Westchester School Safety: Training County Teachers, Staff, and Informing Students

The Sandy Hook shooter could have been anyone. Here’s how to spot red flags.

No matter how strict a school is about monitoring who comes through the front door, those enhanced entry protocols don’t mean a thing if students and teachers are in the habit of opening secondary doors to admit someone. While they might feel they’re doing a favor by letting in a friend or someone who looks familiar, they’re overriding the security system. “Building principals at school have to ensure that everyone—students and faculty—follow safe procedures,” Miraglia says. “Parents should encourage their kids to not open doors as well as encourage them to follow school policy. That said, schools should establish a policy that informs students that they are not to open doors. The truth is that once a child is in the school, parents have little control over their child’s actions. Therefore, enforcement of safety policies will be the responsibility of the school.”

Even someone who looks familiar or seems okay doesn’t necessarily have good intentions: Students and people well known in the community have executed more than one brutal attack, including those at Columbine and Sandy Hook. 

“Security measures often focus on variables, on profiles. But there is no set profile. It could be a person of any age, race, profession, religion—anyone,” says Patrick Van Horne, founder and CEO of security consulting and training firm Active Analysis Consulting in Tarrytown. He also warns that there is a lot of misinformation out there. For instance, he says, “There is no link between autism and violence; it was wrong to propose that about [Sandy Hook shooter] Adam Lanza.” 

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Van Horne, a former Marine, teaches behavioral analysis techniques to teachers and other personnel in several Westchester schools, as well as to police officers who conduct in-school training. Behavioral analysis, says Van Horne, is “a valuable tool in recognizing if someone has violent intent” through their actions and behavior. Teachers are in an ideal position to recognize sudden changes in behavior because of their daily contact with students and the rapport they build with them. “In schools, it’s possible to establish a baseline through familiarity—what is normal for this kid, this building, this situation,” he says. General questioning techniques can show if the student is stressed out about a test, fearful of bullying, or radiating anxiety for another reason. “Reaching out to see if things are okay creates time to intervene.” 

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