Former NDP student Tyler Johnson never considered Notre Dame Preparatory to be at risk for a school shooter, but when the threat did occur, he felt at ease knowing that the school was doing everything in their power to handle the situation cautiously.  Johnson, like many current NDP students, “feels like Notre Dame Preparatory has taken the necessary precautions to make the school a safer place for students, teachers, and faculty.”

NDP has improved security by allowing a police presence on campus, hiring more security guards, designing new safety routes, investing in an advanced intercom system, and creating backup plans. These actions were taken in the aftermath of the recent school shootings in the United States. Notre Dame Prep has also taken steps to help prevent isolation from students by implementing the House System, as well as “Start with Hello,” which encourages unity and friendship.

Read more about Start with Hello here.

NDP Student Fears

Notre Dame Preparatory senior Chris Bateman believes that NDP has implemented vital safety measures, as well as taken the necessary precautions to combat a possible school shooter.

Many students in the United States have fears that there may be a school shooting at their school, but Bateman does not believe that NDP students have anything to fear: “Mental health is a big aspect of the shooter, and isolation and bullying are also large factors. But NDP has a good community, and it is not the type of community that breeds school shooters.”

Bateman believes that NDP is not the right atmosphere for a school shooting to occur because “nobody is really isolated at NDP, if someone sees another student sitting alone, he or she will usually go sit by them.” The lack of the isolation of students may be due to the small school size, as well as the implementation of the house system, and “families.” 

Not every student is as relaxed about the issue as Bateman. NDP Senior Cole Baldwin said, “Every day I come to school knowing that there is a possibility of a school shooting. I always make sure to text my mom that I love her just in case.” This exemplifies the sad reality that many students around the United States face in schools.

“I’m not sure if I feel safe at school because anyone around me could have a gun in their backpack and nobody would even know it,” said NDP Senior Jagger Jones. This is quite possible, due to the fact that NDP does not have metal detectors. 

Programs at NDP to Prevent Isolation

Although NDP has increased many security measures, it has also implemented new systems to help prevent bullying, isolation, and harassment of students.  Although NDP has never had any significant problems with bullying, the school is implementing “Start with Hello,” which is a program that was created after the Sandy Hook shooting that took place on December 14, 2012 in Newton, Connecticut.

The commonality of people who commit school shootings is that they tend to be teenage white males, who felt isolated or dealt with some sort of bullying or harassment of some kind. Mary Lou Lachvayder, Director of House System and Student Formation, said, “the goal [of  “Start with Hello”] is to reduce violence by making sure that everybody knows they have a place, and they have a place to get help.” 

Lachvayder added that since NDP is a Catholic high school “it resonates with us, we should be living Gospel values and making sure everyone feels valued and everyone feels cherished.” NDP tries to do everything in the image of God, and always wants everyone to feel loved. A large aspect of Catholicism is that everyone has worth given to them by God, and NDP teachers, faculty and students reflect this with their behavior.

Some of the proposals in the “Start with Hello” program include “nobody sits alone day.” On this day, the school would designate monitors to go around the school and make sure nobody was sitting alone, if the monitor witnessed somebody sitting alone, he or she would go sit next to the person and talk with them.  

The “Start with Hello” program was created for the 2019-2020 school year, but it will go into full effect for the 2020-2021 school year. The purpose of this activity is to help combat students feeling lonely and isolated, which is a common trait to see in school shooters around the country. 

The House System at NDP has also helped encourage unity in a massive way. The integration of this system began in the Spring of the 2017-2018 school year, where students selected the colors, names and crests for their specific house. The full implementation of the House System began in the 2018-2019 school year, and has been in full effect ever since. 

NDP House Captains gather to prepare for the 2019-2020 school year. Photo Courtesy of ndpsaints.org.

With the House system, students are assigned to a family within their house. The student will be a part of this family for all four years at NDP.  This encourages students to build new friendships with people that they may not have known otherwise. Each family has students from all grade levels, so underclassmen can bond with the upperclassmen, and get advice from them.

NDP’s Response To The Threat

Bateman noted how NDP had a shooting threat from a student in 2017, and took care of it “swiftly and efficiently.” The school informed the police immediately and the issue was taken care of on the same night. The issue was taken care of internally, and the school does not want to give out information about the incident. School resumed normally the following day, and there has not been a similar incident since.

Since then, NDP has implemented new safety measures to help keep the school safe from all threats. Some of the measures include increased campus security, a greater police presence on campus, bulletproof glass, new cameras, a new intercom system, and new safety routes. 

In the past year there have been new safety routes designed to create the safest exit possible for an emergency, which has contributed to student’s confidence in the school is responding to the possible threat. The increase in quality of the campus security has also helped ease some student fears. 

In addition, cameras now cover almost every part of the school, with the exception of sports fields and locker rooms. This increase in surveillance helps prevent bullying and harassment, which are common among school shooters.

Although there have been improvements to security, NDP History teacher Pat Stover said, “NDP still is at risk for a shooter, and has a low security rating.” This may be due to its location. In Arizona, most campuses are set so a student has to walk outside from class to class. This makes it more difficult to keep the school safe. 

NDP Students walking outside to get to their next class. Staff photo taken by Danny Doherty.

Common Factors Among School Shootings

According to Hyewon Kim of the Cato Center for Educational Freedom, 134 school shootings occurred from 2000 to 2018. Eight of the shootings happened in private schools, while 122 of the shootings occurred in public schools. The type of school could not be definitively classified for 4 of the shootings.

School shootings typically occur at public schools. This means that NDP is less susceptible to the threat.

A recent study by Danish Shakeel and Corey A. DeAngelis show that “private schools are still at far less risk to experience a shooter, even after controlling school size, location, racial composition of students and teachers, and poverty rates.” 

The study found that this could be due to a larger sense of unity at private schools, leading to less isolation among the students. The study also found that private schools have significantly less “bullying, student fighting, and weapon possession.”

Student/Teacher Opinions on Current Solutions

A current solution to curb the rise in school shootings from the right is to allow certain teachers to carry a firearm. NDP Senior Brianna Amireh said, “I wouldn’t like to see teachers have access to guns because they are not trained professionals.”

According to journalist Annie Nova from CNBC, teachers agree with Amireh, “73 percent of teachers oppose guns in schools.” Amireh believes that “increasing the amount of guns in school is not a viable solution to a safer campus” and “if teachers were to obtain access to guns in the classroom it would lead to an increase in fear among students, rather than a feeling of safety and security among the students.”

Of the seven students interviewed, every interviewee agrees that certain teachers or all teachers should be disqualified from having access to a weapon. And the majority said that they would trust certain teachers with firearm, like a veteran. 

One of the veterans on NDP’s campus, Pierre Marcos said, “I think that is a terrible idea, even for myself.” Marcos, who served in the United States Marine Corps, does not believe that teachers should be expected to act as soldiers while facing a threat. Marcos added that there are not enough teachers who he considers qualified to carry, plus Marcos believes “It would make for somewhat of a hostile and uncomfortable work environment,” and he understands why.

Another fact to consider is that nationally, females make up 77 percent of all public school teachers, while males account for 23 percent.  Only 22 percent of women have experience with a firearm, meaning that the majority of the teachers are probably inexperienced. Among men, 43 percent have a gun in the household (Gallup). 

Kandi Wojytsiak, NDP AP Environmental Science teacher and Air Force Veteran said, “I think those who are certified could benefit the school like retired police officers. The option might be helpful but background checks and psyche evals would be necessary. As far as me, I would not want to be responsible. There are too many instances where a weapon is not properly locked and the wrong people get their hands on it. Only those people who use weapons as part of their job should be allowed to carry. I qualified on a weapon but I only shot semi annually.”

It seems to be the case that students would only want a teacher to be allowed to conceal carry if they have extensive training and experience with a firearm, and is somebody that the students trust. At NDP, there are not many teachers who fit both these criteria, but even those that do may not want the responsibility of carrying a firearm.

On the left, the primary solution is stricter gun control. According to Business Insider, access to firearms is a much more likely indicator of a school shooter than mental health. This is also true with gun violence, including suicides, in general. One study showed that “after the Israel Defense Forces stopped letting soldiers bring weapons home on the weekends, suicide rates dropped by 40%.” 

This may show that less access to guns correlates to less deaths by guns. But this was a study done abroad, with a smaller sample size and different demographics than the United States, so the answer is inconclusive. Studies have been done in the United States to see if stricter gun control will help stop school shootings, but so far, it is difficult to tell if it has worked. The trends seem to show that the more access one has to guns, the more likely of there being a mass shooter in that state or region. 

How To Improve Security

Pierre Marcos said, “I think what NDP can continue to do is turn the school from a soft target to a hard target.” Marcos added that the background check at the front office when a person swipes their ID is a good start, but NDP can continue their efforts in “heightening the gates, and making the gates unscalable with sharper objects such as fleur-de-lis on top of the gates making them taller. They need to ensure that there is one way in, and one way out of campus the entire time.”

NDP Students walking to their classes along the short fence surrounding the East end of the school. Staff Photo taken by Danny Doherty.

Currently, there are four different entrance/exit points. Students can enter through the gate from the senior lot, two gates from the junior lot/freshman drop off, or from the sophomore lot.

In order to help secure the school during the school day, Thomas White, Dean of Men, makes sure all the gates are locked. In order to get the gates unlocked, a “student must contact Core Security at 480-645-5002” and the security team will come unlock the doors. 

Marcos is concerned with the rolling gate that is the entrance to the parking lot because “it is not exactly monitored.”  To Marcos, the goal is “securing the school from the outside in rather than the inside out.” He believes that metal detectors would also be a good investment.

Emergency Plan

NDP Theology teacher Cecilia Henrich said, “Although I cannot tell you the plan, I can confirm that there is a plan, and teachers are prepared for an emergency like a school shooting.” Henrich also added that she thinks it is “very sad that it has come to this point, but it’s better to be prepared than not.” 

In order to keep the plan unknown to students, teachers are not able to disclose the details of the plan to students. This is to make sure that a possible shooter does not know the procedure.

Current Statistics on Shootings

School shootings have been on the rise. And according to Northwestern sociologist and epidemiologist, Lori Post, “They will continue.” Post has studied the similarities and differences of shootings from 1982 to 2019. Finding an exact number of school shootings that have occured is difficult because each organization has a different system for classifying what counts as a school shooting. 

Not every organization agrees that school shootings are on the rise. According to the74million.org, “In reality, researchers say, school shootings are rare and their numbers are not increasing. Schools are safer than they’ve ever been, and violence and bullying have decreased over the past 20 years, according to federal data. Every year, more than 1,100 school-age children are killed — but only 1 percent of them are killed at school.”

This shows how deeply divided the current state of journalism is, with biased news permeating society like a cancer. One of the articles is correct, each of the articles contradicts the other article, and both are presented as if they are fact. Discrepancies like this make it difficult to find the real facts.

For example CNN says that in 2019, there have been 45 school shootings. They have listed their parameters as follows: “The shooting must involve at least one person being shot (not including the shooter). The shooting must occur on school property, which includes but is not limited to buildings, athletic fields, parking lots, stadiums and buses. We included accidental discharge of a firearm as long as the first two parameters are met, except in instances where the sole shooter is law enforcement or a security officer.We included injuries sustained from BB guns, since the Consumer Product Safety Commission has identified them as potentially lethal.”

Some believe this number to be inflated and inaccurate do to the inclusion of BB gun injuries, but CNN explicitly stated that they included them in the article. The majority of other news sources do not include BB gun shootings.

But according to The New York Times, as of November 15, there have only been 11 school shootings this year. It is important to include that this number only includes high schools and colleges, while the previous CNN article also included middle schools and preschools. The New York Times defined a school shooting as “one that occurred on campus, in which students were shot, or the suspected perpetrator was a student, or both.”

Common Misconceptions

Many people believe that mental illness is a large factor for school shootings, but Post (Northwestern sociologist and epidemiologist) does not believe this to be true, “Less than 4% of mass shooters have a diagnosable mental health illness,” she said. “If we prevented everyone with a mental health diagnosis from owning a gun, it would do nothing to slow down mass shootings. It might stop a lot of suicides, domestic violence and homicides, but it would not stop mass shooters.”

This is an important distinction because many people continue to believe that mental illness is the main cause for school shootings. While a school shooter may have a mental illness, mental illness is not the cause for the shooting. 

Post is not alone, in a study done by Metzl and MacLeish in 2015, it found that “Mental illness does not cause gun violence: “Surprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes.” Blaming the mentally ill for all school shootings can cause a dangerous and untrue characterization of all the mentally ill, which could make it more difficult for them to seek help.

Current Solutions Outside of School

Post also believes that school shootings can be prevented, “We all need to be involved in stopping hate speech, calling it out when it is said or posted on social media and notifying the police when threats or plans of violence are named, because once an individual has developed a massacre plan, they are extremely dangerous.”  

Some people believe that hiding any recognition that the shooter may receive will also help prevent school shootings. They will not name or identify the shooter, instead, they will name and identify the victims. 

According to The National Center for Health Research, “Shooters get enormous attention: their name, photo, motivations, and story are often shared for days following the event. The American Psychological Association points out that this “fame” is something that most mass shooters desire. This sometimes inspires a copycat shooting, where the potential shooter typically tries to kill more people than their predecessor.” One possible solution to curb the recent rise in school shootings is to give the shooter no recognition. This way the shooter will not receive any of the fame that he or she desires.

Other organizations, such as the Dailywire, have accepted this, and refuse to publish the names of any school shooters. They believe that the notoriety that a school shooter receives will encourage more shootings, so instead of publishing the names and getting higher ratings or more clicks, they take the loss of possible revenue for the benefit of the public.

Another large factor to consider is the gun laws in the states that a shooting occurs in. Some states have relatively strict gun laws when compared to others. For example, any state that leans blue typically have stricter gun laws than states that lean red. The state laws would be different based on the political leanings of the state. 

 According to a poll conducted by Alfred University, students who were polled believe that the main cause of school shootings is revenge, with 87 percent of respondents agreeing with the statement. The next biggest cause for a school shooter is bullying. 86 percent of respondents believe that school shooters commit atrocities because of what how they have been treated at school by their peers. NDP has taken measures and implemented programs to prevent bullying, which likely decreases the chance of a school shooting.

Future Plans

NDP continues to adapt and improve based on the ever changing society. Further security changes, as well as programs that encourage unity will continue to be implemented in an attempt to make the school a safer, more compassionate environment for students who want to learn. 

Admin encourages people to speak up if they see anything, and reach out to those who feel isolated. Caring for others can change hearts, and it will ultimately make NDP a safer place to be in.