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School Climate & Safety

Sandy Hook Promise CEO: ‘School Shootings Are Preventable’

By Lauraine Langreo — March 09, 2023 2 min read
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It’s been 10 years since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 young children and six adults. Since then, there have been many more victims of school shootings.

As of March 9, there have been 152 shootings on K-12 school property that resulted in firearm-related injuries or deaths since 2018, when Education Week started tracking these incidents.

It’s easy to look at the numbers and be discouraged or think that nothing has changed since the Sandy Hook shooting, but that’s not true, said Nicole Hockley, co-founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise, during a SXSW EDU panel on March 9.

Many lives have been saved since then, because more educators, parents, and students recognize at-risk behaviors and now know that they have ways to intervene, she said.

“School shootings are preventable,” she added.

Hockley’s son, Dylan, died in the Sandy Hook shooting. She and other Sandy Hook parents started the Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit that promotes community-based prevention efforts, which include identifying warning signs of potential violence.

One of Sandy Hook Promise’s programs is the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System, where students, staff, and parents can submit tips about signs of potential violence through a mobile app, website, or hotline.

“I would love it if all kids could tell trusted adults—if all kids had trusted adults in their lives that they felt confident that they could take their concerns to and that the trusted adult then knows what to do with that information,” Hockley said. “In many schools that absolutely does exist, but it doesn’t exist everywhere. And sometimes kids are afraid to do anything that isn’t kept anonymous.”

A University of Michigan study of the Sandy Hook Promise’s program found that students who were in schools that used it were more willing to speak up about threats, had better attitudes about school, experienced fewer aggressive behaviors, and had stronger relationships with teachers, Hockley said.

North Carolina, which has been using Sandy Hook Promise’s Say Something Anonymous Reporting System since 2019, has seen more than 20,000 tips. Five “credible planned school shooting attacks” have been averted in North Carolina since it started using the program, Hockley said.

Beyond the reporting system, North Carolina has also implemented behavioral threat assessment training for schools, created a comprehensive safety plan, and organized a parent-community engagement group, said Karen Fairley, executive director of the Center for Safer Schools in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, during the panel.

Fairley’s advice for other state, district, and school leaders who want to implement a program like Sandy Hook Promise’s anonymous reporting system: create a multidisciplinary team, and include teachers, students, parents, law enforcement, and legislators.

It’s also important to have “constant communication” with all those stakeholders, especially students, parents, and teachers, Fairley said.

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