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Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum: Taking School Violence Prevention Seriously

Kelly Moore
July 27, 2023

Within the chaos of our society today perhaps there are some truths that are inevitable. I believe that within the latin phrase, “Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum” there are many lessons to be learned. We are in the last week of July and we should be very close to having all of our preparations, schedules and plans completed if they are already complete. Now is the time to shift into the mode of implementation and training. August and the beginning of the school year will be here very shortly. While we should start the year off with bringing everyone up to speed regarding their responsibilities and expectations, we also have to build upon what we have learned and take it to the next level. With this in mind, running through drills is simply not enough. As we have discussed many times over the past several months, what we are talking about is being able to be so prepared for what “might” happen, that it is far less likely for it to happen in the first place; “Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum” (If you want peace, prepare for war).

In our last blog, we discussed how much your leadership matters more today than ever before. As part of the safety leadership profession, our jobs don’t stop at teaching someone how to respond to an emergency, it is just as important to teach them how to identify risks, mitigate those risks and prevent them from occurring in the first place. What I am talking about is that primary responsibility to our schools is doing what we can to keep them safe, not just what to do should their safety be compromised. We have heard for many years that before you can solve a problem, you have to identify there is a problem in the first place. In the theory “Left of Bang” we have identified there are many steps before any tragedy occurs that were likely present and set into motion long before the actual crisis began, bang! It is within the realm of the “Left of Bang” that we should be working in the vast majority of the time. Since you are ready to start your year off by hitting the ground running, let’s start looking at what should be done to keep us to the left.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at ‘Red Flags”; what they are and what they mean. We have all heard of “Red Flags”, but do we have an understanding of what they are and what they mean? Typically we hear about red flags in the context of threats or warning signs when we are discussing acts of violence. We have “Red Flags” laws on the books regarding gun control, but in all reality these laws are rarely effective because people don’t report the “red flags”. So let’s bring better understanding into this conversation and use this definition:

"Red flags" is a term commonly used to refer to warning signs or indicators of potential problems, risks, or dangers. In various contexts, red flags serve as signals that warrant closer attention or caution. The term is widely used in fields such as school safety, finance, healthcare, relationships, cybersecurity, and many others.

As you can see, red flags are nothing more than the early warning signs or indicators that a problem could exist and closer inspection is required. In regards to school safety, this could mean many things; your security systems are lacking; your training is not effective; your district administrators do not provide the support you need; or any number of other aspects of your safety program need to be addressed.

Now let’s look at red flags in the context of potential violent acts. After a violent incident occurs, we can expect to hear this about the perpetrator of the violence: When I heard (insert name here), I wasn’t surprised; or, That didn’t surprise me one bit, he was a little weird and kept to himself: etcetera. When you think about these statements, they are all rooted in the observation of red flags, with no one acting upon them, or understanding them at the time they were observed. These observations and lack of actions when they are seen is the auspice of the “See Something, Say Something”. However in your position and with your responsibilities, you can no longer afford to just say something; you have to do something. After all, aren’t we trying to keep everything we do regarding school safety to the “Left of Bang”? So if we are going to prevent violence, we have to prepare for violence. When we prepare for violence, we learn what violence is, why it exists, what the pathway to violence is, and most importantly how to prevent it from happening.

So why am I bringing this up at the end of July when the vast majority of our schools are not in session and this is the time least likely to experience violence within our schools? Because, the most likely time your schools will experience violence is shortly after everyone returns from an extended break; within the first two weeks upon their return. With all of the discussion and evidence regarding the trauma suffered by our youth, the mental health issues and the other struggles they are experiencing, we have to look at all these individually and the mere fact that we are most likely to experience violence shortly after returning to school within the context of the “Red Flags” definition. If we understand that, we can begin to look at other red flags that are visible in an effort to stay “Left of Bang”. How do we do this?

  1. Meet with your building administrators and start asking questions to help your identify those who are showing their red flags
    1. If you had to identify your biggest bullies, who would they be?
    2. Who is struggling and/or showing signs of depression?
    3. Who are your problem students and why?
    4. Who are you most worried about and why?
    5. Who lacks problem solving skills and conflict resolution skills?
    6. Who is experiencing a state of despair and feels like they are being mistreated or unfairly treated?
    7. Who went through the biggest change from one year to another and why?
    8. Who is having the most trouble at home and/or experienced a significant change in their home status?
    9. etcetera

  2. Create a culture where the teachers can ask questions of those teachers who had the students during the previous year to understand the specific needs of all their students and especially those who are experiencing difficulties.

  3. Once identified, start having the discussions around what are you going to do to support these students and what you are going to do to keep them engaged and on the correct path.

  4. Put a plan for each of these students in place and monitor their progress.

We all know these students, in fact you could likely name many of these students without much thought. If we can identify those students who are most likely to engage in violence and their motivation behind their propensity for violence, then we can likely prevent it from occurring in the first place. After all, war is an act of violence on a large scale. In order to prevent violence in our schools we have to attack the motivation for that violence. I will leave you with a well known quote, “Bad things happen when good people do nothing.”

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