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Violent threats against schools increase after Uvalde shooting

Violent threats against schools increase after Uvalde shooting

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Dive Brief:

  • In the week following the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, multiple school shooting threats have surfaced across the nation, prompting schools to increase security or shut down buildings entirely. 

  • In New York, a 16-year-old and 18-year-old at two Long Island high schools were arrested for violent threats.  Other threats have been made against multiple schools in states including California, Florida, Maine, Maryland and Texas. 

  • Those accused of threatening school shootings range from men to teenagers and young boys. In Cape Coral, Florida, a 10-year-old student in 5th grade was charged with making a written threat to conduct a mass shooting

Dive Insight:

Following the COVID-19 pandemic school building reopenings, administrators and staff braced for an increase in student misbehavior, including aggression and gun violence. According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association and released in March, about a third of teachers reported experiencing at least one incident of verbal harassment or violent threats from students between July 2020 and June 2021. 

While school shootings dropped during building closures, they have returned to pre-pandemic levels and may have even increased, according to Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit organization started by Sandy Hook Elementary School parents after the December 2012 massacre there.

“It really has felt like a pressure cooker,” Gerard Lawson, a licensed professional counselor who helped coordinate the response to the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, said about the pandemic’s impact on schools and students. “And we have all been sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop … it’s not going to be the reason for any of this [violence], but it certainly can’t have helped.” 

In the wake of the May 24 Uvalde shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead, reports of additional threats have quickly surfaced. While the FBI has declined to comment, previous documents from the agency released in conjunction with the Department of Justice suggest an increase in threats is possible. 

“School shootings and other violent incidents that receive intense media attention can generate threats or copycat violence elsewhere. Copycat behavior is very common, in fact,” the school shooter threat assessment document states. “Anecdotal evidence strongly indicates that threats increase in schools nationwide after a shooting has occurred anywhere in the United States.” 

The document suggests students, teachers, school administrators and law enforcement officials “should be more vigilant in noting disturbing student behavior in the days and weeks or even several months following a heavily publicized incident elsewhere in the country.” 

Following school shootings, it is common for schools to increase security, including tapping into law enforcement for help. 

Advocates of school resource officers, or SROs, say well-trained school-based officers can prevent shootings by improving the school climate and building relationships with students.

Some research, however, shows no evidence that SROs improve school safety or reduce school violence. The use of police in schools has also received increased scrutiny after the Uvalde shooting and reports surfacing that police did not immediately confront the shooter.

There is also concern that some security measures may actually make students feel unsafe. 

“There is research to support that the presence of police and SROs and metal detectors and random locker checks and clear backpacks are directly linked to the psychological trauma response,” said Addison Duane, a former elementary school teacher with a Ph.D. in educational psychology and now a professor at Wayne State University. Duane’s research and expertise includes trauma and racism in schools. 

There have also been reports of schools holding additional active shooter drills — a security measure that has been criticized by some teachers and others for the trauma it can cause students, especially right after a mass shooting.

“There are ways to do drills like that in a more humane way,” Lawson said. “Because sometimes they can be very traumatizing for children. I’ve heard of situations where they’ve used starter pistols in the hallway to sort of mimic the sound of gunfire.” 

Instead, Lawson said, elementary school teachers could use the example of a lion or bear outside the building rather than an active shooter. 

“I believe there should be some grace period here for kids to be able to decompress a little bit after something like this,” Lawson said.

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