Marianne Moon doesn’t like to talk about school shootings. As the director of safe schools for the Missoula Public School District, Moon is cautious about drawing too much attention to the subject in the wake of three recent school shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that claimed eight lives and left five young girls critically wounded.
“I’m a little bit hesitant to talk about it because we didn’t want to make a huge deal out of it in the local press,” Moon says, noting that in recent days her office has received an increased number of phone calls from concerned parents wanting assurances that their children will be safe in their classrooms.
“Too much attention…creates a heightened fear response in the general public,” she says.
That heightened fear response reminds educators that they need to be vigilant about reviewing and updating their crisis plans in case of emergencies, but as with most ailments, the best treatment is prevention. And the best way to prevent violence, says state Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch, is to develop strong relationships between students, parents, educators and emergency personnel. That’s been the primary strategy of Montana schools for more than 10 years.
“You can’t deal with school violence at the time of–or because of—an incident that happens 3,000 miles away,” McCulloch says.
Since 1995 the state Office of Public Instruction has been working with schools on the Montana Behavioral Initiative, a statewide program designed to help parents and educators ensure that every student leaves the public education system not only with academic competence, but with social competence as well. The program helps educators recognize various levels of violence so they can head off problems before they worsen.
“If you don’t stop it at the lowest level…it keeps escalating until you come that point where somebody brings a gun to school,” McCulloch says. “An adult doesn’t just acquire a violent nature at the age of 38. It’s the sort of thing that starts at an early age.”
Moon is quick to point out that while school violence may be in the headlines, the classroom is still the safest place for children.
“Statistically we’re more likely to have an earthquake than a school shooting,” she says.