Key to Dealing With School Terrorism: Keep Adults Calm

Because of the recent terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, in addition to school shootings and threatened bombings that have taken place in recent years, school districts examining how best to deal with threats have found a common thread: keep the adults calm.

As public anxiety about terrorist threats has mounted, various suggestions have been offered to help adults remain calm in such situations, including:

  1. School employees need to speak with peers or counselors about their own anxieties;
  2. Principals need to take time to speaking with their teachers in person about the events, instead of emailing or texting; additionally, principals need to be able to vent to their administrators;
  3. Parents should make sure to reassure their children that the “people on charge” are handling the situation;
  4. Younger students should receive brief, simple information “balanced with reassurances that their homes and schools are safe and that adults are there to protect them,” as the National Association of School Psychologists asserted;
  5. Older students need to be disabused of rumors they may have heard;
  6. Do not use the words “bomb” or “terror,” as this greatly raises the stress level;
  7. In general, give students a chance to vent what they are feeling by using morning meetings or restorative justice circles and advisory groups.

Dewey Cornell, the co-author of a 2015 study on multiple-casualty homicides at schools, said it is crucial for adults to know the chances of a school attack are extremely low. He stated, “It is important for school staff to recognize that schools are one of the safest places in our community … Gun violence is 10 times more likely in a restaurant than a school, and more mass shootings occur in restaurants than in schools, yet there is no fear of going to restaurants. The fear of school violence has been exaggerated by the poignancy of some extreme but statistically rare cases.”


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