Gina Montalto, my 14-year-old daughter, was kindhearted, bubbly, and a straight-A student. She was a freshman and one of the 17 wonderful souls murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day 2018. Her classmates who survived were galvanized by the six-minute massacre, and so were the families of the victims. We formed Stand With Parkland – The National Association of Families for Safe Schools to bring people together and be a voice for all our nation’s families seeking positive change.
As our nation’s schools struggle to find solutions to promote effective learning in the COVID-19 era, they must not forget about the dangers of targeted violence in schools. While many districts have not returned to campus for full-time, in-person learning, parents and school staff should be aware that studies show an increased risk of targeted attacks following breaks in attendance. This was highlighted in the 2019 report Protecting America’s Schools from the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC).
Stand with Parkland partnered with NTAC as we toured the nation in late 2019 to educate nearly 5,000 school, law enforcement, and mental health professionals about the importance of behavioral threat assessments. Being proactive is critical to protecting our children and staff members. It is important to realize that the purpose of this process is to recognize students who need help before they resort to violence. It is not to punish or incarcerate students. An effective multidisciplinary behavioral threat assessment team should consist of school officials, law enforcement, and mental health professionals. Independent research from the University of Virginia shows that multidisciplinary behavioral threat assessment teams reduce suspensions and help ensure the equitable treatment of all students (Cornell, 2018).