SARPY COUNTY, Nebraska – A team in Sarpy County meets every two weeks to examine specific hazards to student safety. The districts within the county discuss what they have learned on preventing everything from shootings to self-harm.
“There’s lots of red flags and it’s a matter of finding all of those and putting those together,” Capt. Kevin Griger, who has led the county’s threat assessment program since it started in 2016. “The world is a more dangerous place today than it was in 2016.”
As districts such as Papillion-La Vista piece together the jigsaw of post-pandemic student safety, schools have become notable hotspots for violence.
“There’s a trend across the state of ne for every school district to have their own threat assessment team, the advantage of this is that it’s not just the school district,” said Annette Eyman with the district.
Rather, it is a collaboration between school systems, local law police, the county attorney, probation officials, and mental health doctors.
“To make sure that one group doesn’t have this piece and one group doesn’t have this piece and then something happens and we say we should have put those all together,” Eyman said.
The approach considers both the classroom and the community, with mental health professionals even making house calls. Anyone can report threats against children or adults.
“We get hundreds of tips a year,” Griger said. “As the school year starts, it goes up, so we’ll get a lot more now. Some are a little more serious and we take them all seriously.”
Eyeman feels that people are now more aware of potential safety problems.
“I think students are way more likely to report potential threats,” Eyman said.
The team must determine which threats to take seriously, a challenge complicated by social media hoaxes.
“One comment that somebody makes can be blown out of proportion and can really panic a school, a city,” Griger said.
Nevertheless, the maxim here is better safe than sorry. Griger advised teachers to be on the lookout for students demonstrating a sudden change in temperament, anyone who seems captivated by firearms or mass shootings, and anyone who expresses a desire to harm himself or others.
“We want to make sure we’re not that community that says something happened and oh my gosh if we had just talked to each other,” Eyman said.