History tells us that the first incident of school violence, resulting in death or injury, was when the Richmond Enquirer on November 15, 1840 reported the nation’s first campus shooting. The paper said John A.G. Davis, a beloved University of Virginia law professor, “was shot by an unknown hand with a pistol.”1
School violence resulting in death or injury continued for 159 more years and began to raise awareness. However, it took Columbine2 to shake the learning community into action on April 20, 1999.
Starting in 1999, initial attempts to stem the tide of rising school violence involved strengthening and, in some cases, introducing physical security that consisted of access control, security cameras, school-resource officers and the like.
Tip of the Iceberg
Considered the tip of the iceberg, these security measures did introduce traditional physical response options and contribute to better protection.
However, they did (and still do) possess many shortcomings as illustrated by a case history of subsequent school shootings notably Sandy Hook Elementary School (Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012), and Umpqua Community College (Roseburg, Oregon, October 1, 2015),
In identifying and addressing those shortcomings partners in the law enforcement community and in the judicial system brought about sweeping changes to the school property protection landscape. Immediately following the Sandy Hook incident, these partners set up and integrated technology and hardening pieces to prevent and mitigate the number of shootings. A successful example of this integration was the Nettalon3 system at Southwestern High School in Shelby County, Indiana.
Another significant change hailing from the judicial system is Public Law 27, the result of the 2016 Legislative Session of the Indiana General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 147 requiring the Indiana Department of Homeland Security to establish minimum standards and approve best practices for a school emergency response system4. Such bills provide stakeholders with guidelines to consider when they are implementing emergency responses.
Both the Indiana Sheriff’s Association (ISA) and the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA) continued to work diligently toward the improvement of school security when disaster struck again, once at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Parkland, Florida, February 14, 2018), and then at Santa Fe High School (Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018).
In the wake of these devastating school shootings, America’s sheriffs as elected officials, were hard pressed to respond to the growing concern of their constituents “What more can be done? What additional practices can be implemented to mitigate these school shootings?”
At the time there were many different issues being raised with school safety such as politically charged mental health and polarized gun control issues. As a result, efforts were dispersed into too many different directions so ISA decided to focus on the primary objective everyone could agree on, school safety, and let those other issues be addressed separately.
Although many people were involved, the two most influential individuals seeking to affect best practices at the national level were (retired) Sheriff Steve Luce (then ISA Executive Director) and Max Schachter, who in the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Parkland, Florida that claimed 17 innocent lives, lost his 14-year-old son Alex when the gunman shot through the window of his son’s classroom with an AR-15.
“I could not understand why this was still happening. We made the airports safe after 9/11. We made the federal buildings safe after the Oklahoma City bombing. It’s been 20 years since Columbine and children and teachers continue to be murdered in their classrooms. The next school mass murderer is already out there. It’s just a question of when and where. I could not sit back and wait for more families to be shattered. I had to do something.” – Max Schachter.
Influenced by PreFense5 (Preventive Defense), Sheriff Luce’s thought at the time, was that most available solutions concerned the last 10% of a threat progression, which was response options only. “It made sense to me for us to start focusing on the 90% and moving toward earlier intervention,” said Luce in a recent interview.
At the time it happened that the school in Shelby County had received quite a bit of media coverage and ISA, leading in school safety efforts, were the reason why Max Schachter6 reached out to Sheriff Luce. “I don’t know how it would have been possible without Max,” said Sheriff Luce.
In March 2018 because of working with Max Schachter, ISA reached out to the NSA for involvement in this unprecedented work effort to keep America’s classrooms safe.
Through 2018, numerous high-level meetings followed with the President, vice-president, senators, and congressmen around appropriations which shifted the focus toward school safety and hardening physical security. The goal, in response to the demands of their constituents, was for NSA to lead the charge in school safety by providing a comprehensive school safety and security resolution. Such a resolution was drafted by Sheriff Luce and Sheriff Troyer and delivered to the chair of the committee of state sheriffs associations.
The executive directors studied and reviewed the resolution, which was unanimously voted to be supported, and then it was sent to the board of directors for their approval. On June 18, 2018, in New Orleans, Louisiana, the resolution was read and voted on unanimously and passed through the NSA.
The NSA, a prominent stakeholder in school safety, was then officially recognized as part of the law enforcement collaborative effort at the national level. The original resolution focused predominantly on the 10% but provided for the amendments that focused on the 100% solution.
NSA and ISA leadership had the foresight to see the jigsaw puzzle and the missing pieces and eventually put all the right pieces together with the right people, but it was not an easy task. The ISA was (and still is) a recognized industry leader in school safety and is the reason why Max Schachter began his tremendous journey to align the U.S. federal government in this collaborative effort.
A Journey to Best Practices
Through Max Schachter’s charity, Safe Schools for Alex, Max held the first meeting of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Task Force in Parkland, Florida on Monday, March 5, 2018. Over 25 school safety experts from across the United States helped identify state of the art school safety guidelines and best practices including training methods that will enable them to develop a blueprint to make schools safer nationwide.7
“Steve Luce was instrumental in educating me and helping me formulate the ideas and approach to school safety. We traveled to Washington, DC many times, the Oval Office, and the halls of Congress. None of that would have been possible without Steve,” said Schachter in a recent interview.
Some of the safety features and best practices discussed in these initial meetings included a secure network that is connected to an emergency 911 call center, and teachers wearing a fob that can immediately activate a safety system to alert a police call center. Teachers would be able to communicate with authorities to protect their students and each classroom would have a designated safe space.
“All school safety systems should allow teachers to teach and students to learn, so they do not have to worry about being shot in their classrooms,” said Schachter.
On March 20, 2018 – Max Schachter was appointed to serve on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission established by the former Governor of Florida Rick Scott. The commission was tasked with investigating the Parkland massacre and develop recommendations to protect Florida’s schools.
On March 22, 2018, Washington, DC, Max Schachter met with members of the Federal Commission on School Safety (FCSS)8 which was the first of many to educate committee members on the impact of the Parkland shooting and the concept of best practices with regard to the prevention and mitigation of school violence.
On April 5, 2018, Shelbyville, IN, Max directed a contingent of officials to the State of Indiana for a school safety forum that included state (Indiana9 and Florida10) and federal11 representation. Its purpose was to research and investigate one of the media-acclaimed “safest schools in America” to discover cutting-edge technology and intervention.
April 18, 2018, Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) hosted various government officials, families impacted by the Parkland shooting, experts and leaders for a forum on intervention and prevention of violence, in addition to a focus on the use of technology in school security. The purpose of the forum was to bring people together to understand best practices on school safety and take back to their agency or community new ideas to implement.
June 27, 2018, Quantico, VA – Max spoke at the Federal Bureau of Investigation School Safety Summit12 focusing on warning signs and behavior indicators, crisis intervention, threat assessments, school crisis response plans, law enforcement response and the hardening of schools.
August 16, 2018, Washington, DC – Schachter testified before the FCSS at the White House. While many school safety conversations have focused on hardening schools with physical security measures, keeping students safe requires a broader, multifaceted approach. Panelists, who spoke on school policing, drills, and protocols, building design, and threat assessment, also pushed for more centralized federal efforts to advance best practices and track what’s happening in schools around the country13.
October 3, 2018, Washington, DC, – Max worked with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to craft a letter signed by 34 members of congress to urge the chair of the FCSS Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to create a central authority to help school districts seeking to improve safety features within new and existing schools.
January 2, 2019, Tallahassee, Fl – The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS) Public Safety Commission issued its first report to the Governor of Florida. Even though sitting through the meetings meant Max had to relive Alex’s murder all over again he was committed to finding out what had happened. The MSDHS report detailed the failures and lessons learned during the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy. The recommendations in the report were subsequently signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis.
July 25, 2019, Washington, DC – Max testified on school safety before the Senate Homeland Security Committee. He urged congressional action to make schools safer. Others who appeared before the committee included Bob Gualtieri, Sheriff of Pinellas County, Florida, and chair of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.
After traveling the country, Mr. Schachter realized that since there were no nationally recognized school safety best practices every K-12 school administrator now had to become a school safety expert. To provide the much-needed guidance required for these K-12 school administrators, Max envisioned the creation of a one-stop-shop school safety clearinghouse that would develop national school safety best practices.
July 30, 2019, Washington DC – Max Schachter spoke at the National School Safety Foundational Elements Roundtable hosted by The U.S. Department of Education, U.S Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Department of Justice where stakeholders from across the school safety community convened to review and discuss best practices and the foundational elements of school safety. The topics discussed during this roundtable helped to establish the Federal School Safety Clearinghouse, and the creation of SchoolSafety.gov. Max’s clearinghouse idea was one of the recommendations included in the Final Report of the Commission on School Safety.
November 6, 2019, Washington, D.C. – Senators Ron Johnson, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio introduced the Luke and Alex School Safety Act in honor of Luke Hoyer, Alex Schachter and the 15 other victims of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School This legislation will create a Federal Clearinghouse on School Safety Best Practices to help schools and their faculty, parents and community officials identify school safety measures and resources for implementing them.
February 10, 2020, Washington, DC – The government launched the Federal School Safety Clearinghouse website SchoolSafety.gov. This website is a one-stop-shop of resources for K-12 administrators, educators, parents, and law enforcement to use to prepare for and address various threats related to safety, security, and support in schools.
Steve Luce, Max Schachter and the NSA continued to create the kind of momentum that it takes to move an initiative of such magnitude through the halls of Washington, DC.
The term, response-option dependency, refers to the common strategy of waiting until an active threat occurs and then relying on physical security to save lives. Instead of relying on this failed strategy, forward-leaning school administrators realized that successful strategy can only be achieved by a collaborative effort in which all members of the learning community are stakeholders not just the law enforcement and judicial entities.
To be better prepared, these administrators determined that school security should be extended beyond physical security. Therefore, they implemented critical-incident planning, threat-assessment guidelines, active-shooter training, “See Something, Say Something®,” and similar measures at or above the threat assessment threshold.
As a result of this extension, school safety, school security, and physical security became integrated in many schools, each with overlapping areas of responsibility supporting the others.
However, two decades of case history, the final report of the FCSS and supporting federal publications reveal that all schools, colleges, and universities share common vulnerabilities, which are rectifiable gaps in school safety found below the threat assessment threshold.
These gaps (shared vulnerabilities) in school safety identified by the FCSS were further defined and addressed by ISA, NSA and members of Certified Safe Schools, LLC (CSS) who then collaborated to codify best practices at the behavioral assessment threshold and present them as amendments to the NSA 2018 School Safety and Security Resolution.
Sheriff Scott Mascher14, in attendance at the June 27, 2018, Quantico, VA (FBI) School Safety Summit, stated, “OK, we’ve got all this input from the law enforcement community stakeholders and federal partnerships, what about the schools? Shouldn’t they have a say in this?” His query resulted in school presidents, heads and administrators being consulted. The most common requests were for a set of best practices below the threat assessment threshold that could be readily implemented.
In response to these requests and in further development of best practices leading toward sustained intervention, the amendments were officially ratified on June 26, 2019 when the updated School Safety and Security Resolution was voted on unanimously and passed through the NSA.
Max Schachter, demonstrating unprecedented leadership, addressing the largest law enforcement associations that are responsible for protecting our nation, initiated a collaborative effort to identify, compile and develop best practices related to physical security at school campuses and school incident response to improve the safety of our children, their teachers and the school staff who support them.
Chair Scott Mascher (NSA), Director Steve Luce (ISA), Steve Tarani (CSS) further extended that collaborative effort toward sustainable intervention in preventing school violence below the threat assessment threshold.
The NSA, in a new initiative centered on promoting and accelerating tangible resources to build and maintain protocols that insulate schools from violence, has launched the “National School Safety Resource” (NSSR) website. This platform offers support in creating learning environments that minimize potential threats and maximize resilience, while providing insight to public safety and recognizing that the first responsibility of a school is to educate.
School leadership, the judicial system, law enforcement community stakeholders, and their federal partners continue to this day to make our schools secure places of learning where teachers can teach, and students can learn without the fear of being killed in their classrooms.
7 Attending the meeting were Police Chiefs from Los Angeles, Orange County, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta, Indiana, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach County. In addition, seasoned school safety directors and subject matter experts rounded out the national field of officials attending and contributing to the forum.
8 The purpose of forming the FCSS was to review nationwide school safety practices and make meaningful and actionable recommendations of best practices to keep students safe.
9 Indiana representation: Steve Luce, Indiana Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director, Sheriff Tim Troyer, ISA 2018 President- Steuben County, Sheriff Dennis Parks, Sheriff Shelby County, Sheriff Jeremy Britton, Sheriff Pike County, Dr. Paula Maurer, Superintendent Southwestern School Corporation, Shelby County, Suzanne Blake, Superintendent Pike County School Corporation, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill and others.
10 Florida representation Max Schachter, Founder & CEO Alex Schachter Foundation & Safe School for Alex, Superintendent Robert Runcie, Superintendent Broward County Schools, Former Sheriff Scott Israel, Sheriff Broward County, retired Chief Robert Hutchinson, retired Chief Broward District Schools Police Department / Special Investigative Unit, Chief Ian Moffett, Chief Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Abby Freedman, former Broward County School Board and others.
11 Todd Klessman, Senior Counselor to the Under Secretary National Protection and Programs Directorate Department of Homeland Security, Edward J. Gleason, Chief, Protective Security Region V – MN, WI, IL, IN, MI, OH NPPD-Office of Infrastructure Protection U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Kent Talbert, Senior Advisor, Delegated the duties of Deputy Secretary of Education, Senator Bill Galvano, Florida Senate President.
12 In attendance: Scott Breor Director Protective Security Coordination Division, DHS, Josh Skule FBI Executive Assistant, Jessica Hart Director Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison, DOJ, Robyn L Thiemann United States Associate former Deputy Attorney General, Rod J. Rosenstein United States Deputy Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, former United States Attorney General, Kate Quinn Senior Advisor Department of Homeland Security, Jonathon Thompson, NSA Executive Director, Terry Cunningham, IACP Deputy Executive Director and others.
13 The Commission on School Safety held a series of meetings, field visits, and listening sessions. Commission meetings provided a forum to hear from key stakeholders such as school safety experts, educators, and other concerned citizens. Field visits involved travel to schools by Commission members and staff to observe and learn firsthand about current practices in school safety. Listening sessions occurred around the country and provided the opportunity for the Commission to receive input directly from members of the general public. Parents, students, teachers, counselors, psychologists, administrators, and many others presented statements at these sessions. In addition to hearing from the public, most listening sessions included one or two separate roundtable discussions with state and local officials including Governors, State School Chiefs, law enforcement leadership, mental health representatives, and others.