The ASCA conference is nearly upon us, which means we’ve wrapped up another school year. I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the year. This is a time when I can sit back to consider new trends and unusual phenomenon in the greater arena of school crisis. One way I measure that is to look at what circumstances led people who had attended training, and in many cases have led very active and accomplished crisis response teams, to call for coaching. Often teams respond to a variety of deaths and events and then find one that throws them for a loop, or has potential legal implications, or has great conflict with the ethics or values of a district. At those times I am very open to providing all of the phone consultation and often some email support as well, to help teams get through as well as possible.
Looking historically, although the changes may not have been as abrupt as it seemed, the difference in the ’80s and the ’90s in school crisis seemed to be all about school shootings and the advent of threat assessment. Although this has been a continuing theme since the turn of this century, I am receiving a few other categories of calls for assistance much more often than a decade or even a few years ago.
One is that there seems to be an upsurge in arrests of teachers for the broad category of child sexual abuse, ranging from teachers having affairs with students to teachers arrested for involvement with child pornography to those who think they are soliciting sex with a minor only to be met at the rendezvous by an FBI agent. At those times, district administrators often struggle with how much to tell students about why the teacher is gone and question how much to tell parents through letters or other communications. Although there is much to consider in cases such as these, clearly there is one standard by which I measure much, and that is, to maintain the trust of parents, it is much better for them to hear it from us than to hear it from another source. Hearing from anyone other than the school guarantees that the school’s efforts, policies and procedures, immediate action and methods of safeguarding children will not be represented. Instead, parents will come to believe that the school’s efforts are what the media reports, or what they hear via the grapevine, and those will never do the district justice.
Another new phenomenon (probably not new, but coming to our attention more and more often) includes students who have committed homicide, often involving another student or people in the community who are known to the school. In this category, I’m not speaking of gang-related incidents, but rather times when a student who appears by all standards to be an ordinary kid. And something goes amiss. Something that leaves the students, the school and the community with their mouths agape. Often, again, administration is reluctant to address these events openly with students. But our failure to do so simply reinforces to students that, yes, even homicide is just a part of everyday life and we can certainly go on as though nothing has happened. To do this sorely misses the teachable moment for students and we reinforce the school climate that says to students, “If you hear of someone planning such a horrific event, you need not mention it to anyone. We don’t talk about those things here.” Sweeping these incidents under the rug leaves our schools and our communities more vulnerable to continued similar events.
Finally, this year brought a great number of schools calling with unusual teacher or staff deaths with which to cope. Some were teacher deaths due to socially unacceptable deaths (such as drunk driving) and others were simply heart wrenching moments (such as the death of a pregnant teacher or the death of the infant of a teacher in a school in which there were several other pregnant teachers).
Each of these calls is just as valuable to me as it is for those of you who place them. I know that even my just being a sounding board can help you hear your own process with greater clarity, but too, I know I bring the thoughts that have been generated in a hundred calls like this over the past years, and many good people with whom I’ve worked have come to great solutions for sticky challenges. My greater message in all of this is that I never want you to hesitate to call to check out an idea, ask for suggestions or see whether I might already have a handout that will be helpful in the moment. This is an ever-changing field and it is my job to stay on the cutting edge and be available to bring that knowledge to you in the moments you most need it.
Enjoy summer and we’ll “see” you again in the fall!