton said the conference also addressed "cyber-bullying," in which one student taunts another over the Internet, often anonymously. He said it's the "new highway" of bullying, and can lead directly to school violence. "It is not something to slough off," said Hickton. "It is a very serious problem, it's a persistent problem, and it is as harmful to a sensitive child in adolescence as striking them physically, and in many cases it's worse."
Hickton said in addition to Wednesday's conference, his office continually gives presentations about cyber-bullying at local school districts. He encouraged interested administrators to contact his office.