Safety & Security

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Is Gun Violence at High School Football Games Considered a ‘School Shooting?'

19 Sep, 2018

By: Michael Popke

A recent shooting at a high school football game in Florida has not only increased anxiety but also opened up the debate about the definition of a “school shooting.”

“This is not a school shooting,”Teri Barbera, spokesperson for the Palm Beach (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office told the South Florida Sun Sentinel after two men opened fire at a Friday night game at Palm Beach Central High School in mid-August. “This was not a random act of violence and had no bearing on the Palm Beach Central or [visiting team] William T. Dwyer High Schools, students, faculty and/or staff.”

“The gunfire sent players and fans screaming and stampeding in a panic inside the stadium,” reports thePalm Beach Post. Two people were injured during the incident, including the father of a Dwyer High linebacker. The School District of Palm Beach County canceled all sporting events, practices and other outdoor activities that weekend, as officials promised to “determine what additional safeguards are needed for Friday night football games.”

The sheriff’s department’s decision not to label the incident a “school shooting” prompted this report from Education Dive, an online education news source:

The decision over what to call just one incident has far-reaching impacts. It raises questions on what’s considered a school shooting — a definition that plays an important role in the national conversation surrounding school safety and the policies put in place to boost it. And in Florida, the same state shaken up by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in February, the controversy is especially intense.

Everytown for Gun Safety, which pushes for tighter gun restrictions, defines a school shooting as “every time a firearm discharges a live round inside or into a school building or on a school campus or grounds.” Others say certain situations, like suicides or confrontations that end in shots fired, shouldn’t be counted, ThinkProgress notes.

Education Weekadded this: “How educators, policymakers and the public at large classify shootings … matters, because what’s considered a ‘school shooting’ affects larger school safety debates and the policy changes that result from them. But it’s hard to argue that the Palm Beach County incident had ‘no bearing’ on the schools involved. Social media posts show hundreds of students fleeing in fear.”

The Palm Beach County incident is classified as a school shootingby Education Week, because it meets all of the publication’s criteria for a shooting:

  • A firearm was discharged

  • An individual, other than the suspect or perpetrator, suffered a bullet wound resulting from the incident

  • It happened on K-12 school property or school bus

  • It occurred while school was in session or during a school-sponsored event

School safety debates often leave out afterschool programs and athletics, Lou Marciani, director of the National Center for Spectator Sports and Securityat the University of Southern Mississippi, told Education Week. “People have been very myopic about only looking at the school day,” he said.

The center has created a series of “best practices guides,” and Safe Sport Zonein Racine, Wis., has developed plans “to assure safer environments for activities occurring at times other than during the regular school hours.”

Regardless of how such shootings are labeled, Catholic school officials in Detroit took proactive steps even before the Palm Beach shooting. Representatives from all Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Detroit met in early August with a special agent in charge of Detroit’s Secret Service field office to discuss how to better assess threats, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Attendees from each school were given a guide titled “Enhancing School Safety Using Assessment Model,” which instructed the Detroit Catholic High School League to do the following:

• Establish a multidisciplinary threat assessment team

• Define prohibited and concerning behaviors

• Create a central reporting mechanism

• Determine the threshold for law enforcement intervention

• Establish assessment procedures

“It can happen to us,” Vic Michaels, the league’s athletic director, said after the meeting. “Sometimes you think it’s in a different state or a different age-grouping; [that] it’s not you. [The schools] learned that it could be them.”

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