Secret Service wants to share its expertise to prevent mass shooting at schools

The Secret Service is looking to share its expertise in identifying would-be assassins with school districts in hopes of thwarting future mass shootings by students.

The agency earlier this month began sharing an eight-step operational guide with local school districts, in direct response to concerns raised by the recent mass shootings in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, Texas.

 “It gives you step-by-step actionable activities that schools can take that standardize the process that can identify students who might be in distress or exhibiting concerning behavior,” explained Lina Alathari, chief of the Secret Service’s Threat Assessment Team.

She added the information being shared with schools also included "how to gather information from multiple sources and assess the risk the student pose for engaging in not only harm against the school, but also possible harm to themselves."

The agency first began studying targeted attacks at schools after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. It found that there is no specific profile that fits a school shooter. 

Alathari said the profile of each shooter was different, whether on academic achievement, popularity, or social relations.

 “Some were high performers, some were poor performers," Alathari said in terms of academic performance.

"You have well-liked popular students: one was a prom king, another was a church deacon. You also had the loners and more isolated students. They came from various backgrounds family-wise, so there really is not one profile,” she added. 

The intervention from one of America’s premier law enforcement agencies comes as school districts are preparing for fall classes at a time when parental concern for their children’s safety is soaring.

 A new poll released by PDK International shows that one in three parents are concerned for their child’s physical safety at school, the highest in 20 years. 

 “That’s some serious implications for principals, teachers, kids, superintendents, school boards,” said Joshua Starr, a former school administrator in surburban Washington, D.C,, who is now the chief executive officer for PDK.

Starr said schools "have to reinforce to their communities, parents" that they have "maintained safety" for their children. 

The guide from the Secret Service says that schools should create threat assessment teams as the first step in creating a prevention plan. 

It also lays out an evaluation process that staff can use to determine which behaviors are unacceptable and warrant intervention. The behaviors include threatening others, committing violence, bringing a weapon to school and bullying.

Alathari says the Secret Service got positive feedback from school administrators, parents and students after visiting with them in Florida.

However, Starr said school administrators are likely to have concerns about the costs, legal issues and their expertise in implementing the Secret Service recommendations.

“I think there’s a lot of things they don’t know about how schools work and just operations aspects, legal aspects,” Starr said, “The cost alone is significant. It requires people and time; not only have school districts been underfunded, particularly since 2008 recession, but knowing how to do this is really hard."

“We spend all our time on academics. What they lay out is important, good guidance, but the actual implementation within an American school district is so much more complex,” he added.

— Alison Spann