By Paige Nash
Webster Parish Sheriff Jason Parker announced at June’s Police Jury meeting that due to recent events in Uvalde, Texas the department will be offering active shooter training and education. They coordinated with the Webster Parish School Board and they will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, August 15 at Minden High School. This opportunity will also be extended to school administration in the parish.
“My goal is to bring awareness and educate our first responders, teachers and students on how to prepare for these dangerous situations,” said Parker. “Also, to strengthen the response capabilities of our school resource officers and law enforcement officers to effectively combat active shooter incidents.”
It is hard for parents to believe a drill like this is necessary, but during the last few weeks of the previous school session there were a handful of threats made by students in the Webster Parish School system. Each of these were separate occurrences where a student made a threat to harm another student, themselves, or the school. One of these incidents took place on June 9 at Webster Jr. High School.
Minden Police Department received a report concerning a threat of a school shooting from an official at the junior high. The school was placed on lockdown, while MPD investigated. After exhausting all their resources, they were not able to find any substantial evidence regarding the threat.
What exactly is the procedure for dealing with these types of threats?
Kevin Washington, Assistant Superintendent at the Webster Parish School Board, said the parish follows a Virginia Tech threat assessment model. Since a mass shooting at the Virginia Tech College campus in 2007, the college has since formed a threat assessment team and model that is used by education institutions across the country.
The threat assessment is a process of identifying the person of concern, gathering information, assessing, then managing the situation based on the level of the threat. This allows school officials to determine if or when they need to intervene to maintain the safety of the school, staff, and students.
When these types of more serious threats occur, if the source of the threat is known, the student is sent home and must undergo a psychological evaluation by a medical professional before they are deemed safe to return. The problem with this is that there may be a waitlist to see the proper professional, with a waiting period of at least six months.
What then? Does the student stay home for six months or more until they are able to be evaluated? Is this in the best interest of the child or the school?
“One of the schools wanted me to approve homeschooling for one of the students until further evaluation,” said pediatrician Michael Ulich. “This seems like a big liability to send students home without at least a screening, and I cannot clear a child most times with a short visit.”
In a separate case the mother told Ulich that her child did not speak to a counselor, and they did not perform any other assessment, including asking whether the child had access to guns at home.
“As a primary care physician (PCP), I don’t have 45 minutes to an hour to sit with the child and their parents and do an intensive screening, which needs to be done before they start back to school,” said Ulich.
So, the question remains: why the uptick in threats within our parish? Are they due to recent events, such as the school shooting at Uvalde? Is it a tasteless practical joke or is it something more serious, like a sick student dealing with mental illness?
Mental illness is at an all-time high, even for adolescents, which means the demand for psychological services are also high, which has resulted in children having to wait up to 6 months or more for an initial visit. Dealing with uncertainty, anxiety and unpredictable schedules are already rough on most children and that is all they have known for two and a half years during the global pandemic.
“With all of the mental health issues going on with children, there needs to be a closer cooperation between the school counselors, the primary care providers, and the therapists,” said Ulich. “My solution for now would be to have a counselor at the school assess the child and they could call the PCP and coordinate care for mental health services. If the counselor and PCP do not feel that the student is an immediate danger, have a teacher or counselor greet the child every day and ask a few mental health screening questions until the student can get therapy.”
Mental health screening questions are a way to do a quick check-in. A counselor would ask how their evening at home went, how they are feeling about an upcoming test, or what their plans are for after school that day. These questions not only help to gauge their mood, but also establishes a trusting relationship and lets them know there are people out there who care.
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