A Letter from the Superintendent_3.31.23

A Letter from the Superintendent_3.31.23
Posted on 03/31/2023
Dear NSS Community,

This week has made us all the more aware of the necessity of thorough security measures in our schools. Along with the hoax “swatting” calls to districts in Rhode Island, including ours, the horrific attack on a school in Nashville has again highlighted the ongoing threat of potential violence in our communities and our collective responsibility to keep one another as safe as possible.

I have appreciated the communication from many of you, including students, parents, and teachers, regarding our lockdown on Monday due to the hoax call targeting Narragansett High School. As I stated in my initial letter, the Narragansett Police responded immediately and thoroughly to ensure that all of our schools were secure. Students, staff, and administration reacted swiftly and according to our training protocols to shelter in a secure location. It was an unexpected “pressure test” of our systems, and we have worked with the Narragansett Police and our School Resource Officers to refine our training systems and emergency procedures to reflect our learning from this incident.  

Though the calls in our area were a hoax meant to create fear and anxiety, a very real school shooting tragedy occurred in Nashville the very same day. One pattern in these horrific events that has been identified by law enforcement and mental health experts is that potential perpetrators often communicate their intentions in various ways before a violent act occurs. When these communications have been reported or noticed, potential violent incidents have been prevented.  In this linked resource from Sandy Hook Promise, the organization shares research which identifies indicators that an individual may be on a pathway to violence:

10 Critical Warning Signs of Violence
Here is our list of ten potential warning signs* that can signal an individual may be in crisis or need help:

1. Suddenly withdrawing from friends, family and activities (including online or via social media)

2. Bullying, especially if targeted towards differences in race, religion, gender or sexual orientation 

3. Excessive irritability, lack of patience, or becoming angry quickly

4. Experiencing chronic loneliness or social isolation 

5. Expressing persistent thoughts of harming themselves or someone else

6. Making direct threats toward a place, another person, or themselves

7. Bragging about access to guns or weapons

8. Recruiting accomplices or audiences for an attack 

9. Directly expressing a threat as a plan 

10. Cruelty to animals.

* NOTE: This isn’t a complete list of all warning signs. Exhibiting one of these signs doesn’t necessarily indicate imminent violence. When concerned about troubling behaviors, tell a trusted adult or call 911 if there is an immediate threat.

The Narragansett School System participates in the Sandy Hook Promise “Say Something” program, and we have links to an anonymous tip line on each of our school websites as well as on our main district page. The anonymous tip line, linked here, is staffed 24/7 and school system personnel as well as the Narragansett PD are immediately contacted and informed of a potentially dangerous situation or of individuals who may be in need of assistance due to suicidal or other self-harm behaviors. We encourage students to tell an adult if they have concerns about an individual, and also have this support in place if a reporter wished to remain anonymous or should a crisis occur outside of school hours or when school is not in session.

While the threat called in to the police about our high school this week was a hoax, we can never be too careful and must take every opportunity to review our practices, learn from our experiences, and raise awareness. If your child has exhibited any signs of being anxious or worried due to the local and national events this week, please reach out to your school principal, guidance counselor, or school psychologist for support. The National Association of School Psychologists suggests the following guidelines when speaking to children about violence:

Following are some suggested general key points when talking to students:

1. Schools are safe places. Our school staff works with local police and fire departments, emergency responders, and hospitals to keep you safe.

2. We all play a role in the school safety. Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened.

3. There is a difference between reporting, tattling or gossiping. You can provide important information that may prevent harm either directly or anonymously by telling a trusted adult what you know or hear.

4. Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and probability that it will affect you or our school.

5. Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Doing things that you enjoy, sticking to your normal routine, and being with friends and family help make us feel better and keep us from worrying about the event.

6. Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others. They may be unable to handle their anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental illness. Adults (parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, faith leaders) work very hard to get those people help and keep them from hurting others. It is important for all of us to know how to get help if we feel really upset or angry and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.

7. Stay away from guns and other weapons. Tell an adult if you know someone has a gun. Access to guns is one of the leading risk factors for deadly violence.

8. Violence is never a solution to personal problems. Students can be part of the positive solution by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control.

In conjunction with our reporting systems, we have threat assessment teams in each of our schools to analyze and respond should there be need. We have interior and exterior cameras throughout our buildings, and our entrances, exits, and other areas have additional security measures in place. We conduct regular training in security measures through the ALICE program. Most importantly, we have school resource officers in our buildings who are trained to protect our students and staff and know our community well.

We will continue to do all we can to keep our schools as safe as possible. It is critical that we all stay alert for and aware of potential threats to self or others, and that we all take responsibility to report suspicious or unusual behavior to the schools or the Narragansett Police. Everyone doing their part will help us all continue to be as safe as possible.

Please reach out to me or your school principal if you have any questions or concerns.

Peter J. Cummings, Ed.D