Children’s safety is top priority with officials
Rural Arizona not immune to danger; school safety seminar focuses on ways to avert tragedy
Seventy-two hours before Valentine’s Day in 1987, a 17-year-old Southern California student at the Orme Boarding School in Mayer was killed by a Yavapai County sheriff’s deputy after he went on a shooting rampage on the campus, critically wounding one administrator and injuring two teachers.
The then-high school junior, Jarrett Huskey, the private prep school’s recently selected football team captain, was apparently distraught over a one-week suspension he was to serve after he was caught drinking beer on campus, according to school authorities quoted in newspaper accounts.
The shooting made state and national headlines. It did not, however, generate the prolonged coverage or spark ongoing debate about school safety, including gun control measures and the availability of mental health counseling and services, as have other school and university massacres over the last two decades.
Yet the lives of the Orme School victims, and all of the students and staff who lived through that ordeal were forever changed, the memory of the terror still fresh 31 years later, according to witnesses who attended a recent Yavapai County Education Service Agency school safety seminar on Friday, April 13.
No one wants to stand in another funeral procession due to this brand of violence, concurred the 70 some area leaders who attended the seminar.
Touted as a “listening session” for representatives of every aspect of community life in this region – law enforcement, education, mental and community health, juvenile justice and criminal courts, media, non-profits and emergency responders – the seminar was aimed at generating ideas on how to prepare and respond for such a tragedy in this region.
Because no place is immune.
This seminar — a similar one was held earlier in the Verde Valley — was arranged just two months after a former student at a Parkland, Fla. high school went on a shooting rampage, killing 17 students and teachers and wounding 17 more.
A central theme of the three-hour event was the need for enhanced collaboration and communication between agencies. Beyond people’s personal politics and opinions about who should and should not have guns, all attenders said interagency cooperation can avert threats before a deadly situation arises.
In these times of limited finances, educators and mental health professionals emphasized the need to share existing resources.
A cited example: the Milestones Projects operated out of the Yavapai County Education Service Agency. This project is designed to confidentially identify students at high risk for violence who require a range of ongoing support services so as not to become a threat to themselves or others. Many in the room were unaware of the project’s existence.
The reality that the very places expected to be a child’ academic, social and recreational oasis are now targets of violence pose challenges beyond any taught in college education courses, school leaders said. Some rural education officials suggested it might be time for teachers to become trained to carry and use handguns on school premises. Others suggested that is simply not the role of a teacher.
Many want money for school resource officers, armed police personnel who make connections with students to thwart problems.
For skeptics, Mayer Superintendent Dean Slaga said these men and women do far more than provide building security. They earn students’ trust to curb criminal activity before it happens, or garner the information required to make an arrest. They are another adult able to nurture and care for a student. A recent high school class invited the resource officer to be their graduation speaker.
Prescott Police Chief Debra Black said there are 18 schools in the city limits — district, charter and private — and her hope is to be able to have a dedicated officer able to be a presence at all of them. Again, though, that would need to be made a funding priority, she said.
As for building security, Chino Valley Unified Superintendent John Scholl said educators’ jobs should be to instruct. School districts need money to hire the professionals able to answer those needs without turning places intended to welcome children of all ages “into prisons.”
Supervisor Jack Smith talked about the role social media now plays with all school-aged students. Parents, educators and other counseling professionals need to be tuned in on the impact cell phones, video games and other technology is making on students, particularly those who are vulnerable and connect their self-esteem to their social media.
Yavapai County Superintendent Tim Carter, who organized the two-phase seminar for both the Quad-City region and the Verde Valley, concurred.
“In the old days, if you started a rumor on Monday, maybe by the next Monday, a few people heard it,” said Carter, a four-decade educator and voice for county and state educational issues. “Nowadays, you start a rumor on social media, and 10 minutes later thousands of people have heard the information. And that creates all new dynamics … and making sure we really put serious thought on how does that impact everything we do in the area of school safety.
In the coming months, Carter said smaller groups come up with short and long-term action plans.
“This is not new,” Carter said of addressing school safety. “It’s just a matter of how we approach it.”