RANTOUL — School Resource Officer Kurtis Buckley at Rantoul Township High School will head to Parkland, Fla., this week to learn more about the February shooting that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Buckley is proactive in wanting to safeguard RTHS students and has visited several other sites where school shootings have occurred, including Paducah, Ky., Chardon, Ohio, and Normal.
"It’s my way of learning from experiences and bringing back some information that we can use, lessons learned," Buckley said. "Every situation is different. No crisis is scripted. I will take a little bit of information from each place."
At the Florida school, Buckley, who will begin his ninth year as SRO at RTHS, plans to speak with the administration and anyone else who can give him a handle on what happened and how it could have been prevented.
Preparation for prevention
Preparation to prevent such incidents and not being complacent are key, Buckley said.
"Unfortunately, we’re at a time in this society where we have to get denial out of our vocabulary," Buckley told members of the Rantoul Exchange Club last week. "Many of the teachers and administrators (at Marjory Stoneman Douglas) thought this would never ever happen in their school."
Buckley said he continues to preach that such an incident could happen at RTHS or any school.
He said rather than stay in their classrooms or offices between periods, teachers and staff should spend time in the hallways, where they can mingle with students and maybe pick up on things.
He said he is fortunate that RTHS and Rantoul have a proactive administration and police department, respectively. The school’s crisis management team of Buckley, who is a Rantoul police officer, school administrators and police Lt. Justin Bouse meet regularly. The panel continually goes over school safety issues, which he said "is an ever-evolving system."
Training for teachers, staff, students
Buckley provides training for teachers for active-shooter incidents and other emergencies. For years, schools have conducted fire drills, but he said the last fire-related death in a U.S. school happened in 1959. Every year, there are shooting-related deaths in schools.
It’s easier to visualize how to take action in an emergency if drills are conducted.
"A lot of these drills, we put these teachers in the positions to decide how they are going to respond," Buckley said, adding that a primary role of a teacher is to be a leader.
When a crisis occurs, students are going to look to an adult for guidance.
"Is the teacher going to cower under a table or in a corner or actively prepare themselves (if an emergency happens) to have that warrior mindset?" Buckley said. "These emergencies are not scripted, so we have to prepare (personnel) the best we can for any situation."
Schools are required by state law to do three evacuation drills every year — fire drill, evacuation drill and law enforcement drill. Buckley said school personnel try to change up the drills so they are different each time because "I want the teachers to think on their feet. We take kids away from the pack, block exits so they can’t get out" so they have to figure out what to do.
Buckley said he and the RTHS administration grow quite fond of the students.
"I’m with them eight hours a day, five days a week. We get attached," he said. "We not only want to empower the teachers but also the students. I get a little choked up when I think about it. I don’t know if I could live with myself if I knew one of our kids was hurt because of something we could have done something about."
In many school shootings, the shooters have left clues well in advance they were planning something. Buckley said it is important to build a rapport with students, who are then more willing to confide in him that something might be brewing with another student. If they don’t tell him personally, they can report it on the school’s reporting site, which allows tips to be provided anonymously.
"The main thing is to build the trust," he said. "That goes with the teachers too. They’re our first responders."
The SRO wants feedback from students and staff if they see something that might indicate someone is planning violence. Superintendent Scott Amerio said it was students who alerted school officials that someone on Facebook had threatened to plant a bomb at the school in 2016, which led to the person’s arrest. Police traced the threat to a Rantoul teen, who had never been a student at RTHS, and he was subsequently sentenced to prison.
There have been other instances of notification by students as well.
"There’s a lot of indicators out there, and about 90 percent of it’s been advertised because they want that attention. There’s always a third person who knows ahead of time about that shooting," Buckley said.
Buckley said he is also given "a lot of suspicious artwork" by teachers that students have drawn.
"Several years ago we had a picture brought to my attention from a student," Buckley said. "In talking with him, he had homicidal thoughts. Because of a teacher, we were able to get that student the help that he needed."
Buckley said he is not in favor of arming teachers.
"If (a person in a school) is law enforcement-trained and there’s liabilities covered for the schools, I’m OK with that," he said. "As far as arming of teachers, I think that’s the worst mistake a school district could make."