The day after another mass shooting at an American school, Terri Moses implored an auditorium full of Wichita-area high school students to report when their classmates exhibit potentially violent behavior.
“In four out of five school shootings, at least one other person had knowledge of it but failed to report,” said Moses, director of safety services for the Wichita school district.
“I guarantee you, after they do the research from yesterday (in Parkland, Fla.) they will find the same thing,” she said.
“We don’t want that to be here. We want somebody to speak up. We want you all to be safe in Wichita and our surrounding areas. So if you hear something, see something – say something.”
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Students from 10 area high schools who have classes in law or law enforcement met at Wichita State University on Thursday for a youth court conference.
Moses had been scheduled to talk about school safety, and her presentation became even more timely after a teenager opened fire in a Florida high school this week, killing 17 in the deadliest school shooting in five years.
Moses emphasized prevention, noting that the Wichita district’s Speak Up system gives students, staff and parents the ability to send anonymous tips via text messages or by accessing a secure website.
“In almost every documented case, warning signs were given off that were not understood, were not acted upon or were not shared with someone who could help,” she said.
“If somebody tells you, ‘Don’t go to school tomorrow because I’m going to shoot up the place,’ … Say something,” she said.
“It’s not snitching on your friend if you’re stopping them from doing major harm to other people or doing major harm to themselves.”
During small-group discussions, some students expressed frustration over what they said seem like futile approaches to gun violence in schools.
“How long have we been talking about reporting? For years and years. They tell us to report and we report, but then what? It’s just getting worse,” said Rija Nazir, a junior at Northeast Magnet High School in Wichita.
“Why aren’t we talking about guns?” she said. “Why is it so easy to get a gun?”
McKenzie Boyd, another junior at Northeast Magnet, drew applause from classmates when she pressed Moses on the issue.
“Everybody’s expecting us to say the same thing: Report it. Tell your administration. … And that is always the right answer,” Boyd said.
“But I feel like something has to be done before that. It’s not necessarily our job as the peers to do the thing that comes before that.”
“I’m going to challenge you, though, and say: Why are you here today?” Moses responded. “You’re here to learn and to gain knowledge, and that is doing something.
“It may not necessarily be your job to intervene, but certainly being a good steward and being a good student and being a good social model is all part of being part of a productive and healthy school environment.”
Superintendent Alicia Thompson, in a statement e-mailed to families Thursday afternoon, expressed support for the Florida community dealing with the school shooting and pledged that “our schools will remain vigilant about the safety of all students and staff.”
Thompson encouraged children or adults wanting to talk about the tragedy to reach out to school counselors or other resources.
“Every member of our school community deserves a safe and supportive school environment,” she said in the e-mail. “Unity of purpose from school, city, state and national leaders on this issue is of the utmost importance, more so than ever today.”
Over the past few years, Wichita and surrounding school districts have adopted the “Run, Hide, Fight” response plan for dealing with armed intruders, a strategy that gained popularity after a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
Wichita teachers undergo training on the strategy, and schools have occasional drills during which they practice what to do and where to go in the event of an armed intruder.
In 2015, Wichita school bus drivers also attended a training session on how to deal with active shooters and other emergencies.
Moses encouraged students to take threats seriously, including comments posted on social media sites, and to report them to school officials.
“If you hold your peers accountable, that’s the best way,” she said. “We do take threats seriously, but you have to be the ones to report them.”