Local schools review security procedures following shooting

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
March 7, 2018

Police officers in Parkland, Fla., hand out carnations Feb. 28 as students arrive at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the first time since the mass shooting. (CNS photo/Mary Beth Koeth, Reuters)

In the days following the mass shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Catholic high schools across the Archdiocese of Chicago reviewed their security procedures as psychologists looked at ways to mitigate the effects of trauma on young people.

Principals reminded students and parents of how schools work to keep students safe, and how students can best cooperate with those efforts.
Meanwhile, Phil Andrew, the recently named director of violence prevention initiatives for the archdiocese, was to attend a meeting of high school principals in early March, the principals said.

On March 6, archdiocesan school superintendent Jim Rigg sent a letter to Catholic school principals encouraging schools to participate in peace-building activities on March 14.

“We believe this is a time to come together and work as a community of Catholic schools to help achieve a lasting peace,” he wrote.
Suggested activities included having students walk from their schools to churches or other assembly spaces to pray for peace, holding assemblies to discuss the importance of peace and remind students of God’s love for them or having students make signs and posters promoting peace that can be displayed in their schools and churches or outside on school or church property.

At Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, the students will be in a reconciliation service at 10 a.m., the time many high school students have said they intend to leave their classrooms in protest of continued school shootings, according to Principal Dan Tully.

But Tully said the boys at Notre Dame don’t seem too affected by the Florida school shooting. All of them, he noted, were born after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, which killed 12 students and a teacher in addition to the two perpetrators, who were students at the school.
“This is the new normal,” Tully said. “It’s been that way for a while now.”

School shootings are nothing new. Jocelyn Carter, an associate professor and director of clinical training in DePaul University’s psychology department, was a senior at General McLane High School in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, in 1998, when an eighth-grader shot teacher John Gillette and three other people during a middle-school dance at Parker Middle School, which shares a campus with the high school.

Gillette was Carter’s eighth-grade science teacher and coached her on the high school track team, she said, and his daughter was a member of her high school class.

“This is something that people do not forget, but find a way to live with,” Carter said. With proper support, she said, surviving a trauma can eventually lead to growth. “People can find a new sense of purpose and direction.”

That event was a factor in Carter’s decision to study psychology. In high school, she wanted to be a journalist, but she found the reporters who came to Edinboro after the shooting to be intrusive.

“I wanted to find out why this happens,” she said. “And I wanted to be able to help.”

When the trauma affects the whole community, the whole community coming together can help its young people heal. But those most affected, like the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, will need different things at different times.

“They process it differently at different points of their lives,” Carter said.

Those watching or hearing about the events from a distance may not be affected much at all. The young people who will experience deeper effects might be those with violence or trauma in their backgrounds, or those who have some personal connection to the community where the shooting took place, even if it is far away.

In Chicago, she said, “we have so many kids who have been exposed to violence on a regular basis, and I’m concerned that they may have been desensitized to it.”

The good news, she said, is that most teenagers are resilient, and will reach out to friends, parents or other sources of support when they need help.

James Garbarino, who holds the Maude C. Clarke chair in humanistic psychology at Loyola University Chicago, agreed that the vast majority of teenagers who experience a trauma will recover. Those who don’t are often troubled by other issues at the same time, he said. 
Teenagers who commit horrendous acts of violence also are not beyond help, Garbarino said.

He wrote “Miller’s Children: Why Giving Teenage Killers a Second Chance Matters for All of Us,” which came out Feb. 27, and “Listening to Killers: Lessons Learned from My Twenty Years as a Psychological Expert Witness in Murder Cases” (2015). He has found little correlation between the severity of violent acts committed by teenagers and the possibility of transformation in their lives, he said.

Garbarino, a Catholic who chose to teach at Loyola because of its mission, said the bad news is that angry adolescents now can go to the internet and find validation for their anger and a playbook for committing violent acts.

 “I’ve interviewed a couple of kids who were on their way to being school shooters, but they were stopped before they actually shot anyone,” he said. “The media coverage and the collective imagery of the school shooting was something they embraced as a cultural script. … If you’re a troubled, angry kid, this is something that’s out there as a way to respond to that.”

Students at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights may have seen or heard about several school shootings over the past few years, but the one in Parkland seems to have hit a nerve, said principal Steve Tortorello.

“The kids have generally been far more upset after this tragedy,” he said. “That comes from the way this generation is so much more connected. They can connect directly to the kids in Florida on Twitter and other social media.”

The school sent a note to parents the day after the shooting, noting that armed security guards who are either retired or off-duty police officers are on campus every day from early morning to evening, and the school already planned to install new public address and communication system that will make it easier for people in classrooms to contact the main office or emergency services, Tortorello said.

The school’s annual armed intruder drill was already scheduled for mid-March, Tortorello said.

The staff also are working to make sure the campus remains secure after hours, with students who have reason to be in the school being where they need to be and the outer doors locked, he said. 

There has been no decision on what to do March 14, but Tortorello said he is leaning toward a Mass or prayer service at 10 a.m. to pray for the victims rather than sanctioning a school walkout.


  • catholic schools
  • gun violence

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