Todd Mashburn, director of school safety for the Bulloch County Schools, told parents at the 2019 Speak Up for Education event Thursday night that school leaders intend to develop a countywide threat assessment team and direct troubled students to the help they need.
“Our goal is to prevent, not just react,” Mashburn said, about 30 minutes into his second session with parents.
One year ago when Superintendent Charles Wilson addressed school safety in a series of listening sessions, the Bulloch County Schools had no safety director. Those sessions followed the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Hiring Mashburn, who started as full-time school safety director Oct. 1, was one step Wilson and the Bulloch County Board of Education have taken since those discussions.
Only 63 parents signed in for Thursday’s multifaceted countywide pre-K through 12th-grade education forum, hosted this year by Statesboro High School in its cafeteria, media center and several classrooms. That total does not include school system employees, community resource fair exhibitors and volunteers who attended, said Bulloch County Schools Public Relations and Marketing Specialist Hayley Greene. School system staffers presented information on eight different topics, six of which were available both in the first 45-minute session and in the second session.
At least in the second session of the school safety presentation, Mashburn spent much of the first half hour talking about the “Run, Hide, Fight” training that teachers and other school personnel receive for dealing with an active shooter.
Schools still go on lockdown as the first response to a person who has a gun but is not an active shooter. But when an actual shooter is involved, school officials are adapting their response so that a lockdown does not interfere with the ability of teachers and students to escape to safety, with trained people in the school entrusted to react as the situation demands, Mashburn explained.
“If you’re not there, it’s hard to be injured,” he said, explaining why running – when it is safer to do so without running toward the danger – is the preferred option in “Run, Hide, Fight.” These are not sequential steps, but prioritized responses for different situations.
An FBI National Academy program graduate and certified law enforcement officer with 25 years policing experience, Mashburn had provided training such as “Run, Hide, Fight” to teachers and staff in the local schools before he was hired by the Board of Education. After serving in the Statesboro Police Department 1994-1998, he worked two decades with the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office, 1998-2018, rising to the rank of captain and leading the BCSO's Training Division.
So far, Mashburn has not taught “Run, Hide, Fight” directly to students. He could work with school personnel and law enforcement partners to develop age-appropriate drills for students, he said.
“We can do that,” he said. “What I’m going to need is parental support. I’m going to need buy-in from parents and to make this a community effort.
Meanwhile, he would like teachers and parents to have age-appropriate discussions with students.
“I don’t expect you to talk to a 4-year-old the way you would a 17-year-old, but they need to know what to do,” Mashburn said.
Federal panel’s report
In the second half his presentation, Mashburn noted that the schools, at Superintendent Wilson’s direction, are now taking the final report of the Federal Commission on School Safety as a framework for further action. The report, issued Dec. 18, has three sections, “Prevent,” “Protect and Mitigate” and “Respond and Recover.”
Under prevention, a goal is to try to identify students and others with mental health concerns and get them the help they need, he said.
When he took questions during his presentation, a few parents expressed concerns about the Bulloch County Schools’ procedure, recently emphasized by Wilson, of calling law enforcement for any perceived threats at school, including verbal threats between students. Delinda Gaskins, parent of an elementary school child, noted that children in the South often see guns used for hunting from an early age. A child may also hear a parent say, “I’m going to kill you” and not mean it and may play at cowboys-and-Indians, she observed.
“But in some cases you have law enforcement that comes out because no one has interpreted it that this child is just playing, this is what they’re used to, this is their culture, so how does that come into play?” Gaskins asked.
While allowing that there may be some room for interpretation at the school level for what is innocent and what is a threat, Mashburn said that when a threat is reported to him, school resource officers or other law enforcement, their instructions are clear.
“This is coming by way of my boss, but I am told that we will take all of those threats to be credible, and they’ll be dealt with accordingly,” he said.
His presentation also continued the call of “If you see something, say something,” regarding perceived threats to students or schools.
‘Work in progress’
But Mashburn returned to the emphasis now also being placed on prevention through addressing mental health and emotional issues before threats occur.
“We’re hoping to develop – again, a work in progress – a district-wide threat-assessment team that if someone makes a call that there is an issue … A threat-assessment team would hopefully pick up on some of those things and then be able to direct it to the proper place. Help is the ultimate goal. We want to help people.”
After the session, Gaskin, who has attended annual Speak Up for Education events since they began, said the school system is only starting to address school safety.
“I think they’re just starting school safety, and Mr. Mashburn will carry it to another level,” Gaskins said. “We’re just starting school safety. There’s a lot to be done.”
Two other sessions during the forum touched on the preventative side of school safety. Dr. Deborah Mangum, executive director of student support, talked about “social and emotional learning,” including the Leader in Me Curriculum being used in elementary schools. Meanwhile, Leslie Schlierf, executive director of special education, led a team of school psychologists and interns who talked to parents about social media’s effects – good and bad – on children and teens.
Interviewed Friday, Wilson placed Mashburn’s remarks about a threat assessment team in the context of planning for a “universal screener,” like an annual assessment or test, to identify students needing help with emotional and mental health needs.
For about a year and a half now, the school system has been contracting with mental health professionals in the community to offer services beyond those school counselors can provide, he noted. Security improvements to buildings are also slated, and Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed new funding for school safety measures.
“We’re trying to address the issues that have to be dealt with immediately, but we’re also trying to be very systematic about our approach to safety planning,” Wilson said. “That encompasses everything from how to train and react to a situation in the schools that requires a run-hide-fight kind of response all the way back to the preventative aspect of identifying students that need help.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.