Howell County News/ Amanda Mendez

Let's Talk about School Violence

R-IV SRO Hosts Community Chat
"If we can help them at one of those junctures, we can divert them off that violent pathway. I've seen it work, and I know how powerful it is."
The Willow Springs School District did not have a threat assessment program when Officer Glen Moore became the School Resource Officer 13 years ago. He has built the program from the ground up.
"I haven't met anyone who is as much as a school safety nerd as me," Moore said. "We've put a lot of effort into [these plans] to make sure it's safe."
Officer Moore hosted a community forum at Pizza Americana on June 2 to allow parents and community members to ask questions and air their concerns. The national tragedy in Uvalde, Tex. on May 24 where 21 people were killed by a shooter at Robb Elementary School hung heavy in the air as Officer Moore spoke. 
Armed School Employees and Extensive Training
The Willow Springs School district has an undisclosed number of armed staff members who are "strategically" and "surreptitiously" placed around the school campus, Officer Moore explained. As the School Resource Officer, Moore is the only armed personnel in uniform. Details about exactly who is armed is kept secret to prevent an attacker from targeting the staff members who are trained to protect the school.
"A potential threat wouldn't know who to target," Officer Moore explained. 
Officer Moore described these staff members as "basically trauma combat medics" who train "very frequently". They are trained to converge on a threat with as short a response time as possible. 
In addition to training school employees, Officer Moore reported that he has collaborated with several local first responding agencies. They routinely run school safety drills.  
"If I'm not there, [local agencies] will make it happen," Moore said. 
"We know what our job is," added school board member and firefighter Adam Webb.
In the event of an attack on the school, parents will be notified via the school's notification system and asked to go to the reunification site at First General Baptist Church. Parents and community members are also asked not to show up with a firearm in these circumstances because it will waste valuable time.
"That's one more person with a gun we have to clear," Officer Moore explained.
If there are injured people in the school, the plan is to get them out as quickly as possible. There will be no delay in Willow Springs like we saw in Uvalde, Moore said. 
He said he trains his teams to prioritize the lives of innocent bystanders. With weekly training sessions and building in redundancies, Officer Moore describes his plan as "the best I believe we could have."
Prevention is Key
Officer Moore spent the majority of the forum on the subject of identification and prevention of potential risk factors to school safety.
Holding a master's degree in Social Work, Moore said he studies school safety relentlessly. 
"I've been reading nonstop since what happened in Texas," he shared. 
"81% of the perpetrators of school shootings told someone at least part of their plan. Almost every one of these could have been prevented," Officer Moore said. "This is the key."
He described a "pathway of violence" that usually begins with feelings of isolation and bullying. The early stages of the pathway of violence that have led to school shootings have generally taken more than a year before shooters begin actively preparing their attacks, and according to Officer Moore, this time period is the time to intervene meaningfully in the life of a young person. 
"If we can help them at one of those junctures, we can divert them off that violent pathway," he said. "The closest calls have all come to us...students who knew they wouldn't be persecuted. I've seen it work, and I know how powerful it is."
For a rural district, Willow Springs has comparatively "abundant" mental health resources. Every school building has a dedicated school counselor. Case managers are on campus five days a week, and therapists are on hand two days a week. Officer Moore said he is seeking to increase the days therapists are available because there is currently a waiting list for their services. 
"I really try to interact with the kids," he said, "but there's 1,300 of them. What we teach is resilience, so they don't feel they have to resort to violence. Having positive adults in kids' lives is huge. If they are lacking that, it's a big red flag."
"I think it's pretty obvious how fortunate we are to have Officer Moore," said School Board President Mac Gum at Thursday's forum. "The training is taken very seriously. It's part of everyday life."
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