DeVos: I am Betsy DeVos and on behalf of the
Department of Education I would like to welcome you all here. I’ll begin by thanking all our participants
for being flexible and changing up our format a little bit today and I did have a little
bit more formal opening remarks I was going to make, but I think in lieu of those I would
like to ensure we have ample time to engage and discuss what we are going to hear. Let’s get right into the panel’s first presentations
and I am going to introduce those participants in a moment. Our first speaker is going to be Mr. Troy
Ide. A former US attorney, he practices law in
Denver, Colorado, and during the time after the Columbine tragedy, Troy served as an ex-official
member of the Columbine rebuke mission while also serving as chief council to former Governor
Bill Owens. I am going to ask Troy to go ahead with his
remarks and then we are going to introduce each of the other panelist as they present. Welcome, Troy, and thank you for being here. Troy: Thank you, Madam Secretary, and thank
you commission members and everyone who is here. I will speak very briefly. I have a statement that I am happy to provide
for the record. What I would say is that this is a personal
and professional matter to me, the subject matter. I have lived in our community and Columbine
is part of our school district for 48 years. I went to public school there. I had one son graduate from high school next
door, my daughter is in high school right now. This has been a momentous chain of events. 19 years ago that continues to reverberate
so many ways. Governor Owens established a commission because
at the time of the Columbine shooting, less than an hour after the shooting started, we
didn’t know that it was actually over at that time. We got in a vehicle, the Governor and I did,
and the state trooper, we went to the staging area where the students were being evacuated. And I wanted to mention this because of how
far we have come. No one’s in command. The idea of having a command structure was
something that developed out of the Columbine commission and many other kinds of changes
in place tactics that flowed in that era. The radios did not talk to each other. We had a situation where I was literally drafted
in, I had a walkie talkie in one hand, I had a cell phone in the other. I had a sheriff John Stone on cell phone and
I had a state patrol and others on the other line. We were trying to do things like trying to
position a helicopter on the roof and the radius and talk we didn’t have dispatch so
we were all volunteering. And just the aftermath of trying to deal with
a crime scene on that scale. The numbers of victims, victim notification,
we had never had anything like that in our county. And I just say that there were really three
areas as we looked at this from an independent standpoint with a group of experts, a bipartisan
group, lots of different backgrounds, came out with a report. The first really focused on the police response
and emergency response. I would just say from this group, we have
a lot of work to do but that has been the area that I have observed having been other
after action reviews and police and first responders from school shootings. That is where we have made the most progress. It has really been the case that going after
the active shooter quickly and being able to not wait for SWAT. Keep in mind that in Columbine, the attack
was over in 13 minutes. Law enforcement didn’t enter the building
for 47 minutes. Coach Dave Sanders was bleeding to death,
the students had the sign in the window, “One bleeding to death.” The first responders were looking at the sign
and three hours passed before they were allowed to go into that room. And that is just the way police were trained,
it is not a criticism of law enforcement or someone else, it is just that it was not a
hostage situation in the way we had thought it would be. And so we have made some progress there. We have radios to talk to each other, we have
much more collaboration going on in how we plan. We have those exercises that our kids complain
about that are so important. But the second thing I would say is in the
general recommendations. It is the simple idea that cluster information
and information sharing with law enforcement- here I think we have made some progress too,
but we have taken some steps backward. I talk in my statement and I won’t go into
it here but I am happy to answer questions about it, about the fact that at Columbine,
there were the two assailants Harris and Claybald, the district knew a lot about what they were
about. They didn’t tell the police. The police knew an awful lot, in fact, they
had been in the juvenile justice system repeatedly. There was no notification to the school. Now our laws have changed in our state and
basically all the states to facilitate that. We had those changes in federal law that I
don’t think have been as helpful as they could be. I specifically talk about the family educational
rights and privacy act, at 20 USC32g. I think the Commission might want to look
at that. We just had our state attorney general issue
an opinion to districts to explain why it is that schools are not liable if they report
information about problem students, potentially violent students, to police. That has been issue throughout our state-
so much so that our AG has been trying to clarify the law in that regard- but it is
a federal statute and something you might want to look at. So I go through how that works and what I
think we have learned, at least from our perspective in Colorado. The final area, and then I’ll stop my remarks
here, we focused a lot at Columbine on the need- working with FBI profilers and others
to come up with predictive models which students are really dangerous, how do you act early? The answer is we have not made much progress
at all, in my opinion. Again, it is not a crticism, but we need to
focus on the harder issues, it seems to me. We have heard a lot of testimony and other
commissions have heard testimonies in the years since, but part of the problem is that
we are still I think fixated on the true threat standard. When I was a US attorney, I handled the true
threat cases against both Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama in 2008 federal court,
and I know what it is to prove out a case “is there really a threat to kill someone?” It is a high burden and I understand why it
is. I think in a place, environment, you have
to give clear instructions and clear rules, but when you are talking about a school environment
it is so different. So I would simply say that we might want to
look at that standard. Do we want really that standard to apply in
school settings? It may well be that we want to err more on
the side of inclusion, civil holds, the ability to say “we want to evaluate this person, we
heard he has a violent tendency, he has threatened others in the school setting.” We don’t know if he can carry it out, which
is what the law requires you prove, but we want to be able to detain that person. Now, I think they should have due process
rights, right to council, and so on, but there should be a means of taking a pause and being
able to investigate that so that person is removed from a setting where that person can
potentially hurt other people. And so I talk a bit about this int the statement. We explored those ideas back in 2000, 2001
when we wrote our report, but I think that the 25 attacks since really have shown a consistent
inability to deal with problems. We typically know there is a problem with
somebody and we typically don’t act and then we wonder why we didn’t act. So I think that is where this commission also
can have a significant impact. So it is a hard conversation to have, but
these are the kind of conversations that I am really glad that you are addressing here. I’ll be glad to take questions and I really
appreciate your time, thank you. DeVos: Thank you so much, Troy. We are going to hold on questions until our
four panelists have had a chance to speak, so I am going to next introduce Mr. Michael
Mulhere. Mr. Mulhere is currently the assistant vice
president for emergency management at Virginia Tech and came to the university in 2008 to
serve as its first emergency management director, welcome, Michael. Michael: Thank you very much. So it is true, I did arrive at Virginia Tech
in 2008. But my son and daughter were actually seniors
in 2007 and were both on campus that day. We were very fortunate, we learned very early
that they were safe.They would learn later that day that one of their friends and 31
other Hokies would not be as fortunate. And it was very difficult as a parent and
an emergency manager to process that. The parent in me wanted to go to Blacksburg
and make sure they were ok, or you know, bringing them home. And in the end, actually, it was the emergency
manager won out that discussion and my wife and I realized it was very important for them
to be part of their community, to grieve and process with the rest of the Hokies, with
the rest of the Hokie nation. Again, not an easy decision to make. But we thought that was the best approach. When I had an opportunity to join Virginia
Tech, I did not hesitate. And I thought that I brought value and I had
some skills that I could offer to build on existing foundations. But for me it was also an opportunity to give
back. I thought that what Virginia Tech did for
my son and daughter and the rest of the community was pretty profound. It was a rare opportunity and a privilege
to be part of that. And what I really want to talk about today
are some programs and processes and protocols that we put in place since that day. One of the things that is important to consider
is that no two universities or colleges are alike. While admissions are similar, there are many
differences in focus, size, location, and resources. You know Virginia Tech is a large research
institution. The daily population of about 40,000 sits
on 2600 acres in a relatively rural area in southwest Virginia. And what may be appropriate, may be the right
tools for Virginia Tech, may not be the same for an urban campus or perhaps a small liberal
arts college, and I think that is important to consider. When I look at how we do things, we use a
holistic, programmatic model, and the reason we do that is there is opportunity to force
multiplier resource and efforts by incorporating specific needs within an all-hazard approach. You see a lot of work, a lot of discussion
about having multiple separate plans on how you do things, that is actually very taxed
and resources, you want to find out where you can force multiply and where there is
overlap. Areas that are procedure protocol and resource
overlap become apparent. The approach we use at Virginia Tech incorporates
a phase of emergency management, mitigation, preparedness, prevention, response, recovery,
with our mission. The mission in my office is to build, sustain,
and improve three things: university resiliency, departmental readiness, and individual preparedness. And that creates for us a 3×5 matrix. Everything we do, everything we build fits
within that matrix, fits within those parameters. Within university resiliency, there are many
initiatives encompassing several of these elements. The one I want to talk about is threat assessment. The threat assessment team is multi-disciplinary
at Virginia Tech comprised of the dean of students, provost, counseling, legal, human
resources, student affairs, and the police department. Its mission is to determine if an individual
poses, or may reasonably pose a threat of violence to oneself or to others at Virginia
Tech. And to intervene and avert the threat and
maintain safety. The threat assessment team serves as really
the hub, the nucleus, of information, and that information comes from the police, administration,
faculty, student services, and human resources, and the community. And the message that the team likes to say
to the community, the one they are asked “should you report something?” The message is “It might be nothing but share
that information, because somebody else may have the same information and collectively
that may mean something.” The team meets weekly and manages annually
over 400 individual cases. And the trend of that is increasing, the number
of cases seems to increase every year. The team also looks at students before they
arrive at Virginia Tech. As part of the application there is a community
of standard section. And in that section you have to self-disclose
if you have been subject of student disciplinary actions or if you have been convicted of a
crime, with the exception of minor traffic incidents. So we take a look at the incoming population
as well. And in response to April 16th, Virginia Tech
established a security infrastructure working crew. In many of the recommendations from this group
have been implemented and included the removal of and replacement of perimeter door hardware
so doors cannot be changed or locked. Installing locks on interior doors in classrooms
so it is possible now to lock a classroom door. Increase the number of buildings that have
electronically managed perimeters secured and the deployment or surveillance camera
network across the campus. Prior to 2007 there were at most a dozen cameras
on Virginia Tech campus, now there is close to 600. Virginia Tech through written policy established
the Safety Security Policy Committee (SSPC) which is comprised of senior leadership, legal
department, police department, and emergency management. And the function of the committee is to review,
evaluate, determine requirements for safety, security, and preparedness. The committee meets at least quarterly to
review emerging issues and concerns. Much of what we talk about at some of the
events are, for instance, at Charlottesville, the demonstrations on what happens, or should
demonstrations become violent. During an incident they assemble to provide
support an guidance to the university president, tasked with leaning forward, establishing
high level goals and objectives like coordinating federal and state level partners. We also have the university relations office
which serves as the public information officer and is supported by a communication team. The policy committee is for the support of
the mission of the management team which is staffed by subject matter decision makers,
these are the doers who develop and implement inner response strategies and actions. Virginia Tech has a crisis emergence management
plan which provides direction, guidance, and organizational structure. The one document that I think is somewhat
unique that we have developed over the last couple of years is the Community Assistance
Plan. And the plan coordinates community support
services, including and assistance center for families that might be needed and also
meets the needs of a larger community. Training and exercise is very important. University resilience strategy. The goal of the program is to reinforce preparedness
culture, practice individual roles and responsibilities that might occur during an incident and to
identify areas to improve plans and protocols and besiegers. The past year 1,600 faculty and staff had
to participate in some sort of training event and over 450 have participated in a multitude
of exercises we have undertaken. Communication and alerting- VT Alert is the
university’s emergency notification system. It is multi-channel mass communication system
and this is very important today. Where everybody has a personal device, everybody
believes that they should be communicated with digitally so we talk a lot about sharing
messages when you receive a notice. The reason this multi-channel is because no
system is 100% reliable and the communication system needs to work when we need it to work. There are also different constitution communication
preferences we are seeing. And since the goal is to deliver messages
to the greatest number of community members, it is important to remember these preferences. And these preferences change. When we first initiated, the system email
was the choice, then text messaging, now we are finding social media is how the community
wants to be contacted. So alerting systems must evolve to meet these
changing expectations. Currently, we have 10 delivery channels in
use and others in development. We are very pleased that over 95% of our students
subscribe to our alert system. The alerting system is also supported by a
series of protocols, emergency notification protocols. And the purpose of this document is to identify
how the alert system will be utilized, reduce the decision making time to the lowest possible
level about sending an alert- we believe that is key- who is authorized to send a message,
and the protocol describes the content requirements for an emergency message. All initial messages contained three things:
what happened, where it happens, and what actions we want the community to take. Many messages are pre-scripted for a couple
of reasons. One, it decreases the time it takes to prepare
the message, and also to make sure that the character limitation meets the requirements
of some of the channels. Departmental readiness, another one of the
cornerstones of our program, has two primary initiatives. The first is the development of emergency
action plans. The purpose of these plans is to provide actionable
information for building occupants. These plans consider unique building characteristics
or prior direction on how to secure a place, shelter a place, and evacuate. We use the term “secure place” at Virginia
Tech, we don’t use “lock down,” partly because the campus is so large, there is over 200
buildings, there are 18 major roads on campus, there is really no physical way to lock the
campus down. The second initiative is the establishment
of Building Emergency Coordinator Program. The program is supported by university employees
who actually volunteer their time to work with our office, to be liaisons with those
who occupy the buildings, and also serve as a point of contact for first responders. The last part I wanted to talk about is individual
preparedness and it is the most challenging. It is challenging to get an age group 18-22
demographic interested in emergency preparedness. They have got many, many things on their plates
and what they are engaged in. So how do we do that? We advertise our programs. We take every opportunity to meet and engage
with students. Emergency management, our office staffs information
booths in orientation, campus festivals, employee events, and any other gathering. The police department has a residential life
resource officer program and is actively engaged in community policing. It is also important to be recognized. Branding is key and for us our branding is
“Be Hokie Ready.” We chose that for one reason: Virginia Tech,
everyone associates with being a Hokie, and obviously we want everyone to be prepared. Information regarding what to do in an emergency
must be readily available. And we have transitioned to handouts, to posters,
to z-cards, to now using an emergency preparedness app. The utility of the app is that it provides,
easy, accessible, just-in-time what to do in an emergency information. For example, if we issue a VT alert that requires
a secure place and you don’t remember from orientation what “secure place” means, a swipe
or two on your phone provides that information, it is just in time, it is instantaneous. A presentation, “Safety, Security, and Preparedness”
is provided to all students during orientation, on boarding of new employees by request. The presentation reviews VT Alerts- the app
I just mentioned- explains what it means to shelter in place, what to do in an evacuation,
why it is important to have a buddy. The Blacksberg Police Department and the Virginia
Tech Police Department sponsored a program called “No Hokie Left Behind.” Why you need to have a plan, how would you
exit a building in an emergency? Why do you need to have a minimum amount of
resources on you at all times? What do you do if you have an active assailant? What does it mean if a VT Alert states to
sit secure in place? What do you do if you cannot sit secure in
place and need to take other actions such as run,hide, or fight? What if someone walks into your secure space? What can you expect from first responders,
particularly law enforcement during an active shooter or other active assailant? This discussion was actually added to our
presentation after talking with one of our survivors who has since become a friend and
a colleague. And she described her confusion and fear as
she lay wounded listening to the command and conversations of law enforcement. And we realized from talking with Christina
that we spent a lot of time and effort telling our community how we want them to act, what
we want them to do. But we don’t provide much information on why
we are doing the things we are doing and we think it is important for them to know that. So should they find themselves in that type
of situation and a police officer asks them to show their hands, why they need to show
their hands and why that is important. So we spent a lot of time trying to create
an understanding why our law enforcement does what it does. And last one is to mention collaboration and
free-sharing of ideas and practice that occurs within higher education. I think higher education recognized very early
that you could not individually accomplish all that needs to be done. And with state and regional organizations,
athletic conference relationships, federal partners, and national forums, such as Disaster
Resilient University Network, International Association Emergency Managers University’s
College Caucus, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrations. Platforms to exchange ideas, discuss challenges
and successes, and I will just mention one really quick. A recent accomplishment has been the establishment
of the National Intercollegiate Mutual Aid Agreement and as of today I think we have
69 or 70 universities and colleges that have signed onto that so we can support each other
in a moment of crisis. If there are any questions you have I am happy
to answer those and if there is any additional information we can provide about what Virginia
Tech does and how we developed our programs, I would be glad to share that, I only really
touched on a few of those here. DeVos: Thank you so much, Michael, I really
appreciate that. Our next speaker is Mr. William Majelsky. Mr. Majelsky is currently a senior consultant
with several groups specializing in school safety threat assessment, emergency management,
and homeland security. Mr. Majelsky recently retired after serving
over 40 years at the Departments of Justice and right here at the Department of Educations. William: Thank you very much. Thank you everybody. First of all, if I may, I want to commend
Mike and one of the things he didn’t say is he established an emergency management program
at Virginia Tech, but provided a tremendous amount of technical assistance and support
to us here at the Department of Education as we stood up a program on emergency management
and higher ed. The other thing I would like to say for those
of you who are doing K-12 programs, I would like to take everything Mike is doing and
move it down to elementary and secondary schools, it is not that easy and much more complicated
than what he is doing, but we want to do in K-12. I also want to point out in today’s Washington
Post that there was another shooting in Illinois, where a law enforcement officer was able to
stop that shooting while it was in place, the shooter was wounded, but it was ended
pretty quickly. I was asked to do an overview of a report
called “Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy.” I was looking at notes as to… somebody wrote
a note and I saw the notice and “Bill was selected because he was here when the report
was done.” (laughter) I said “I have been here long enough
to do a review of the Magna Carta.” (more laughter) But anyway, I was deeply appreciative
of being asked to do that. It is a report that as I was reading and rereading,
I said that this is a report that didn’t quite make the New York Times Top 10 List, but it
did provide a very, very unique perspective on schools and safety, both K-12 as well as
higher ed. As a matter of fact, it is a perspective which
is so unique as I look at a whole host of reports that have been done at a state and
local level, this is unique. I should say that it also parallels a lot
of what you are doing with your commission because this is one of the only commissions
where leadership at the federal agencies were asked to basically set up commissions, go
out, take testimony, do hearings, and then come back. Usually there is a chairman and members that
do that, but this had three groups and Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of
Education, and the attorney general basically were the review. And they are doing something very similar
to you, they are going out and they are not necessarily called “hearings,” they are “information
seekers,” and they went to 12 sites around the country. I should also point out that Kent was also
here at the Department of Education when this was done and actually made a visit to tone
of these locations. Maybe more, but I know at least one visit
that you made. You’ve got an expert here on this sitting
next to you. Anyway, it was interesting because the purpose
of the report was quite different than what we see in other reports. A lot of reports, they say “tell me what I
need to do, tell me what programs work,” they get down into what I call “get a six-feet
underground and start scratching around” rather than taking a broad view and saying “What
is our responsibility as a federal government?” A lot of this was basically looking at the
federal government and saying “What is our responsibility?” It is not necessarily getting on the ground
and telling people what to do. It is basically setting out, say, a pathway. So the purpose was to summarize recurring
things. The commission went into this and rightfully
so. And the perspective is that they did not know
everything there was to be known about school safety and so what were charged with doing,
you say “After you talk to everybody-not before- after you talk to everybody, come back with
what your thoughts and ideas are.” Secondly, what can the federal government
do? One of the purposes was to identify what the
federal government could do to support the efforts at the state and local level without
impeding the local level. Oftentimes what happens is the federal government
gets in the way of what is going on at the local level and there is a very strong emphasis
here on “Let’s not get in the way of what the state and local government entities are
doing.” What I need to stress is that the commission
did not seek to investigate specifics. It wasn’t their task to say what went right
and what went wrong, to dig down into Virginia Tech or Columbine. That was done and was done admirably by a
whole other group. They came up with five findings and I think
the findings are interesting because they parallel a lot of what Troy said about columbine. I want to quickly go over what those findings
are and some other recommendations. First of all, information sharing. What they ran into regarding information sharing,
I see even today happening and that is, first of all, I would say Federal Education Rights
and Privacy Act (FERPA), if you go out, 99% of the schools you go to and say “I want to
speak to your FERPA expert,” they are going to bring up maybe a teacher who has been there
and dealt with it once. It is probably like Dr. Pepper, one of the
most misunderstood pieces of legislation that we have. But what we saw at Virginia Tech, one of the
major issues was a revision in the FERPA which said you can’t give out information unless
it was an emergency. So what the Department of Education did later
after this thing, one of the things they did was did was basically say “You know, you at
the local level have the right to define what the emergency is, we aren’t going to define
it for you.” So some of the impediments to sharing information
were taken care of, some. I agree with you 100%, there is still a whole
lot of them out there, but this whole thing about information flow, and it is not only
FERPA, it is state laws, it is local laws, it is health, and all the regulations which
really impede the progress in making decisions based on facts and statistics rather than
just hearsay. Secondly, information on firearm possession. As you know, the shooter at Virginia Tech
had a firearm and probably should not have been able to purchase the firearm. And what the committee discovered was that
we, meaning the 50 states, were not doing a good job in inputting information to the
system. People who had certain handicaps had certain
provisions that shouldn’t have purchased a weapon and one of them was involved in domestic
violence, another was referred for mental health issues, should not be able to purchase
a weapon. One of the findings was that they were not
complying with that. Third is that they really felt that there
was a need for awareness and communication. It gets back to today when we talk about this,
we talk about “See something, say something,” and don’t hold back. Their interest is that there is a beginning
and there is this whole issue of warning signs. And you know, they basically say that we know
that there are warning signs out there, but we are not always complying with these warning
signs, we are not really taking them into consideration. From a threat assessment perspective, we say
“see something, say something,” do your threat assessment, but the flip part, the next part
of that, the next chapter says manage the threat assessment. Just don’t say “Hey, I need help” and then
wash your hands and walk away. It is really basically saying “How can we
manage that overall issue?” Mental health was a big thing for the commission. One of the things they said is that making
sure that services are available is one the key parts of any true prevention and intervention
strategy. No matter how well you do prevention, no matter
what you do in prevention, if you don’t have the strategy that deals with mental health,
you are not going to do a good job. And so they were very concerned about that. Better sharing of information regarding what
works. I can’t tell you how much money we have spent
when I was here at the Department of Education on prevention early in the intervention, how
much money the Office of Juvenile Justice spent on the same thing, how much money money
SANSA spends, how much money CDC spends. But we are not sharing the information, we
are not really doing a good job of saying “Let’s get together and make sure we are not
stepping over each other, lets learn from our mistakes.” And the commission basically said “We really
need to do a better job sharing the information.” The last thing, there was the recognition,
though not part of the findings that homeland security is also part of this game. And nowhere were they ever mentioned, but
they also made grants, they talk about terrorism, they talk about other aspects that impact
schools and impact kids and need to be brought to the table. From the themes and observations, there were
basically three things: 1. The commission was set on the fact that there
are no one-size-fits-all solutions. We can’t at the federal government say “If
you just do this, it’ll be ok.” Yet we have 15,000 school districts. We have over 50 million kids in schools. And I think to say that everybody basically
needs to do the same thing is totally off-target. Now these key principles, I would argue, everybody
needs their key principles, but that model, that structure of how it works needs to be
contingent upon what your problem is, where you are, what resources you have, a whole
host of those things. 2. The theme that you see throughout has to do
with mental illness. And no matter where the commission went, this
whole issue of mental illness, however you want to define it, a mental illness as it
is related to depression and failure at school and lack of learning, suicide prevention,
that was a thing that really filtered throughout the commission. Lastly was that one of the things that the
commission sought to do, and basically wanted to make sure to do is to balance the individual
liberties and privacy with safety and security. And a lot of this gets into FERPA. How do we basically on the one hand share
information at the same time protecting your privacy, but yet the safety of everybody? It is an issue that they saw throughout every
place that it visited. So based upon those findings, the commission
made 17 federal recommendations and 17 state and local recommendations. I am not going to burden you with reading
all 34 recommendations, but I will talk about a couple of them because I think they are
interesting. Review of FERPA and HIPA. They recommended making changes and we did. Education and Collaboration with Secret Service
and DOJ should explore research on targeted violence and institutions of higher education. They continue to share existing threat assessment
methodology, which we have done. We should continue to work with states and
local communities to prove and expand collaboration on safe schools, healthy students program. The committee was very interested in this
program, it was a program which we funded here at the Department of Education. One of the things it did was take three agencies:
The Office of Juvenile Justice, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,
and Department of Education, and said “We are much stronger coming together and putting
our dollars and cents together and our expertise and skills and basically looking at prevention
and looking at safe schools- not from the fact that we are going to start at 12th grade
or 11th grade or whatever it is, but we need to basically get involved in Pre-K and right
up through high school. We need to get families involved, we need
to do mental health. And doing that, we need to cut through the
bureaucracy and get rid of the silos that exist out there.” And that is what this program essentially
did. For the first time it took money from three
federal agencies and put it in a pot and said “When you apply for money, you don’t have
to do three progress reports, you don’t have to do three federal reports on financial..
this is what you have to do.” And the committee recognized that that of
unique approach to safety and security is what is needed. Now, in closing, I want to say what Mike said,
alluded to and discussed a little bit, and that is the progress that we have made. We have made significant progress since Virginia
Tech. Significant progress since Columbine. There has even been progress in the short
time between now and Sandy Hook. There has been progress. We developed an emergency management for K-12
as well as for higher ed. And I honestly believe that if we didn’t do
that, it is not that it could be continued forever, but basically do the sparks and get
the fire going and move on. Not only do we have every school in this country
net an emergency management plan, most of them are good plans, most are plans that should
get training, there’s exercises for them. Developing a threat assessment strategy. The committee said we should look and further
that, we should basically make sure that we have some strategy for that. That is being done. Virginia as a state is the first state in
the country to basically mandate that every school, every college, every university- public
college and university- have a strategy for threat assessment. Eligibility for projects served. Now Madam Secretary, that started after Columbine. it started because we couldn’t find a way
to get money to schools. Initially we though that the only thing we
were going to use those dollars for was shootings and other issues like that that occurred in
K-12 schools. We expanded that after Virginia Tech and the
shooting in Southern Illinois to everybody. See, if Schools Healthy Students Program lived
with three agencies, Safe Schools Initiative. Basically we get to recognize, basically get
a better understanding of who are those kids- and believe me, for the most part they are
kids, not adults- who go into our schools and basically shoot and injure other students
and teachers? Who are they? And Dr. Randaza is going to talk a little
bit about who they are. And develop a dedicated technical assistance
center. So we had then as we have now a center which
is dedicated to these issues: emergency management, school safety, violence prevention, and I
think they do an invaluable part in ensuring that schools that need help need to get that
assistance. So in closing, I would say that we have made
significant roads ensuring our schools remain safe places. And I would also say is that there is a host
of new challenges that we didn’t face four-five years ago and we need to find a way to address
those challenges. Challenges vary from different forms of cyber
crime, cyber bullying, to opioid use, to use of social media, to terrorism, and trafficking. There’s a whole bunch of new issues and we
are going to have to find a way to overcome them. Success in overcoming these challenges can
only be achieved if school safety remains a priority, the federal agencies support practices
that have proven to be effective while eliminating those for which there is no evidence of effectiveness. Thank you very much. DeVos: Thank you very much, Bill. Our last speaker on the panel is Dr. Marissa
Randazo. Dr. Randazo is currently the Director of Threat
Assessment at Georgetown University. She served as the chief research psychologist
of the US Secret Service at the time of the release of the joint US Secret Service and
Department of Education report titled “The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School
Initiative, Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States” and
she was a co-author with Bill of this report. Marissa: Thank you very much Madame Secretary
and members of the commission. It is an honor to be here today because we
have information that Bill, our co-authors, and I developed through this unique joint
study that the US Department of Education and US Secret Service conducted together that
really show us how we can prevent school shootings and provide a very basic, straightforward
road map of how we do that. You have heard reference throughout the speakers
on the panel already about the importance of threat assessments. I am going to explain to you the underpinning
of why threat assessment worked and then also explain to you what it is. It is very simple. I have got two reports here that Bill and
I coauthored along with Brian and Dr. Robert Fein, Dr. William Pollock, Dr. Borum, and
Sean Bergwund. They are still available on various websites. It is the final report and findings of the
Safe School Initiative and threat assessment in schools. A guide to managing threatening behavior and
creating safe school climates. Everything I am going to talk about are detailed
already in these reports, including a step by step process that school personnel, law
enforcement professionals, mental health professionals, and others can follow to evaluate threatening
behavior and figure out if someone is, as we call it, on the pathway to violence and
most of all figure out how to do we stop that and how do we intervene to get them off that
pathway. So the project we conducted together was called
the Safe School Initiative and it really had a unique genesis. In the wake of the Columbine in 1999, a series
of discussions happened between Secretary of Education- who at the time was at the time
Richard Riley-and the Director of the Secret Service- who at the time was Brian Stafford-
who started talking about how we can get a handle on whether prevention is even possible. What can we understand about school shootings? And the reason that the Secret Service was
even at the table was because the Secret Service had recently completed its own research- behavioral
research- on attacks on public officials and public figures. And from that research the Secret Service
learned a lot they hadn’t known before and learned a lot that dramatically enhanced how
they evaluate threats to public officials and public figures and how they intervene. We don’t have time to talk about it today,
but one of the things that surprised me when I first started working at the Secret service
was that so many agents that worked these threat cases served almost in a social worker
capacity. Connecting someone who is threatening to engage
in violence with resources and support services that they need, be it a ride to get their
medication or go to their psychologist or whatever the case may be. And we do the same thing in school threat
assessment. We connect people with help that they need
when they are feeling disconnected and disengaged and desperate and on a pathway to violence. So, the two agencies agreed to take the same
research approach and there was a unique research approach because the challenge in studying
school shootings is that we are really looking at and into studying targeted school shootings. Studying what is known as a “Low base rate
but high impact event.” So statistically something that doesn’t happen
all that often. Shootings carried out by students or former
students attacking their schools on purpose, but that each one has such a significant impact,
we want to be able to get a handle on it and prevent them. So this launched a joint initiative between
federal law enforcement and federal education officials that we had not seen previously. And it continues to be a tremendously beneficial
relationship and liaison. So we were essentially sent out on the road
for about 18 months to study every act of targeted school violence around the country
that had occurred over about a 25 year period. In total we studied 37 school shootings involving
31 shooters. And we also had the occasion not only to do
a deep dive through the criminal justice investigations and collateral interviews with witnesses and
going through school records and mental health records, etcetera. But we also had the opportunity to interview
10 school shooters in prison. And the data that we got in these reports
come from the deep dive into all the investigations, the stories that we tell in these two reports
come in part from the present interviews that we had occasion to do. So there are a couple of major things that
we uncovered in studying school shootings that previously we hadn’t known. I am here to present these findings, but I
am also here to really give you a road map for how we can use these to prevent school
shootings around the country now. First and foremost, as we looked at these
and these were really the universal cases of school shootings, we found out quickly
that school shooters don’t “snap.” We often hear in the media that they just
snap, this is impulsive, no one could see it coming, and the fact of the matter is that
is not the case. Rarely do we see these individuals just snapping. Instead, they follow a progression of behavior
that is potentially detectable. It is often known to other people or potentially
observable if you take a close look at what they are doing and it is a progression that
we refer to as the pathway to violence. So, as we study school shootings- and this
is true of other acts of targeted violence in workplaces and higher ed- but looking at
these K-12 shooters, we saw that they first came up with an idea to do harm and then they
develop a plan for how they want to carry that out, then they have to develop the means,
the lethal means to engage in this level of harm and other preparatory steps, and then
they actually implement the attack itself. So, in short order, when Bill and our colleagues
and I work on threat assessment cases on what’s known as “Daily Basis,” we try to figure out
is the person we are worried about on this pathway to violence? And if so, why? It is usually because of highly personal reasons,
I’ll explain more in a minute. But if they are on this pathway to violence,
how can we get them off. What are the underlying personal problems
they feel despondent over? They have lost a vision of a way out, they
have lost hope, but how can we get them off the pathway to violence and keep them off
the pathway to violence? When we work cases now and when we train schools
and districts how to do this, it is quite feasible to get someone off the pathway to
violence and keep them off the pathway to violence. Instead of being impulsive, we see school
shootings as the end result of an understandable and largely detectable progression of behavior. So from the prevention angle, this is actually
good news for us. We stand a chance at identifying a student
or other person who is posing some threat. Maybe it is a former staff member, maybe it
is a parent, maybe it is an estranged domestic partner of an employee at the school knowing
that is where they can find their former partner at their place of work. So we can use this threat assessment process
to figure out is someone on this pathway to violence and how do we get them off? The second major finding that really startled
me and surprised us collectively as a research team was that prior to nearly all school shootings
in the US, the school shooter, the would-be shooter tells other people about these violent
plans beforehand. We have seen this in detail a number of the
recent shootings we have seen, not only in K-12 schools, but in other domains as well. And that they will tell other people what
they are thinking about and planning to do in different modalities. So sometimes it is in person, sometimes it
is in the homework assignment, oftentimes in this day and age it is on social media
and a platform that is publicly viewable, that other people have the opportunity to
look at and most importantly to pass along and alert someone that someone has said that. When we work at the threat assessment cases
and we ask someone “What did you mean by that post on Instagram or on Twitter? Are you thinking about planning something
harmful?” They will say “Honestly, yes, this is what
I am thinking about planning to do and this is why, I don’t see any other way out. I feel like violence is my best option or
the only option I have left.” They are forthcoming. They don’t keep these plans secret, so again,
from a prevention standpoint, this gives us hope and good news that there is information
that we can act upon. If there are people who can see those posts
or hear that concern and communication, know to get it to someone. We also know as looked across all of these
school shooters that there was no accurate or useful profile, we can’t tell by looking
at someone from outward appearance, whether it is range or gender or socioeconomic status,
racial makeup, anything like that, whether we should be more concerned or less concerned,
we cannot tell by outward appearance. And I will tell you federal law enforcement
made a misstep long before we engaged in this study trying to get a profile out because
there was nothing law enforcement had to go on and the profile at the time was that we
should be worried about white male students between the ages of 14 and 17 who were angry
some of the time, wore black clothing some of the time, and liked to listen to loud music. Chances are high that you know someone that
fits that description. For some of you, you may have met that description
in your younger days in high school. It is not informative. It is not effective. And most importantly, if we use a profiling
approach instead of looking at behavior, a profile can distract us and take our attention
away of what should we have focused on. So while that profile was being circulated,
there was a 13-year-old girl- so she didn’t match on gender, didn’t match on age- she
was caucasian, so she matched on race. But she wasn’t angry some of the time. She spent a lot of her time in school and
at home in tears at home or in tears in the bathroom or the classroom. She didn’t own the black clothing and she
had no way to listen to loud music, her parents wouldn’t allow it. But she had been telling her friends for months
that she was going to being her father’s gun to school and shoot the girls who had been
mean to her all year. And that is exactly what she did. So we know that looking at someone from outward
characteristics doesn’t help solve this problem, but looking at behavior does. And taking a step to look into what else is
going on with a person when we hear about a concern in communication or a threat of
violence or plans of violence, we also know that the vast majority of school shooters
had concerned multiple people beforehand, so not just telling their peers what they
were thinking about and planning to do in terms violence at school, but engaging in
other behavior that alarmed teachers and coaches, the school nurse, parents, parents of friends. These were not invisible students, former
students. They were on not only one radar screen, but
multiple radar screens. So the challenge for us is that information
is often out there, people are concerned, but they often don’t know what to do to come
forward and raise that. However, if you have a threat assessment team
as we are talking about, the threat assessment team can go talk to people who teach the student
or work with this employee, or coach this person and say “Some folks are worried about
how this particular person is doing, you work with them, teach them, coach them, what do
you say? What do you see?” And oftentimes, you will get the “You know
what, this may be nothing, but…” as Mike was talking about. Or, “I am glad you called, I wasn’t sure what
to do with this. I was worried I was misinterpreting, misunderstanding,
I didn’t want to get them in trouble.” But a threat assessment process can pool all
that information together. We also know that the majority of school shooters
who carried out this violence in school were at a point of feeling absolutely despondent
or desperate or even actively suicidal before carrying out their attack. Many of them actually included in their plans
either plans to kill themselves at the end of the attack or were hoping for suicide by
a cop, or hoping that responding law enforcement would kill them in the process. Now, I want to be very clear about this. A majority of people in this world who are
suicidal or despondent are not going to be a risk to others. But when we are worried about someone who
has talked about violent plans or maybe considering violence to others, we look in every case
to see if they are suicidal or at that point of desperation. We have laws and resources that can address
someone who is at that point of desperation and that is one of the ways we get them off
the pathway to violence and keep them off the pathway to violence. There was one young man who encapsulated a
lot of the findings of just described who submitted a poem to his English teacher. He was taking a creative writing class his
senior year and the poem was “Sinking in the bed, homicidal thoughts filling my head, suicidal
thoughts not gone but fleeing, because it is other peoples’ death I am seeing. Suicide or homicide, homicide and suicide. And to sleep I am sinking, ‘Why me,’ I am
thinking. Homicidal and suicidal thoughts intermixing. I know my life is not worth fixing.” This wasn’t the only homework assignment that
he submitted. If someone submits a homework assignment like
that, it is not necessarily diagnostic. It may indicate a problem, it may indicate
that we have the next Stephen King on our hands. But it allows us a chance to look further
and that is what threat assessment does, it is a chance to look further. This young man submitted a whole series of
creative writing poems and short screenplays and short stories all centered around this
dilemma of whether he felt homicide or suicide was the better solution to his despair. And he actually decided on suicide. And he tried to commit suicide. And he failed to do so. When we talked to him in prison, he shared
with us that he felt like if he committed suicide, then his would be the only life that
ends and his pain would end and that is really what he wanted. He said “But then I tried and I failed to
commit suicide. I had already felt like a loser and I never
knew I could feel even worse than I did, but I thought ‘I am such a loser I couldn’t even
kill myself. I couldn’t even get that right.'” And so his plan was to engage in a school
shooting hoping police would kill him, hoping for a suicide by cop. And he had done so much research that he knew
in his state, if he killed at least two people, that even police didn’t kill him in responding
to this shooting that the justice system should kill him, that he should be eligible for the
death penalty. He was 17 at the time and he carried this
out and he was not eligible for the death penalty and is now serving multiple consecutive
life sentences. But it is a great example and a tragic example
of someone who is exhibiting behaviors that we could have responded to and we do now,
we do a much better job in schools of using a threat assessment process to respond to
it. So, in a nutshell, threat assessment is essentially
a group of individuals, school administrators, school resource officers or local law enforcement,
usually school counselors, school psychologists, some mental health professional, who get together
when there is some report of a concern. Someone who is engaging and threatening behavior,
someone that a teacher or coach is worried about isn’t doing well. And they will gather more information, gather
those pieces of the puzzle, put it all together to see “Is this person on a pathway to violence? And if so, why? What are those underlying personal problems? How can we help them solve it through non-violent
means?” And when we can, when we get in and solve
those underlying problems with them, they get off the pathway to violence and they stay
off the pathway to violence. A couple of things that this field could use
tremendously: 1. Is to make sure we make threat assessment
training available far and wide to school personnel, law enforcement, and mental health
professionals around the country. They need this training. Bill and I did this years ago following the
release of our report and it was so well received and we got lots of great feedback, It is a
wonderful gesture that agencies can collaborate on together to make this training available. Law enforcement especially, it doesn’t get
this training, so we now know, for example, that the Sandy Hook shooter had threatened
to carry out his shooting at Sandy Hook prior to actually doing so. It was reported to local law enforcement,
but they didn’t feel that they could act because no crime had been committed yet. And they didn’t have threat assessment training. So making sure law enforcement, in addition
to our school personnel, get this training is vital. And second, we need to update the Safe School
Initiative. We learned so much from it, but our day and
age has changed in terms of looking at the impact on social media. Social media as a parent of an 11-year-old,
I curse it on a daily basis, but social media can actually be tremendously helpful for looking
into and identifying people whose behavior is starting to raise concern. So I think having a chance to update that
study would be good. I thank you for the opportunity to present
this information and as a parent especially I thank you for all you are doing to keep
our kids safe, so thank you. DeVos: Thank you so much, Marissa, and Bill,
and Michael, and Troy. We have a few minutes before we are going
to take a planned break and I want to leave some time for question from the group here
on this side of the table. I have a question to kick us off. You clearly did very in-depth work and research
on your report. I am curious what, if anything, from the report,
that is what you would consider to be highly valuable and important, has not been adopted
or implemented at the federal level in particular? And if there other things that states can
and should be doing. I know that is probably a very lengthy and
complex answer, but I am particularly curious at the federal level what has not been implemented
or adopted that you would consider to be really important. William: Marissa and I may differ a little
on this. One of the issues that we need to do is begin
to look at threat assessment from the perspective of “Does this work? Where is the evaluation here?” We have some evidence that it works, but if
you look at it from a research perspective, researchers would say that what you have really
doesn’t do what needs to be done. So I mean to say that we say “OK, we have
done it, people like it. It looks good, it smells good, it feels good,
but is it good?” It is one of those things. So that is, to me, the biggest issue we face. Marissa: I think also a missing piece of information
that really federal guidance could be helpful on is that there is a tremendous amount we
can learn from studying prevented attacks just like we did in studying attacks that
have been carried out and look at ways that make it easier for students or anyone else
who has a concern to bring it forward. Because it is not that easy a decision no
matter how we say “See something, say something,” you could be turning in a friend. You could worry that you are making their
life worse by bringing this information forward. So there has been some initial information,
a pilot study done on that, but really we could learn so much from studying how attacks
have been prevented and what has worked across- whether it is mental health intervention,
law enforcement, student reporting, and the like. And then from a day-to-day basis- and this
is more for health and human services- I knew in working cases it would be easier to help
get people the help they need if the bar getting someone in for an involuntary psychiatric
evaluation were lower. We have done this with FERPA. With FERPA we have allowed people to say “You
define what your emergency is and then if there is that health and safety emergency
or potential for emergency, you can share information.” Right now we see that emergency language or
imminent language and we can’t get someone in for a psychiatric evaluation which is anywhere
from 24 to 72 hours, not a lot of time. We can’t get them in against their will if
they won’t go voluntarily unless we are at that point of imminence. Imminence is so incredibly hard to define
that if we could lower that threshold a bit to allow for some other type of evaluation
or a full involuntary evaluation, in those many cases where we are sure of imminence
but we have sufficient concern. I am not a mental health expert, I know there
would be a lot of debate around this, but as we work individual cases, that is often
a stumbling block that is unnecessary that would be helpful to have reduced a little
bit. DeVos: OK. Questions? Other questions? Audience Member 1: Secretary, thank you, and
first of all, thank you to all of you. We still have more to hear from and I know
I speak for everybody in the room when I say how much we appreciate your time, your passion
for this issue and certainly, not least, your experiences. I have looked at this as a layman for a long
time and the one thing I think you seemingly come back
to is that in cases that started early on with multiple penetrations in different relationships
along the way, whatever they were, or beyond just school, the factor seems to be that while
in some cases it is almost easy to identify potential problems, each silo never owns it. The silo can identify it, personally penetrate
that silo, but then move onto a different silo and no one along the way- I am generalizing,
obviously- seems to own it. So when a student can go to mental health
services after finally having been identified as someone who desperately needs it and then
voluntarily walks away from those mental health services and no one is there to pick that
up and make certain to the greatest degree that they worked to try to see if they can
reengage that youngster, that what they need most- which is mental health services- that
is what I call it, no one owns the issue. In all of your experiences, while I know you
can’t just identify someone who owns it and say “Of anybody else, you need to own this.” Because this it all different. A. It is that feeling pervasive? And B. Are there examples of how that ownership
can be created along the way? And maybe it is not one or one individual
silo, but what I am asking- William: If I could just say one thing. The report to the president says this, but
also a lot of research says this thing, is that we can’t look at those individuals who
need mental health services and have mental health problems and say “That is where the
majority of our problems come from. That is where a majority of our crimes come
from,” because it doesn’t. The first thing I would say is it is an issue
we want to get them well, but they are not the major group causing criminal acts. Do they have some behavioral problems? They may. One of the the things that Marissa and I and
the group that works on this on a regular basis said is “OK, we never subscribed, or
prescribed what should be on this threat assessment team?” What I have always argued is that there is
nothing that says you can’t put a youth probation officer on that team. There is nothing that says you can’t put a
youth judge on that team. And so you can make sure you constantly minimize
those gaps, but you are never going to eliminate it because a lot of those behaviors are not
criminal. I could seek mental health services today
and say tomorrow “I am not going to go anymore.” And there is nothing, absolutely nothing,
because… that gets back to this report that says we want to balance security with privacy. We get that balance. And so unless that individual engages in some
particularly abhorrent behavior or is suicidal- we haven’t had a long discussion about that-
Dr. Randazo will tell you that a number of the cases we looked at, a good percentage
of those kids committed suicide along the way at the end of their attack. Marissa: Let me add this too. We have seen threat assessment become adoptive
between K-12 domains and higher ed in workplaces. But the missing piece is the community-based
threat assessment process. They leave one school and go to another. They leave one school and go to employment,
or they leave a job and now they are at home. There is a wonderful example of how to do
this well in Salem, Oregon. So the Salem Kaiser school district- Bill
and I went out in 2000 and trained their first school threat assessment team and they stood
up the school assessment team using the process that we have written about and talked about
here. but they also said “We need something else
to backstop this. To be able to track either cases of when students
or former students leave school, or employees leave their employment at school. But also to handle all non-school cases. Domestic violence in the community, threats
directed at their council members, things like that.” So they stood up a parallel community-based
multi-agency threat assessment team and there is overlap between the two teams. So you have got Salem PD officers who have
been doing this for years serving on both teams and really help to coordinate that. So that is another piece of this. School shootings as we have seen it is one
example of targeted violence and targeted violence occurs in different domains. We use the same process to prevent those acts
and those other sectors and silos as well. We haven’t seen many examples of community-based
threat assessments, but I think that is a missing that could help. DeVos: Troy, did you have something? Troy: Yeah, I would just add that threats
of violence are not protected speech under the first amendment. We forget that constantly. We are obsessed with the idea of can they
carry out the threat? If we actually criminalized the threat, which
some countries do, which I think our first amendment allows, you could get that person
into the jurisdiction of law enforcement. It could be federal, it could be FBI, it could
be state, it could be both. Then they go in, you attach the mental health
service, you do a civil hold, you hold them, you evaluate them. We need to move in that direction, that is
what we need to do. Marissa: I will say one thing. I know in Sandy Hook and seemingly in all
the other school shooting situations, there is really no responsibility or accountability
to the school or other individuals afterwards. If you look at Sandy Hook, there were state
laws that were violated, etcetera, there is not going back or responsibility. I think if people were held accountable that
might help as well. DeVos: Thanks. Mike, anything before we- Mike: Well again, I think with what we said
about the community, the overlap, the threat assessment is really key. We had an officer shot on our campus in 2011. He wasn’t part of our community. The shooter was not part of our community. He wasn’t captured in our premises in the
process. That higher level, that wider data, I think
is very key. DeVos: I am conscious of our time and I want
to give everyone a brief for a moment before we dive into our second session, so I am going
to do that suggest that we reconvene in five minutes. Just in advance of our next segment here I
just want to begin by acknowledging all of the individuals participating here and acknowledging
the personal pain that each of you have experienced and undoubtedly still feel. And I want to thank you on behalf of all of
us for coming here and sharing with us. We are very grateful for that. And I say that just in advance of what we
are going to talk about here. I just want to acknowledge that, that real
personal pain and experience and thank you for being vulnerable to be here with us. We are going to first hear from Mr. Darrell
Scott. Mr. Scott lost his 17-year-old daughter Rachel
in the Columbine shooting and he has since founded Rachel’s Challenge, a national non-profit
organization that seeks to create safe and connected academic environments to enhance
learning. Welcome, Darrell. Darrell: Thank you, Madame Secretary. And thank you, committee, for having us come. I think it is important that we see the problems
and the answers from many different viewpoints and there are people who do the analytical
studies and there are other people who are feet on the ground. And I know that Scarlet, you lost your son
and I lost my daughter. We found a life mission from our loss. And I had a mentor in my life, he was a WWI
veteran, the WWI veteran I ever knew. He has been dead for many years. His name was Norman Grub and Norman was a
best-selling author in the 1940s-1950s and he said something I never forgot. He said “Darrell, if you learn to be a see-througher
and not a look-at-er, your life will have purpose and meaning. Don’t look at your circumstances and don’t
look at people. Learn to see through.” And my daughter in one of her diaries, she
wrote about that and she said “It wasn’t until recently I learned that first, second, and
third impressions can be deceitful of what kind of person someone is.” She said “Make the choice to not look at their
appearance, but look into their soul.” And after Norman died, people who know me
know I write a lot of poetry and I wrote a simple poem that we used to teach teacher
and we used to teach students and it goes like this: “A wise old man once said to me
‘Don’t trust the things your eyes can see. For, if you do, you’ll know confusion, always
judging by illusion. Don’t look at, see through, my friend. Beyond the frown, the sneer, the grin. Peer deep into the living soul where beauty
wonders will unfold. Fear and judgment fall apart when your view
is from the heart. So don’t look at, adjust your view and focus
deeper, seeing through.'” So when I see teacher training, we talk to
teachers about not looking at the troublemaker in the back of the room, but seeing through
to the kid having trouble making it. And some very good things have been said today. We have reached over 28 million students and
teachers in the last 19 years. We have 50 percenters who travel worldwide. And our main focus is in the United States,
but I was just in Guadalajara five days ago celebrating with there in Guadalajara some
16,000 acts of kindness they had recorded over the last school year. And they would celebrate those with paper
chains, They record each act of kindness and we have schools across America doing that. We have some massive rallies. We fill up the Georgia Dome with tens of thousands
of students in Atlanta a years ago. And next we had to hire cranes to raise those
acts of kindness to the ceiling. So, part of what we talk about when we talk
about preventing school violence is also talking about social-emotional learning. Dealing with those troubled kids and reaching
out to those troubled kids with messages of kindness and compassion. There was a lot of emphasis after Columbine
on anti-bullying programs. And our program, we have been told by experts,
that we prevent more bullying than any program that has been around. We don’t call ourselves an anti-bullying program
because we aren’t anti-anything. We are for things. You can either fight the darkness or you can
light a match, light a candle. So our whole philosophy and approach- and
I know Jessica’s has been too- is to fight the darkness with a light. And we have seen seven school shootings prevented
that we know of. And there are probably many that we don’t
know of. And we have seen an average of three student
suicides prevented every week of the year. We see over 150 of those every year. I brought a little book with me called Saved
By Story, it has about 81 of those stories in it. I just want to start… these are emails,
unedited, unsolicited from students. And we received phone calls, letters, Facebook
entries. But the first two I am just going to read,
starts off this way: “Rachel’s impact on me was that I decided not to pull the trigger. The day you came to my school I was planning
on committing suicide. Then Dave, your speaker told us to close our
eyes and think about everybody we care about. I was in foster care. My aunt said that she would take my sister
and myself. I felt like I was always doing things wrong,”
I won’t read the whole thing, but there was a life that was saved. And we see this happen every single week. The second one: “The day you came to visit
my school, only a few hours before the presentation I had made plans to commit suicide that evening.” It is not just the kids that are loners. One of the stories in here is from the head
cheerleader whose brother was the quarterback of the football team. They had pledged a suicide pact together. And after we came and shared a story and then
did some training they changed their mind about taking their life and she told us, she
said “Everyone in my school thought that we were the most popular kids, we were the ones
that everyone envied. Nobody knew what we were going through on
the inside.” One of the things that I really would like,
I wish the federal government would consider- we have never received a penny of help from
the federal government, we have never asked- but I wish there could be as much money put
into long-term prevention with programs like Scarlet’s, like ours, like others, Kickstart-
Chuck Norris is a dear friend of mine, serves on our board of directors- he has a program
called Kickstart for Kids. And our programs have been proven over and
over and over again to not only prevent suicide, but to change the thought patterns of young
people because that is where all of it starts. And I am just rambling; I am not following
anything I wrote down, so sorry (laughter). But my daughter was a beautiful young lady. She had a heart of compassion and she was
the kind of kid that would bring home the stray dog, the stray cat. And she had actually reached out to Eric and
Dylan, the two shooters of Columbine, and she challenged them because they were doing
pantomimes in the school of shooting and killing people. And as was said earlier, there are always
signs, always symptoms. And the kids know before anybody else does. And we have learned that. Because among the seven school shootings that
we have seen prevented, four of them were from students who reported after Rachel’s
Challenge was there that something was going to happen in their school. And we work with counselors, we work with
police officers, we work with the justice system any time that happens to follow-up
and make sure that not only do not do it, but that they get help. Because every single school shooting has come
form young people who feel disconnected. And our goal in schools is to connect children
and to make them feel that they belong and to help them feel safe. We did a survey with 20,000 students and we
got 10,000 surveys back. It was before we came and after we came. And before we came, out of 10,000 students,
2,741 said “We feel safe at our school.” Well that is great for them, but look at the
8,000 roughly that said they didn’t feel safe. I will work closely with Dr. Robert Morazano
who is one of the top K-12 researchers in the country and we have written two books
together. One is called Awake and Learn, one is called
Motivating and Inspiring Students. And a lot of the answers can be found in those
books. But it is not the “sizzling thing.” The “sizzling thing” is the crisis. But the prevention begins way before the crisis. It has to start in the hearts and minds of
young people. And I believe the first line of defense, honestly,
comes from youth, not from police officers. But it comes way before the deed is done. And so we create service clubs in schools
called “Friends of Rachel Club” and we have tens of thousands of those clubs. And they do amazing things and ironically,
many of the outsiders join that club because they can belong. And the whole purpose of the club is simply
to show kindness and compassion. And you can go to schools all across America
and you can see their celebrations at the end of the school year where they take these
pieces of paper, write down the acts of kindness that they observe, acts of kindness that they
do because they are told medically that our endorphins increase just when we witness an
act of kindness. A dear friend of mine, Foster, is running
for Governor of Wyoming- he is going to win, he wins everything he does- and Foster said
“I want Rachel’s Challenge in every school in Wyoming.” He texted me the other day “A week ago I was
in Miami with the Mayor of Miami. When I was talking, he wants to implement
Rachel’s Challenge.” And I am not here to promote our program. You don’t need our program to see what the
principles that we are talking about put into action. “But he said ‘We want Rachel’s Challenge in
every school in Miami.'” While we were talking, a police officer came
in, whispered in his ear that there had just been four young men murdered there in his
city and he had to leave to go to a press conference while I did a presentation to his
staff. So, the things that I know that the Jesse
Lewis Choose Love Foundation is doing they are doing right. The things were are doing work and are done
right. So please, in your examinations of all the
others things, consider that there are great programs out there that have learned a lot
by feet on the ground. Kickstart, Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation,
Rachel’s Challenge, many others. Some of them are fluff and the truth is most
anti-bullying programs that focus on bullying create more bullying because what you focused
on you become. So we don’t focus on the negative, we focus
on the positive. My daughter was simply sitting outside the
school having lunch with her friend when the first bullets from all these school shootings
hit her body and took her life. My son Craig was in the library where most
of the killing would take place with two of his close friends, Matthew Kector and Isaiah
Schultz. And Craig and Isaiah and Matt were all sitting
and talking when they heard what they thought were firecrackers outside the school. A few minutes later the two boys came into
the room and opened fire and they killed 10 students all around my son. He didn’t know that his sister had already
been killed outside the school. Craig and his two buddies dug underneath a
desk and Eric and Dylan came over to the table where they were and they began to taunt one
of his closest friends, Isaiah Schultz, before they shot and killed him. And then they turned his guns on Matthew Kector
who was an up-coming star on the football team and they shot and killed Matthew and
my son lay there covered in the blood of his two friends looking down the barrel of two
guns aimed at him and he knew that he was going to die. And a split second before they pulled the
trigger, the alarm system went off from smoke in the room that distracted the boys and they
never came back to the table Craig was at. I would have lost two of my children that
day. I don’t know if I could be here if that had
happened. One is too many. We challenge young people with… when I spoke
before a house judiciary committee 19 years ago, we had the same kind of standing. And I didn’t intend to do this, but I am going
to share the poem that I shared with them 19 years ago. “Your laws ignore our deepest needs. Your words are empty air. You have taken away our heritage. You have outlawed simple prayer. Now gunshots fill our classrooms and precious
children die. You look for answers everywhere and ask the
question ‘why?’ We regulate restrictive laws, the legislative
creed. And yet we fail to understand that God is
what we need.” I wasn’t saying that to you, I was saying
that to them 19 years ago. I don’t believe that we can bring religion
back into schools, that is not my agenda at all. My agenda, though, is to bring back some of
the things that we tossed out. We toss the baby out with the bathwater all
too often. The moral values, the character development,
the simple things that are common-sense that we can do every single day really do work. We need to return civility back to our nation
and that begins with us modeling it as leaders. And if we expect our children to be civil
to one another, how can we be on national television be slashing and calling people
names and all the things that go on? We must model. And so our challenges our simple. We begin our first challenge, whether it is
to the corporate world, Motorola, I am now speaking to all the Bank of America teams
around the country. Whether it is to the corporate world or to
Kindergartners, the first challenge is the challenge to look for the best in other people,
because if you look for the best in other people, you are never going to have a prejudice. And it is something our children learn, the
simple things, that will prevent a lot of the violence that will take place if we do
not teach them those things. We teach them to choose mentors in their life. We teach them to choose right influences. And everything is geared around stories. Stories change the world. That is what we do. Whether you ever had Rachel’s Challenge come
to your school or not is not as concerning to me as that we at least teach our children
the way we model our own behavior and by the things that we do and that we say. There is a lot more that I could say but I
want to end by saying that connection is such a vital and important thing for children. We do a program for teachers called 180 Connections. There are 180 days in a school year and with
that program we tell them to take three minutes of each class, right in the beginning, because
research shows that if you simply will stand at the door, smile at your student as they
walk in, call them by their first name, and give them an appropriate touch like a fistbump,
a handshake, a high five, or a pat on the shoulder, just that act repeated day after
day- and this is not our research, it is done by others- shows that their ability academically
will be raised by 27%. We should be practicing that in every classroom
in America. With that and another piece of that, which
is that every day a teacher begins a class by saying something personal about themselves,
“My favorite dessert is pecan pie. Now, you guys break down into groups of three,
no more than four and talk about your favorite dessert.” What does that do? It connects the kids to each other. There is a picture of my dad and my mother
when I was a little boy. I wasn’t born old, I was actually your age
at the time. (laughter) See those big ears? We teach for the teacher to connect with the
child and in doing so to help the children connect with each other. Those simple solutions bring powerful results. Thank you for letting me be here today. Devos: Thank you so much, Darrell. Next we are turning to Dr. Derek Odell. Dr. Odell is currently a veterinarian in the
Roanake, Virginia area. He was a student at Virginia Tech at the time
of the mass shooting there. Dr. Odell works in his community to help victims
of violent times. Welcome, Dr. Odell. Derek: And thank you to this commission, commissioners
for hearing our stories. Certainly this is a very personal topic for
all of this and it is a part of the community that I am in. For me, personally, I survived the school
shooting, as you mentioned that Virginia Tech on April 16th, 2007, I had just turned 20
my sophomore year of college and I felt invincible, you know, I never pictured a school shooting
happening. I had heard of Columbine, but never pictured
it happening at our school. I never had active shooter drills when I was
an elementary or primary school student, so it never really phased me as far as “That
always happens to other communities.” I am extremely thankful to be here today to
share my story personally with you all. As many are not able to share their story. My wife is also a high school teacher at Salem
High School in southwest Virginia and our daughter will eventually go to public school,
maybe even her high school. My wife and I, as many other parents of school-aged
children, have the best interests in the safety of our children as the cares and trust into
our school as they are gone throughout the day. To provide some insight on what uniquely happens
in a school shooting, the following is my personal testimony on what happened to me
during April 16th, 2007. And it is hard to picture yourself in a classroom
shooting. Fortunately, it is not a process that happens
to a lot of people in this country, but certainly it is happening more and more frequently with
cause for concern. On April 16th, 2007, I was in a classroom
on the second floor of Norris Hall on Virginia Tech’s campus when a loud popping noise disrupted
our class. Our professor, Jamie Bishop, stopped teaching
and opened the door to look in the hallway to investigate the noise. We thought it was construction. He returned shortly thereafter, shut the door
behind him, and started teaching. Within seconds, the door swung open and the
popping noise began in our classroom. Gunfire began to tear through our class. I froze in my chair for what seemed like an
eternity until I slowly saw the handgun turn towards me. I ducked below my desk. The shots continued as I tried to put as much
distance between the gun and myself as I could in the classroom. The gunman reloaded his magazine and proceeded
down the hall to the next classrooms. Many students in the class lay motionless
and quiet. The door was still open and I decided that
the gunman could easily regain entry into our class and further decimate my classmates. I tried to make my way to the front of the
room to the only entry and exit door to the class. Being a second story classroom, the building
windows were certainly high up off the ground. I reached for my cellphone to try and call
911, at that point a felt a sharp pain in my right arm. I realized I had been shot some time during
the initial gunfire. I could see my arm bleeding through my jacket. At that time I applied a tourniquet and was
on the phone with the emergency responder trying to describe the gunman, trying to give
them as much information about the class as I could. Then the gunfire temporarily stopped. I could hear footsteps outside the door in
the hall. I saw the door handle jiggle. Then I blocked it with my body since there
was no door lock. The force from the other side of the door
tried to regain entry and failed with the help of my classmate, we were able to keep
the shooter out. Then bullets began to rain through the solid
wooden door, narrowly missing me, but hitting my classmate’s hand who was barricading the
door with me. The barricade held strong and the gunman proceeded
down the hall and continued with gunshots. We assessed the injury in our class, trying
to apply first aid as best as we could. The gunfire eventually stopped as we heard
the sounds of police officers in the hallway. They opened the door and escorted us. I was able to walk out of our classroom and
building. The officers encountered a door that they
had not entered. The door was chained shut from the inside,
padlocked, and the only way to get out the door was for officers to fire and hit the
padlock and allow us to escape to emergency personnel. Certainly I am thankful to be here today to
speak to you, because, again, there are many of my classmates and professors who are not. The most alarming thing for me looking back
on the shooting was the preparation that our shooter did to practice the shooting. As many of you talked about in this panel
and as Michael adequately explained, is that the shooter had a marked preparation for this
shooting. It is not something that he just snapped. He had posted notices around the campus for
weeks prior to the shooting to assess the police response, trying to figure out it would
take police go to a building after a notice had been found. As Mike had mentioned, the doors at Virginia
Tech, the majority of them were able to be chained to delay police entry into the building. He had chained all three entry and exit doors
in the building. So there was nine minutes for the whole Virginia
Tech shooting before police could get into the hall and the student committed suicide. Since then, Virginia Tech has changed all
the doors and I remained a student at Virginia Tech for six years and I felt the safest I
had ever been at the community campus, so I think they did an amazing job as far as
a response to that shooting. And other universities and other primary schools
have taken that same initiative in changing their school doors or planning for future
innovations to help future issues. The shooter went by many of the classrooms
on the second floor repeatedly to see how many students were in each class and the layout
of the classrooms. The police responded quickly and unfortunately
weren’t able to gain entry into the classrooms very quickly. Most campuses utilize some form of emergency
alert notifications. At Virginia Tech, the shooter had actually
committed to shooting across campus a few hours prior to this shooting in Norris Hall. And the campus wasn’t notified of that because
at the time every student had personal cell phone devices and there was no emergency notification
system that was probably used at the time. Any emergency alert system that was used was
a single system and unfortunately wasn’t working on all the speakers and wasn’t notified until
after the second shooting. So utilizing a campus security system which
has now been in place for pretty much every campus college community in the United States,
as well as other primary schools, the availability of social media devices, phones, even in Virginia
Tech they had message boards for each of the classes, just in case those phones weren’t
on the notification board. With many of the topics covered here previously,
I think they are certainly vital to the changes that we can see to make this a better process
for protecting our students in our schools. One of the things that I think we have be
simple- I think Virginia Tech has changed- it would be a simple thing to change within
classrooms, it would be implementing a deadbolt or a locking door system. For me, that would have saved probably every
person in our room’s life because our professor probably would have locked the door at the
apprehension that there could have been some type of gunfire, even if the gunman was able
to gain entry by blasting through the door, it would have allowed us more time to adequately
prepare for his entry and potentially another ambush. For me that is an easy implementation device
that hopefully could be in all schools across the the US. Those are part of school safety that I would
ask you to consider. It is very difficult to predict how an individual
is going to respond in the face of an emergency. For me, I always considered myself to be prepared. I never grew up a Boy Scout, but my dad raised
me to be a very good person. And so, I always consider all the situations,
being a veterinarian, my job is to figure out what is going on with the animal and unfortunately
they don’t always talk to us (laughter) so it is a difficult response trying to figure
out that is going on, so I consider all the possibilities, even prior to being shot at
Virginia Tech, I considered a lot of different possibilities. Certainly, a school shooting wasn’t the forefront
on my mind when i was sitting in the classroom trying to further my education. When people are prepared for a certain situation
or emergency, they have that mindset. When you are in your classroom, you don’t
have that mindset. It is hard to overcome that flip of the switch. It makes you prepared to respond to an emergency. So in considering your recommendations, I
would advise you it is hard to predict individuals’ response to an emergency, even us who are
very well prepared, even those of us who have trained for this, it is a very difficult thing
when you are actually in that situation. The mentality, again, constantly being on
edge isn’t something that should be part of the classroom and certainly preparation is
key, but learning is a very difficult process when you are on that edge. For me, I came back to classes shortly after
the shooting when they resumed and I didn’t learn a thing for the remainder of the semester. All I could think about was every time that
door opened in the back of the classroom, I was back again. Eventually I furthered my education and earned
my doctorate from Virginia Tech where I was very thankful to stay after they had made
changes, but certainly a difficult process to stay in the classroom after that. Also, the notion that arming other public
school teachers or individuals in the building may sound like a good idea, but when expecting
a trained individual to sit in their classroom with turmoil happening all around like in
my classroom, it may result in a much different outcome than we intend. If I were in the same situation in my classroom
and was armed and accidentally shot a classmate or professor in the crossfire, I think I might
have a lot more survivor’s guilt than I already have. Again, putting public educators in this situation
I don’t think should be a priority as far as as the concern of our students as we assume
that risk. Thank you for you time and consideration on
this panel and this topic. I know as my wife goes to school every day,
my daughter eventually grows up to go to school, I can never fathom losing one of my own to
one of these school shootings. Thank you. DeVos: Thank you so much, Derek. Thank you. Next I would like to introduce Miss Scarlet
Lewis. Scarlet is the mother of Jesse Lewis who lost
his life in Sandy Hook elementary shooting in 2012. Miss Lewis founded the nonprofit, Jesse Lewis
Choose Love movement to ensure that every child has access to social and emotional learning
in the classroom and to facilitate this teaching
within families, schools, and communities. Welcome, Scarlet. Scarlet: Thank you. And thank you for the opportunity to talk
to you today about a proactive, preventative approach to school violence. I think the first panel did an excellent job
of defining how we reacted to the school shootings and putting very good things in place. However, five years ago, after Sandy Hook,
I was saying “This can’t be our new normal,” and five years leader, after Parkland, I find
myself saying “This is our new normal, but it still can’t be.” Because we know how to prevent this. We know things to do, we just have to find
the urge to do it. I am going to be talking about a proactive
and preventative solution today. So I am the mom of Jesse Lewis who was a Sandy
Hook school victim and also JT Lewis who is here today who is going to address you next. Following Jesse’s murder, I decided to become
part of the solution. And Jesse was 6-years-old when he was shot
in the forehead in his 1st grade classroom by a former Sandy Hook student alongside 19
of his first grade classmates alongside two first grade classrooms and educators in one
of the worst mass murders in US history. That was preventable, as are all of the other
school shootings that we have. I am here today to advocate for social and
emotional learning as an essential part to create safe schools. So up until now, the focus on school safety
has been based on external safety measures such as active shooter protocols, single point
entries, bullet-proof film. External safety measures are extremely important
due to the reality of our schools literally being under fire. This, however, does not address the cause
or why a student would want to harm an educator or another student. Student’s want to harm others because they
are disconnected, lack resilience and emotional management. These are skills they can be taught with social
and emotional learning. Social and emotional learning cultivate school
safety from the inside out. Therefore it is a full plan. You have external safety measures and you
have internal safety measures that address the “why.” And like somebody mentioned, it is never a
snap. People still come up to me and say “Wow, Adam
Lanza just snapped.” Of course we know it is never a snap. Adam Lanza had a lifetime of pain, disconnection,
isolation, lack of resilience and emotional management that resulted in what happened
at Sandy Hook. The Sandy hook advisory commission report
was released two years after the shooting and their responsibility was to determine
how something like Sandy Hook could happen and what we can do to make sure it doesn’t
happen again. They were given unprecedented access to Adam
Lanza’s school and medical records, interviews, and other data. The report states the attack on Sandy Hook
appears to have been a purposefully thought out and planned attack. Adam Lanza did not just snap. And this is a hopeful statement because there
is always something we can do to help another’s pain. We can prevent school violence. Addressing the symptoms of the issues has
been our modus operandi and leaves us always a step behind the problems, in reactive mode,
while the issues continue to escalate. In wanting to become part of the solution,
I realized that we have many issues in our schools today that relate to school violence
and then plague our society. These are our same issues that we have been
addressing for decades and they continue to escalate. In addition to violence, there is substance
abuse, mental illness, and bullying. These are just examples. Drug overdoses now now kill more people than
cars and people combined and are expected to escalate over the next five years. We have no plan other than to pour tax dollars
into addressing the symptoms. We have a mental health epidemic in our schools. The Child Mind Institute reports that 49.5%
of our US youth while have had a diagnosable mental illness by the time they are 18. The majority of those diagnoses is anxiety. The average age for the onset of anxiety is
six-years-old in our country and the vast majority- 70%- will not get professional treatment,
so they will suffer alone. What do the long term outcomes of untreated
anxiety look like? Interestingly enough, exactly what we are
experiencing. Violence, substance abuse, mental illness,
incarceration, suicide, depression, etcetera. We know that social-emotional learning is
the most proactive and preventative mental health initiative we have. We know that it proactively prevents bullying
as well as substance abuse. According to the National Center for Education
Statistics, bullying has increased in our schools by 21% since we started tracking it
in 2003. Bullying continues to get worse despite state
mandated programs and laws we have created through our reactive nature that focused on
the issues. My son was murdered by a bully who had also
been bullied in school. I attended the DC Anti-Bullying Conference,
the White House Anti-Bullying Conference a couple of years ago and it was one of my most
frustrating two days. Because we spent 98% of the time in reactive
mode talking about who was bullying who, analyzing the data, what are we doing with the data
going forward. There was maybe two minutes given to social-emotional
learning, which we know proactively prevents bullying. Anti-bullying programs do not work. When we treat the symptoms without addressing
the cause we will never get ahead of them and we haven’t gotten ahead of any of these
issues. They continue to escalate despite what is
seemingly our best efforts. However, we have a solution. I want to applaud our First Lady Melania’s
courage to endorse social-emotional learning as part of her Be Best campaign. This is a dramatic change from how we have
dealt with issues in the past until now. Social and emotional learning is a proactive
and preventative approach that addresses the cause of all these issues that scientific
research shows proactively reduces and prevents substance abuse, mental illness, bullying,
and violence. That means stopping the suffering before it
even starts. Social and emotional learning teaches kids
how to get along, healthy and positive relationships, deep and meaningful connections, skills and
tools for resilience, emotional management, conflict resolution, responsible decision-making,
among other qualities. In fact, these are all things that employers
value most- above IQ. When researching a solution for what took
my son’s life, I was heartened to find that there is one and it is called Social-Emotional
learning, in fact, I dedicated my life to spreading awareness of the solution to the
issues our children face and that face our society and I have made it my life’s mission
to make sure that every child has access to what we know through decades of research is
in every child’s best interest and the best interest of our society. If Adam Lanza had had social and emotional
learning in school, my son and other precious little children and educators would be alive
today. This is backed up by years of research as
well as the determination from the Sandy Hook advisory commission and the Child Advocacy
report that came out of the tragedy at Sandy Hook. I am going to excerpts now from the Sandy
Hook advisory commission report as well as the Child Advocate report that were released
two years after the Sandy Hook massacre. “While all students benefit from a concerted
focus on social-emotional learning, for students struggling mental health and/ or developmental
disorders, inadequate supports for social and emotional wellness and a lack of attention
to SEL can have particularly deleterious consequences. The report issued from Connecticut’s office
of the Child Advocate emphasizes the striking absence of social-emotional learning in Adam
Lanza’s records, despite the centrality of social-emotional and behavioral health challenges
to Adam’s identified disabilities, his individual education plan was directed almost exclusively
towards supports for his academic progress. For example, a quote from the Child Advocate
report states: attention to Adam’s severe disabilities focused on curricular issues
rather than on the social and emotional characteristics that were seriously impacting his ability
to participate in a regular education environment.” The Child Advocate’s investigation concluded
that the absence of a plan to address Adam’s social-emotional issues likely contributed
to a situation in which he eventually became increasingly withdrawn and socially isolated. The Child Advocate report specifically asks
“Is there a reluctance to serve youth’s social-emotional needs in schools?” Here is the recommendation from that report:
schools must have capacity to address social-emotional learning, offer evidence-based social skills,
curriculum skill building regarding social pragmatics, and other supports. All of the scientific evidence for decades
show that children that have social and emotional learning get better grades and test scores,
higher attendance and graduation rates, better classroom and school climate, increased positive
relations and connections, less stress and anxiety, less behavioral issues, and less
bullying. There is research now that has followed Kindergartners
all the way into adulthood that found kids that hit social-emotional learning had less
substance abuse, less mental illness of all kinds, less incarceration, less violence,
and even less divorce rates. Decades of scientific search and it makes
common sense as well. Columbia University did a study that found
that every dollar invested in social-emotional learning, there is an $11 net present value
returned to the community. I can’t think of a better investment for our
most precious asset, our youth. In fact, the donors who support the Jesse
Lewis Choose Love movement believe so strongly in the potential of social and emotional learning
that we are able to offer our pre-K through 12th grade comprehensive social and emotional
learning program called the Choose Love Enrichment Program to all educators and students at no
cost. This program is now in all 50 states and over
55 countries. We have transformed and saved lives. There is no excuse not to do this. So, as our First Lady Melania has proposed,
we must be proactive and preventative in our approach to violence in schools, if we continue
to be reactive, we will always one step behind as we have been and these tragedies will continue
unabated. We can proactively prevent school as well
as substance abuse and mental illness by implement social and emotional learning in our schools
on a regular basis. And the concluding thoughts section of the
Sandy Hook advisory board, it states “As a state and a nation, we must seek out and embrace
measures that will foster resilience. All of the commission’s recommendations promote
a broad and holistic approach to mental health across the lifespan. Such an approach will prioritize social-emotional
and psychological wellness across our culture.” “Further,” the report states, “Schools must
play a critical role in fostering healthy child development and healthy communities. They should provide learning tools geared
towards positive development and serve as a locus. Healthy social development should be actively
taught in schools. Our education system has prioritized childrens’
cognitive development at the expense of their social and emotional development and this
disproportionate focus on academic achievement threatens to become even more entrenched. Research clearly demonstrates, however, that
social and emotional curricula have a positive impact on childrens’ development and actually
enhance their academic progress. Actually, social-emotional learning is the
foundation of academic performance.” Recommendations from the Sandy Hook advisory
commission on how to prevent another Sandy Hook massacre state “Social-emotional learning
must form an integral part of the curriculum of pre-school to high school. It works best when it is a pervasive component
of the school environment that informs the culture of the school and the behavior of
adult educators. Too often, school administrators and teachers
view SEL as secondary to academic curricula worrying that time spent on aspects of SEL
will detract on students’ academic achievement, as a result, even evidence-based SEL curricula
are rarely included past the earliest grades and where SEL is taught it rarely receives
the time or attention it deserves. All schools should implement a sequence social
development curriculum. That is what we learned from the sandy Hook
tragedy five years ago.” There is no mass murder gene. Mass murders are cultivated into what they
become by their environments. Likewise, there is no SEL gene. We must learn these skills and tools and if
we didn’t learn them in school or from their parents, we simply don’t have them. The bottom line is this: “Social and emotional
learning is an integral part of school safety. SEL cultivates safety from the inside out
by teaching kids the skills and tools they need and that we know proactively prevent
violence. This takes SEL from a ‘nice to have’ to a
‘need to have.’ A comprehensive school safety plan must include
social and emotional learning. External safety measures are important, however,
they do not address the cause of violence. The only way to proactively prevent school
violence is to address the cause and provide students with the tools and skills necessary
to navigate their life and future.” The commission report continues. “Comprehensive youth development can prepare
young people meet the challenges of adolescence and adulthood through a progressive series
of activities and experiences that foster social, moral, emotional, physical, and cognitive
growth. In this context, a coordinated comprehensive
system of support services for all students ensure that their physical, social, and emotional
needs are met and their school environments are safe and orderly while also promoting
their optimal academic development.” Jesse died a hero. Jesse chose to use his final moments to save
nine of his classmate’s lives at six-years-old. When the gunman Adam Lanza stormed into his
first-grade classroom after murdering his counselor and principal in the hallway right
outside their classroom door. He continued shooting until his gun ran out
of bullets. It was during this short delay and as Adam
changed the ammunition clip on his gun inside the classroom and in front of the kids that
Jesse yelled for his friends to run. They said it was because he told them to run
that they made it to safety. We believe Jesse stayed to protect his teacher. I talk about Jesse’s bravery because this
is the same courage that we all have within us in this room. We must call upon that courage right now to
do what we know is in the best interest of our children. Schools must be a safe haven for our children
and our educators. We know what to do, now we have to find the
courage to do it. Social and emotional learning must be a part
of every school saftey plan by cultivating safety from the inside out and addressing
the cause of the tragedies that have become commonplace in our schools. We must choose social and emotional learning
in our schools. It is the solution and I will read the Margaret
Mead quote that we all know so well. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful
and dedicated citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” And that thoughtful group is in this room,
so thank you. DeVos: Thank you so much, Scarlet. We really appreciate it. Our next speaker is Mr. Joseph Lewis or JT
as he likes to be known, the brother or Jesse Lewis. After the shooting at Sandy Hook, JT started
an organization called Newtown Helps Rwanda and raises money to send orphaned Rwandan
Genocide survivors to college. JT, thanks for joining us. JT: Thank you, thank you all for allowing
me to speak to this commission on school safety. I am thankful for the opportunity to share
my voice and my ideas where they might be useful. Before I give you my thoughts on how we can
make schools safer, I want to tell you about my experience on December 14, 2012. The day started out the same way as any other
and I figured it would end the same way: going home, having an elaborate detail-filled conversation
with my home about my day. She would ask “How was school that day, Honey?” I would respond “Fine.” (Laughter) But instead, on that morning, our
Middle School was in total lock down. My fellow classmates and I huddled in the
back of the classroom exchanging what little information we could find on our phones. Someone got a text that said there had been
a shooting at the nearby elementary school. I remember one friend actually started to
choke up and almost cried “My sister’s at that school, I hope she’s OK.” Maybe it was naive 12-year-old mind, but I
told him to stop overreacting, everything was fine. The text was wrong. Those kinds of thoughts hadn’t crossed my
mind. Yet. Then the details started coming in. Still stuffed in the back of a cold, dark,
Spanish classroom, every one of our faces were illuminated by our phone screens. We were on news sites, Twitter, Facebook,
anywhere where we could find out what was going on. Soon as rumors became confirmed, we started
to realize how serious what had happened at the elementary school really was. There was a death toll. Most of us recognized names. As soon as the lock down at my Middle School
had ended, I was picked up by a family member and chauffeured to the now famous firehouse
located next to the elementary school. This is where families gathered to find out
if their children and parents were alive or not. About an hour into the wait, someone casually
walked over to our family and told us we fell into the category of “not.” Every time there is a mass shooting, seemingly
quite frequently, the first thing you hear is “No one should have to go through something
like that.” Then everyone goes about their lives and forgets. And then another shooting happens, sometimes
only a week or two later and then we hear “No one should have to go through something
like that.” My point is this committee, this administration
has opportunity to do something special, to put a stop to these shootings. In the years following the shooting, we have
met with the former Secretary of Education, we have met with governors and senators, we
even met President Obama, the whole time hoping someone, anyone, would help us put a stop
to these senseless killings. Not one helped. The shooting has continued, nothing changed,
they accomplished nothing. These politicians could never veer from their
parties’ anti-gun agenda to actually make our schools safe. Our country is built on the foundation of
the second amendment. Our right to bear arms isn’t about hunting,
it is about protecting ourselves and those we love when our government can’t or will
not. Regardless, there are over 300 million guns
in the country. They are not going anywhere any time soon,
whether we like it or not. It has been over 19 years since Columbine,
11 years since Columbine, 5 years since Newtown. All that time spent predominantly on a gun
control agenda, whatever form that might look like. At some time we will have to admit that platform
has failed and move onto reasonable and attainable measures. And then President Trump gets elected and
takes office. A year later, the Parkland shooting happens. For the first time in my young life I heard
our a president, an entire administration that wanted to put an end to these shootings
with reasonable school shooting measures, things that could actually be accomplished. It wasn’t the same old “time to get rid of
guns” talking point. President Trump recently tweeted- don’t worry,
it’s a good one- (laughter) “History shows that school shootings last, on average, three
minutes. It takes police and first responders five
to eight minutes to get to the sight of the crime. Highly-trained, gun adept teachers or coaches
would solve the problem instantly before police arrive.” A divisive path, and also rather expensive
one, is to have an SRO or armed ground- preferably two- in every school. These schools in Newtown are now some of the
most safe schools in the country. That is because after the shooting, our schools
have measures like armed guards. They are not doing that for show, they are
doing it because it works. Unfortunately, because I am not a big government
type of person, the government does need to get involved in some way. Schools are legally not responsible for the
safety of their students. The Newtown was not accountable for my brother
and they walked away without even an apology to the victims’ families. We need to make sure that every school in
America is as secure as the post-shooting Newtown schools are. Some would argue that putting armed guards
in schools would make them feel like prisons. This is a ridiculous argument. After 9/11, airports added extensive security. At first it felt odd, but after time passed,
people grew used to the additional security because it was for their own safety. The same is true to schools. We can implement armed guards and in time
we will grow used to it because it is for the safety of our nation’s youth. Three of the most recent school shootings
in Florida, Maryland, and even yesterday in Illinois were stopped by a school resource
officer. They were able to apprehend the shooters in
all three cases. There was one death combined between those
shootings. That compared to Newtown, Parkland, and Columbine,
were there were 56 deaths and countless more injured. Obviously having a first line of defense inside
our school works. President Trump recently said “There is sign
more inviting to a mass killer than a sign that declares ‘This School is a Gun-Free Zone.'” I couldn’t agree more, it is just common sense. How hypocritical is, then, that many of our
politicians go around in a full security detail armed to the teeth while our kids are sitting
ducks in outdated and unprepared schools. What if our same politicians valued the lives
our nation’s youth as equally as their own. The presidents said it best “We must harden
schools. It is that obvious, it is that simple.” The idea that an armed guard is the best way
to fight an armed intruder is hard to argue against. In fact, I have talked to politicians and
media on both sides of the aisle and privately, the idea has lots of support. More than enough to get something of substance
done. To sum this up, what do I think schools should
do to keep kids safe? Put in two armed guard in every school, whether
they are armed teachers, retired police or military, or active police. Simple measures like anonymous hotlines to
report threats seem as obvious as they are necessary. If you ask, and I have, most kids will tell
you they can identify the next shooter. Make sure every school is accessible is only
accessible through a single entrance. All side entrance should be locked. This way, in the event of a shooter, you know
exactly where they are. Finally, schools must start to take responsibility
for the safety of their students. Parents are starting to wake up to the fact
that when their kids are at school, they, the parent, are solely responsible for their
safety. Soon, they will demand a change and I will
stand with them when they do. I look forward to work with this commission
and this administration to stop these mass shootings. Thank you for having me speak today. DeVos: Thank you so much, JT. Our final speaker is Mr. Ryan Petty. Ryan lost his 14-year-old daughter Elena in
the awful tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School earlier this year. He is currently serving on the Florida State
Commission that is investigating what happened and we are honored to hear from him today. Welcome, Ryan. Ryan: Thank you for having me, Madame Secretary
and commission members. Earlier we heard a statement about, I think
the term was “low frequency but significant impact event.” I hope my words can help convey the meaning
behind “significant impact.” Mr. Scott, you mentioned 19 years ago you
testified to the judiciary committee. Just a few weeks ago I did the same to the
senate committee and I would like to share some of the things I said too. In a season of loss it is difficult to find
meaning in tragedy. The senseless murder of so many, including
my own beloved daughter Elena, tests the limit of faith. And it demands more endurance than we thought
possible. It is a test abruptly forced on us and we
bear it as best we can. Each of us, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters,
wives, and those lost in love strive to find that meaning. I believe we will be seeking it til the end
of our days. However, our abiding faith tells us our heavenly
father has a plan. Although the loss of our daughter Elena was
to us unforeseen, it was not a surprise to him. This gives us comfort during this difficult
time. We will not know what this all means until
that time, but we know that this thing that has happened does not mean evil will triumph. It does not mean we may do nothing. It does not mean we should turn against one
another. We must not struggle over the ashes in the
shadow of our grief. Americans aren’t interested in surrendering
or curtailing their constitutional rights, that is a simple statement of fact born out
after every similar event. Americans are, however, deeply interested
in safe schools, in caring communicates, and in secure neighborhoods. As the family of one of the victims we have
also learned at great personal cost that Americans can come together. Policy and political action ought to take
their cues from this American majority. We don’t all have to agree on everything and
we won’t, but we can agree on the most fundamental things. We can agree that students and teachers should
be safe. We can agree that schools should be secure. We can agree that be competent and must do
its job. I want to focus briefly on that last point. I had, as you heard earlier, and- as is the
the case in Parkland also- Nicholas Cruz and the deadly danger her posed was the worst-kept
secret in Parkland. That is with one inexcusable exception. His was a secret kept from many of the parents
and the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Every relevant authority knew he was a deeply
troubled youth with the potential for lethal violence. The foster system knew it, the FBI knew it,
the sheriff’s department knew, the school district knew it. And despite that fact that each of these agencies
and empowered to take action well before tragedy struck, not one of them fulfilled their duty. The testament to their failure is 17 dead
children and teachers and 17 more with life-altering injuries, a burden we must bear forever. Add to this failure the failure to warn the
parents of the students. By this action or inaction we were rendered
powerless to fulfill our most sacred trust as parents: to protect our children. So forgive me if I don’t believe that government
is the ultimate solution. Our trust in our institutions and our officeholders
is deeply shaken. Our broken hearts cry out every moment of
every day for the rest of our lives. So what is the solution? The problem of man against evil is as old
as humanity itself and we cannot face it alone. If we think of school violence as a disease
we would not just treat the symptoms or only don protective gear to avoid accidental exposure. We must learn to identify these troubled youth
before they turn violent and get them they desperately need. We can look to programs like Safe UT in Utah
or the work being done in the LA county school district to identify potential threats and
as was discussed earlier, one of the first things I did was able the tears from my eyes
long enough to get back on the internet and start using Google, I found this Secret Service
report and started to read the characteristics that seemed all-too familiar to me. But ultimately the solution is in any single
policy or in any single legislation and it is not in any activist’s prescription. It is in our hearts. We can try and stop the next Nicholas Cruz
with better screening, with better law enforcement, and with better security. And sometimes we will succeed, but sometimes
those measures will fail. Will we stop the next the next killers in
our homes, in our communities, and through our faith? The best defense against the next Nicholas
Cruz is building up strong families where love can be shown to a hurting child. It is in the care we show to a struggling
or overwhelmed neighbor. it is in the charity we extend to a stranger. It is in the comfort we give the wounded heart. it is in the kindness we show to an isolated,
struggling young man. And I said that and I repeat now, it is my
hope that senseless, tragic events like the one that took my dear daughter will awake
people across our nation that we need to work collectively to create a significant cultural
shift. If we work as individuals as families, communities,
churches, and yes, with government, to create an America that is more caring, more kind,
more loving. Perhaps we can put an end to these tragedies
once and for all. This time can be different. It is my hope that we will. And if we do, it will be the part of us that
is most like Elena. Despite what has recently happened, I am optimistic. There are some changes I think we need to
make. When I heard to Mr. Ide’s testimony this morning…
and I heard other testimonies today, I am not sure we made the progress we think we
have. And that is not to say we do not understand
the problem, but the issue seems to lie in implementation and execution at the community,
the school district level, and even at the individual school themselves. When I heard you talk about what happened
at Columbine, incident command, radios malfunction, and the response tactics, it appears that
19 years later we have learned nothing. So, I would argue for within our school districts
and at all levels- and I am speaking specifically about K-12- but we need clear responsibility
for campus and school safety. Somebody should be accountable for school
safety. The time to prepare is now. It can happen here. It should be on the minds of every parent,
every educator, every law enforcement agency, every school district. It can happen here. We need robust communications between the
responsible parties. We have heard that discussed at length here. I can only tell you, to answer your question,
if I could change one thing about Parkland, if I could wave a wand and change one thing,
it would be that the school district and law enforcement and social services would have
communicated. Because they all understood the threat but
none of them put the pieces together. We ask our kids- they are often the source
of this information, when I said Nicholas Cruz was the worst kept-secret in Parkland-
my son and many of the other students at Parkland, when they actually understood that it was
a real shooting and not a drill or firecrackers, the first thought through their mind was “Oh,
it must be Nicholas Cruz.” The entire school knew. But if we are going to ask our students that
if they see something to say something, they must- we must, as adults, do something. Thank you again for having me here. I hope that this will, in fact, be different
and that we won’t simply slide the chairs down the table for the next parents to come
and testify. Thank you. DeVos: Thank you, Ryan. Thank you all again for being here and sharing
with us. I again, repeat, we are very grateful and
your personal pain, that you are willing to come and share with us your experiences and
observations and your learning… some of you having worked through this over a longer
period of time. It is very important food to chew on. I am going to ask those of us on this side
of the table, if there is one burning question to ask, I am looking at our time here, I know
we have used it up and I want to respect that, but i want to ask if there is anyone who has
anything they would like to ask before we conclude? No? Alright. Well behalf on the Department and everyone
here, I offer sincere gratitude to each of the presenters today. We are grateful for your insights and you
sharing your insights, and again, some so personally painful. And we again acknowledge that your knowledge
broadly shared is going to help prevent future tragedies. I also want to encourage all members present
from future organizations to send in your comments, your ideas, and your solutions to
our emails address. We have an email address set up at [email protected]
and we look forward to the input there. We are closely monitoring this and fully intend
to include all of the responds there and all the feedback in our final report and products. So thank you all for your contributions there
and thank you to all our participants today, we are very thankful, thanks.