When news broke about a school shooting in Florida that killed 17 people Wednesday afternoon, teenagers probably learned about it instantly.
“Right away, they know on Facebook, they know on Snapchat,” said Skyview High counselor Tina Boone. “Everybody’s always nervous, 'Do I bring it up?' Especially at high school and middle school level, you need to.”
In the wake of large-scale tragedies, Boone and other counselors will encounter students with questions and concerns. Boone said she didn’t talk to any students after the Florida shooting, but has after previous events. She’ll also get questions from staff and parents.
“Sometimes parents call and ask us what should they say, what shouldn’t they say,” Boone said. In conversations with kids, “we always start off, ‘what have you seen, what do you know?’”
Students also tend to have more exposure to news coverage of events through social media.
“You didn’t see it all the time, constantly,” Boone said.
It’s important to separate fact from rumor and address questions and concerns, she said, at an age-appropriate level.
“School is a safe place for most kids,” Boone said. “If they’re feeling unsafe here, we talk about ‘what is making you feel unsafe? what can we make you do to feel more safe?'"
West High principal Dave Cobb said he saw a news alert about the shooting while at school on Wednesday.
“It’s like, OK, what have we done, what haven’t we done? I hate to say it, but it always has to be in the back of your mind,” he said.
School District 2 has a locked-door and buzz-in system at each school. School Resource Officers are assigned to each high school and rotate between middle schools. Schools in Billings and across the state participate in active shooter training sessions.
Custer, Belfry, and Lima have a teacher that carries a gun in school. A state law allows school boards to give someone permission to carry a weapon in schools. At least one small school secured grant funding for a school resource officer they typically couldn’t afford.
Superintendent Terry Bouck sent out an email to school staff reminding them to be vigilant about safety procedures. He said he'd send out a more detailed email Tuesday.
"As educators and Trustees, you know that the safety of our students is a primary goal in our District schools," he wrote. "To this end, we will continue to be vigilant in our efforts to keep our students and staff safe."
Cobb said awareness of who’s in your building is important, but that preventive action matters more.
“We need to take those things very serious and help kids who feel those types of feelings and thoughts,” he said. “We can do a lot of preventative (work) if we know ahead of time.”
He cited social media as a common warning sign; several news reports said that Nikolas Cruz, the accused killer in the Florida school shooting, made social media posts with violent themes.
“Kids see so much, it’s like it’s part of their social norm,” Cobb said. “I would ask any parent that when you hear kids talk about that, get on their social media sites.”
Boone said kids are more willing than ever to talk about when they see behavior from a friend they find concerning, from general concern about well-being to specific incidents.
“It’s OK to talk about it, it’s OK to reach out to somebody else if you’re concerned about someone — for whatever reason,” she said. “Kids are much more comfortable. They’re understand it’s not a negative to reach out for a friend.”