By
JONATHAN W. BLODGETT
ESSEX DISTRICT ATTORNEY


The tragic events that took place recently at Virginia Tech and last year at schools in Colorado and Pennsylvania are chilling reminders that we must be ever vigilant in protecting our students from harm.

Here in Essex County, the District Attorney's Office along with police, educators and emergency responders from every community have taken pro-active steps to try to ensure that our schools are sanctuaries of learning, safe from the violence that permeates our society today.

We have worked diligently with many agencies, including the Massachusetts Department of Education, Northeast Area Office of the Department of Mental Health, Health and Education Services, Triton Regional School District and Lynn Public Schools to host four educational conferences during my nearly four years in office, each of which was filled to capacity,

In 2003, we presented "Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates." The training, attended by 230 professionals, was developed and supported by the United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Education. It included an overview of school violence, discussion of the safe school initiative, case studies, and practical information for conducting threat assessments and managing threatening situations.

In 2004, this office again partnered with those agencies to host "School Safety in the New Era of Homeland Security," which focused on communities working together to avert tragedies, critical incident management, working with the media in a crisis, and bomb threat response.

Our cooperative efforts continued in 2005 when we presented "Trauma and Its Aftermath: Helping Schools and Communities Cope." In 2006 we collaborated again to present "National Trends in Adolescent Violence Prevention."

The latest tragedies in Pennsylvania and Colorado were visited upon the schools from outside, a reminder of why all of the schools in Essex County have instituted added security measures in their buildings. At the same time, we have seen too many instances during the past several years when the killers were students themselves, and we have come to realize the common characteristics of those who committed such violent crimes.

Often the offenders describe themselves as loners, set apart from the mainstream, and have commonly been the victims of ostracism and bullying. It is why in several other conferences and at Superintendents Roundtables, we have spotlighted the topics of bullying and hazing.

We have also aggressively highlighted the issue of gang activity and violence in our schools and communities, and continue to work closely with educators, police and parents to stamp out criminal behavior.

Critically important in our efforts to prevent violence in our schools are the Community Collaborative Initiatives, mandated by law and held in all Essex County school districts. These meetings bring together educators, law enforcement and state agencies to share information about school safety and provide intervention services for at-risk youth. The CCI meetings represent a concerted effort to prevent violence before it surfaces.

Ensuring safe schools demands a partnership among agencies, educators, and perhaps most importantly, parents. As District Attorney, I will continue to do everything possible to keep our children safe. We must all work together to be certain that in their schools our children can learn and thrive, free from fear and the threat of violence.