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Hawaii’s public schools lag in violence prevention, experts say | #schoolsaftey

Jul. 13—Hawaii’s public schools are lagging behind severely on student monitoring to prevent school shootings, with only one out of the state’s 295 public and public charter schools operating a “behavioral intervention threat-assessment team ” that meets national best practices, some local and national experts said this week.

Hawaii’s public schools are lagging behind severely on student monitoring to prevent school shootings, with only one out of the state’s 295 public and public charter schools operating a “behavioral intervention threat-assessment team ” that meets national best practices, some local and national experts said this week.

Kapolei Middle School is the only state Department of Education campus so far with such a team, Bev Baligad, chair of the multi-agency Threat Team Hawaii violence-prevention initiative, said in a Honolulu Star-Advertiser interview.

“The other states that are at the forefront on this, they’re the ones who’ve had to go through shootings and mass violence. They’re the ones whose kids got dead, ” she said.

“In Hawaii and all the other states that haven’t had to go through those things … we are running out of time.”

Baligad is leading the Hawai ‘i Threat Assessment Conference this week at University of Hawaii-West Oahu, providing training for approximately 160 people from local K-12 and higher education campuses, both public and private. She is among the who believe “it’s not a matter of if, but when ” the grisly wave of targeted mass violence across the United States will strike Hawaii again, so there’s not a moment to waste to protect vulnerable students and employees in schools.

Baligad, who also heads the UH-West Oahu Behavior Intervention Team, said it’s not enough for a school to have a safety committee or run lockdown drills. A behavioral intervention threat-assessment team, or a BITAT, is one formally trained to follow a proven science-based system to identify people who could pose a threat, and provide effective solutions before a violent incident occurs, she said.

Theresa Campbell, the founder, president and CEO of Safer Schools Together, based in British Columbia, Canada, said she is disappointed the Hawaii Legislature has not specifically mandated certified BITAT systems to prevent targeted violence in schools.

This year, lawmakers passed a measure mandating the Hawaii DOE provide all schools with “active-­response training “—a term that usually refers to teaching school employees and students how to respond after a perpetrator pulls a trigger or commits other violence.

“The active-shooter training, those things are still very important. But you really need that wraparound approach to school safety in general, ” with an emphasis on prevention, said Campbell, who is in Honolulu as a featured speaker at the conference.

Most perpetrators of targeted violence “leak ” their intentions in some form in advance, and 90 % of student threats of violence are posted online, Campbell said. “Whether it’s subconsciously or consciously, it’s still a cry for help, ” she said. “If we can identify those cries for help, it gives us time to intervene before they’re evolving on that pathway to violence.”

Elements of strong prevention systems seen in other states and that Hawaii needs include an anonymous reporting system for tips, strong “see something, say something, we will do something ” culture on campuses, and threat-assessment teams taught to spot high-risk behavior and intervene, Campbell said.

The Hawaii DOE, the nation’s only statewide public school system, first introduced the concept of threat assessment as far back as 2017, and has conducted at least a half dozen training sessions over the years in recognized systems such as Salem-Keizer. So Baligad said she can’t understand why Kapolei Middle School is the only Hawaii DOE school so far with a trained and active BITAT team.

The 21-member team at Kapolei Middle already has been credited with detecting and heading off at least two cases that appeared to have the potential for targeted violence, Baligad said.

Curt Otaguro, deputy superintendent of operations at the Hawaii DOE, said in a Star-Advertiser interview that every Hawaii public school has a safety committee of teachers, administrators and other school leaders, “so the degree of response is there today. Because things happen every day, whether it’s legitimate threats, a fight on campus, vandalism, whatever the case is, the schools have a process in place to address the immediate concerns.”

In addition, Otaguro said, the new law mandating “active-response training ” for all Hawaii public schools doesn’t prevent the DOE from addressing violence prevention through behavior assessment. He said a team in DOE state administration is studying ways to implement more consistent, standardized prevention systems. In the absence of legislative funding, the DOE has earmarked $1.9 million of existing funds for the initiative.

“What we’re bringing to the table is that urgency and to be consistent, ” Otaguro said.

Meanwhile, training has been mandated to create behavior intervention threat-assessment teams “across all Catholic Schools in the Diocese, ” Llewellyn Young, superintendent of Hawaii Catholic Schools, said via email in response to a query from the Star-Advertiser. The diocese website says there are 27 Hawaii Catholic schools with about 7, 000 students each year.

“We acknowledge that this is a huge undertaking and involves a stringent training process, but we want to do all we can to make our Catholic school campuses even safer for our students and our employees … ” Young said.

About 20 Hawaii private schools on Wednesday also indicated that they “already have or are currently working ” to create preventive threat-assessment teams, in response to an informal e-mail survey by the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, said Phil Bossert, the association’s executive director. The association represents about 100 Hawaii private schools.

The U.S. this year appears on track to approach 2022’s record of 51 school shootings. There have been 23 school shootings so far this year that resulted in injuries or deaths, according to records maintained by the Education Week news service. Thirteen people have been killed and 21 people injured so far this year in those shootings.

Mass shootings in locations of all kinds across the United States also continue a horrific drumbeat. There have been 374 mass shootings nationwide so far this year, nearly two a day, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The nonprofit research organization defines a mass shooting as minimum of four victims shot, either injured or killed, not including any shooter who may also have been killed or injured in the incident.

Hawaii’s last mass-shooting incident was in 1999, when disgruntled employee Byran Uyesugi opened fire at the Xerox corporate office in Honolulu, killing seven people and wounding one.

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