How Do We Make Sense of the Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting?

adam lanza background checkI have stared at this screen for the past 5 days, contemplating what value I could add to such a horrific tragedy.   But with every tragedy, there are life lessons. I have struggled to understand the motive since the mass murder in Newtown, CT.  As a former violent crime detective, I am always looking for motive.  Why did this happen?

There is never a rational reason for such a horrendous crime.  Is there really anything more evil than the execution of little children?

There is generally a motive that develops.  Something we can sink our teeth into and help us understand or explain something awful.

Yet the best guess is the killer, Adam Lanza, might have feared his mom was going to commit him to an institution.  Ok, then maybe that explains why he killed his mother.

But why does he blast his way into an elementary school and execute administrators, teachers and 20 precious little kids?  One theory being floated is Lanza was angry with his mother because she volunteered at Sandy Hook Elementary and he felt she cared more for these children than she did for him.

Well, that is not a rational motive to you and I.  Maybe it was to Lanza.  Or maybe it was something else.  We may never know.

So what can we learn from this?

First, there are some real dangerous people in this world.  That should not surprise you.

Many of the Adam Lanza’s of the world do not have a criminal record so a criminal background check alone will not protect your organization.

Sadly, many of you that work with children are operating volunteer organizations, day cares, youth sports or schools on shoe string budgets.  But you are a lightning rod for someone with an evil desire to harm children.

Those who want to harm kids will always seek access to kids.

How do we prevent something like this from happening again?

Wow, there will be no shortage of debate. Gun control is already rippling through Congress.  Unfortunately, extreme evil is difficult to legislate.

I hate to admit, but I have visited hundreds and hundreds of schools as a parent, but most often to meet and discuss our background screening solutions.  Rarely do I encounter a school that requires me to buzz my way in.

Most schools I could walk in the front door and dart left or right completely undetected.  So we may have to rethink our openness.

I have never been asked for a photo ID as I enter a school.  I am generally required to sign-in.  I am honest.  The Adam Lanza’s might not be.

Do we have intercom system distress signals?  Simple codes that are constantly reinforced with teachers and administrators that can provide an alert of an incident.  That can provide direction for fleeing away from the incident.  If someone like Lanza enters a school intent upon killing children, he is not going to be fooled into believing a classroom is empty because the door is shut and lights turned off.  Kids lined up against the door-side wall or under their desk are sitting ducks.

We need to train our front-line employees (receptionist, office secretaries, etc) to be careful observers.  If they have a gut feeling, somebody makes their hair stand-up on the back of their neck, they need to share it.

We are so fearful of saying anything.

Here me.  Lanza had freaky eyes.  I would have no problem saying that.  I notice freaky eyes.  I get away from them.  I get my kids away from them.

I NEVER walk into a market that I have not scanned everyone in that market before I walk in.  I prefer to sit in coffee shops and restaraunts with my eyes on the door so I can see who is coming in (this is a challenge with a wife who was also a police officer for 20 yrs).

Paranoid?  No.  I understand there are people in this world that could hurt me or my family.  There is nothing I would not do to keep my family safe.

You must read the Gift of Fear.

The bottom line is we need to step back, take a deep breath and look at our policies and procedures.  Is there room for improvement?  Always.

We need to control access to our schools.  When I drop my kids off in the morning, I should see a teacher, administrator, or staff member standing at those doors watching who is coming in.

Thousands of parent volunteers come through our doors every day and most school districts are doing very limited background checks.  It is not worth the risk.

We need to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to keep our kids safe.

We also need to keep these families in our prayers this Christmas Season.

Dangerous Truths About School Volunteer Background Checks

Volunteers can pose a significant risk to school districts so it is critical to conduct comprehensive volunteer background checks and not rely on incomplete and cheap background screening solutions which place our kids at risk. The following 7 minute presentation provides a road map to implementing a comprehensive volunteer background screening program.


5 Reasons for Low Quality School Volunteer Background Checks

school-volunteer-background-checksI have to admit I am a bit of a social media junky and have been amazed over the past few weeks at the number of blog posts and tweets bemoaning  school volunteer background checks.  Who complains about schools requiring background checks? The complainers range from the highly ignorant to the highly educated.  However, hardly a week passes that I do not come across a school teacher or volunteer in trouble for a relationship with a student.

What is frightening is many school districts conduct low quality background checks on their volunteers.  And if we pair these low quality background checks with the huge volume of volunteers that walk into our schools each year we have a recipe for disaster.

So what are the 5 main reasons for low quality school volunteer background checks:

  1. Money.  These are tough times for schools, budgets have been cut and money is tight.  However, like every organization we always find money for the things that are important to us.  A leading financial guru recently said “show me your checkbook and I will know where your priorities are.”
  2. Misunderstanding.  Schools may be using out-dated state repositories or sex offender registry searches.  Both of these options are extremely limited and provide very little risk mitigation.
  3. Volunteers are Never Alone with Kids.  Sophisticated offenders do not have to be alone with a child to harm them. They can molest a child in a crowded classroom with teachers and other volunteers present.
  4. We Won’t Get Volunteers.  If a volunteer is offended by having to submit to a background check then they have something to hide, are ignorant of the dangers in our schools or feel they are above the process.  Education will solve most of these issues.
  5. Background Screening Firm Selling Cheap National Database Searches.  If a school uses a “one click” instant background checks for $9 or $10 as a volunteer screening program save your money, you may need it for legal fees.  The vast majority of criminals, including sex offenders, can slip through these databases.

Just last week a former high school volunteer pled guilty to one felony count of child seduction after admitting to having sex with a student.  The convicted sex offender avoided a prison sentence but is required to register as a sex offender for the next 10 years.  Keeping these offenders out of our school hallways must become a top priority.

Join us for a FREE 30 minute webinar on 06/09/11 at 2PM EST:  School Volunteer Background Checks: Protecting Kids & Reducing Risk

Do you think volunteers pose legal risk to schools?  Let us know what you think below.