The Falconer

Social Media, SROs, and the Safety of Our Schools

Stephen French, Staff Writer

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For nearly two decades, one of the most difficult issues facing schools across the country hasn’t had to do with education at all; rather, it’s the question of student safety. How do we make schools secure enough to keep students safe, while also making sure they’re distinguishable from maximum security prisons? Where is the line — and are we willing to cross it? Fortunately, we may not have to.

In recent years, cell phones and social media have become integral parts of everyday life for millions of people, not the least of which being teenagers. A new study by the Pew Research Center finds that 78% of Americans aged 12 to 17 have cell phones. A 2010 study found that teens send, on average, 5 times more text messages per day than their adult counterparts.

Today’s students have grown up inside a vast network of communication, allowing them access to a constant stream of information that previous generations could only imagine. That’s why it has become a major factor in the way schools keep students safe — or, more accurately, how students keep students safe.

In a growing number of cases, it’s students themselves that stop school shootings by reporting suspicious posts on Facebook or Twitter.

Dave Cullen, author of “Columbine” says that school shooters “love to give us clues” ahead of time. In fact, stretching all the way back to the infamous 1999 massacre, social media played a role: One of the two gunmen, Eric Harris, posted vehement rants to AOL pages prior to the shooting.

While this wasn’t able to prevent the tragedy 18 years ago, it may be able to prevent something similar from happening today. As more and more students gain access to social media, more and more are speaking up about red-flags they see online.

Last week, The Falconer spoke to Sgt. Rebecca Mauck, head of the School Resource Officer (SRO) division, as well as two of the SROs themselves, Whitney Mauck (W. W. Robinson) and Victor Green (Central).

“We can’t do anything if we don’t know anything,” said Mauck, “And then we find out that kids knew [about potential threats, and we wonder], why wouldn’t you tell us?”

In large part, the reason some students refrain from speaking up is the fear of being labeled a snitch by their peers. Sgt. Mauck says that she understands why it can be difficult, although “it’s not a snitch that comes up and says ‘Deputy Green, I’m feeling a little uneasy around this kid and I heard he has a gun.’ That’s a hero.”    

However, given the world of cellphones and social media that many students inhabit today, Sgt. Mauck understands the importance of a digital avenue for students to anonymously report things they see or know. According to her, the Sheriff’s Office is working on a system for students to text SROs confidentially with information on a potential threat, though it’s only in the early stages of development.

Ultimately, the safety of a school lies in the hands of its student body. If those who have the knowledge and training to protect the school are in the dark, they can’t do their jobs effectively, and that’s why students must be held accountable for speaking out when they see something suspicious. Lives might be at stake.

Addressing the students, Sgt. Mauck finished with this: “I think my biggest message is that we need you. We need you. [In Central High School] there’s one of us, and 800 of you. We need you.

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Social Media, SROs, and the Safety of Our Schools