“There are moments that the words don't reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable”
These stirring lyrics from the Broadway show Hamilton, for me, perfectly encapsulate a parent's greatest fear - the loss of their child. As a nation, we are once again confronted by the enormity of yet another mass school shooting. We are beset by grief, anger, and incredulity that something so unimaginably horrifying could have occurred and has occurred again, and again, and again. Our hearts go out to the Uvalde community and the victims of the terrible murders that took place at Robb Elementary and as we share, in some small measure, the awful grief these families are enduring we cannot help but think, “What if it happened here?”
I assure you the students, staff, and parents of Robb Elementary and Uvalde are no different from our own. They have been where you are now, questioning the senselessness and obscenity of a mass murder, at another time, in another town, at another school. Questioning the safety of themselves, their children, their students, and colleagues and wondering at the inevitability or preventability of such an act. That they now know what we do not, is nothing short of devastating.
Naturally, people want to know what they can do and what is being done. These types of assault and mass murders have been extensively researched. The reports carry with them the names of past atrocities like the Columbine Review, Sandy Hook Advisory, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commissions and they hold lessons for us.
While there is no one profile of an attacker or type of school targeted, this research has established clear and actionable steps that Wenatchee School District has taken to work toward the prevention of these attacks. While we are nearing the end of the school year, these actions don't stop for us during the summer, or anytime, they continue on. The District’s dedication in support of school safety is constant and will continue to seek new answers, innovation, and contemporary best practices.
We promote a safe school climate built on a culture of respect, trust, and emotional support for students. We encourage communication, intervene in conflicts and bullying, and empower students to share their concerns. We use Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) and established a Multi-tiered Student Support System (MTSS) to respond to negative behavior appropriately and to recognize and encourage positive behavior.
We have established the Salem - Kaiser - Cascade multidisciplinary threat assessment system using teams of school personnel including faculty, staff, administrators, coaches, and school resource officers who will manage a threat assessment process and create individualized plans to mitigate identified risks. The primary function of the threat assessment is not a criminal investigation but behavioral and social, emotional intervention.
We have defined concerning behaviors, including those that are objectively concerning or prohibited, which trigger an immediate intervention and support (e.g., threats, violent acts, or weapons on campus), and other lower-level concerning behaviors (e.g., depressed mood, interest in violent topics, or conflicts between classmates).
In the majority of attacks, there was a warning by the attacker ahead of time and students are uniquely positioned to identify and report these threats. We have an established central reporting system called Vector Alert. It provides anonymity to those reporting concerns and is monitored by personnel who will follow up on all reports and we have defined a threshold for law enforcement intervention especially if there is a risk of harm to self or others. (A link for Vector alert is on our district and school websites or by text @ 844-336-1964 or email: 1046@ALERT1.US or https://wenatchee-wa.safeschoolsalert.com/).
We have a dedicated safety and security support team with Executive Director Ron Brown and myself, Coordinator Tom Couey, and includes our School Resource Officers Corey Fuller and Natalie Steele, School Safety Officers Janine Owyen and Bryan Muniz, and Technicians Jeff Schoonover and Ryan Horne. All work tirelessly to promote school safety but every teacher, staff member, and student is able to support safety by offering equity, inclusion, and meaningful connection to our students. No fence, lock, or barrier can do what a positive meaningful relationship can.
We have, of course, hardened the vulnerability of our schools with fencing, access control, security cameras, web/email monitoring, emergency communication, notification, and alarm systems. These systems make our schools safer on a day-to-day basis but as we see from this latest attack and others, they pale in the face of a determined, well-armed, suicidal perpetrator. Despite these limitations, reducing safety vulnerabilities is an important deterrent and key to creating an environment where our students feel safe.
It’s also important to have a plan and practice it. Our emergency plans are extensive and regularly practiced through drills, exercises, and experience. Our district leadership team has a tremendous amount of experience managing and leading the district through all types of events from unexpected snowstorms to a global pandemic. All of these events have informed and honed our response protocols.
We have expanded our social-emotional learning capabilities. We recognize that in order to prepare our students we must care for the entire student. We seek to engage our students and their families holistically, teaching them not just the fundamentals of traditional education but emotional well-being as well. We have expanded the role of personal engagement and mental health treatment within the district as well as partnered with many community-based support services that provide treatment and other needed services.
And last, but certainly not least, our greatest asset - our employees. Every teacher, paraprofessional, counselor, administrator, coach, bus driver, food services, technical, administerial and maintenance, and operations employee, every single one of us takes seriously, our duty to protect the safety and welfare of our students. Every day countless moments of kindness, concern, caring, instruction, and preparation poured into, over, and around each and every student build a foundation of diversity, equity, and inclusion from which our students emerge safely into the world, future-ready and secure in the promise of love and care they so richly deserve.
Wenatchee School District cares about the well-being of our students and staff and we are deeply committed to keeping our schools a safe place for students to thrive. My thoughts are with those parents, brothers and sisters, friends, family, students, and teachers who are experiencing a suffering too terrible to name, who are lost to a moment that my words cannot reach, who are thinking, “What happens tomorrow?” Tomorrow we will be here doing our best, holding our children as tight as we can. But we cannot push away the unimaginable, we must meet it head-on, for peace does not mean being in a place where there is no violence, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart and courageous in your resolve.