School violence commission told to bring many parts together
Nevada’s schools must plan for violence and other catastrophes “before you have 35 satellite trucks outside,” a consultant told the legislative Commission on School Safety and Juvenile Violence Tuesday.
Cheri Lovre helped deal with shooting incidents involving students in both Littleton, Colo., and other recent disasters and is a nationally recognized consultant on the subject of planning for violence in schools.
She told panel members they have a dual role: To create both a plan of action to handle violent incidents in case one happens in Nevada and to move toward solutions that identify problem children and help them before an outburst.
She said that means not only drafting an emergency response plan, but also setting a long-term goal to make school a safe, nurturing environment where that plan won’t be used.
Panel chairwoman, State Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, said the commission’s task is to develop a plan by January. It was created by legislation introduced in the wake of shootings at Columbine High in Littleton, Colo.
She said Lovre’s job is to provide the framework Nevada officials will use in December to tailor a plan that meets Nevada’s needs. She said the commission will meet for the fourth time in January to actually draw up and approve the Nevada plan.
Lovre said to handle serious, violent incidents, the state must have a plan that brings together everyone from law enforcement, fire and paramedics to school officials, hospitals, local governments, volunteers like the Red Cross, local clergymen and service volunteers as well as the news media that follow those events. And she said they must develop a plan that is constantly being updated to take better advantage of services in each community.
“This is not about a plan that tells you what to do,” she said. “It’s a living, breathing program.”
The key to getting all those agencies and groups to work well together is to discuss everybody’s role and needs “so we don’t have egos on the line,” she said.
Lovre said even small scale responses to smaller situations such as the reactions of fellow students when a teen dies in a car wreck should be planned for. But she said the major planning by the committee must prepare for a major incident because, “It can happen here.”
She said handling all those smaller incidents is the best kind of practice to prepare for a major problem.
Commission members range from former Washoe Sheriff Vince Swinney and former Henderson Police Chief Tommy Burns to Las Vegas middle school school teacher Kim Radich and Western High Principal Pam Hawkins.
“I want a plan. I want to protect people,” said Elko Schools Superintendent Marcia Bandera. “But I don’t want to ever have to use it.”
She said the key to that is to convince the community to get involved and help deal with the problems of disturbed young people before something happens.
And she and other educators made it clear they want to keep some flexibility in handling situations and planning rather than have the state mandate what they do and how.
Others including former police officer Michael Johnson of Reno called for “zero tolerance.”
And Sparks High teacher Barbara Baxter said the focus must be on safety in the schools.
“Stop focusing on trying to save the one or two and focus on the larger picture,” she said.
And Swinney and Burns said they want to see a plan that covers the immediate needs of law enforcement and emergency agencies and deals with issues such as reporting, training and response.
The commission meets again in December to get more specific input from Nevada officials on emergency needs.