Doing the Right Thing–With Conviction
On January 29, 2016, Jeannette Garza Alvarez of Roswell, New Mexico did something that her school district did not appreciate.
Her son came home from his middle school that day and told his mother that several students in the seventh and eighth grade were planning on bringing guns into their school the following Monday and having a “shootout”.
So what did Mrs. Alvarez do? Well, she posted it to Facebook, of course.
The results were to be expected. The following Monday over 160 students were called in as “absent” and the school was flooded with over 100 phone calls with concerns over the post.
Two days ago, Mrs. Alvarez was CONVICTED of creating a public nuisance by the local courts. She was given a 30-day deferred sentence and required to pay the court fees for wasting the time of the municipal court. The charges were recognized as a misdemeanor rather than a full-on felony…. So I guess Mrs. Alvarez has got that going for her.
While Mrs. Alvarez did set off a panic, and that is inexcusable, I think I understand why she did what she did.
Put yourself in her shoes: It’s probably 3-4 p.m., her son comes home from school and, after sucking down a couple of Capri-Suns and Bagel Bites, he pipes up and says, “Hey Mom, a couple kids are coming into the school with GUNS on Monday….” This would be the part where Mrs. Alvarez’ world starts to spin out of control. Ten seconds ago her biggest problem was how to store all the orange slices for the big soccer game, now a gunfight at school??? Granted, it was Friday, so she had some time to react…. Or did she? On a typical Friday afternoon most schools don’t wait around to lock the doors for the weekend.
So now you’re Mrs. Alvarez, and you’ve got this threat-related information that lacks any realistic credibility but still needs to be addressed. Do you call the police? Do you call 9-1-1? Do you take up time on a dispatcher’s line, where life and death hang on every second, to report a rumor about middle school kids planning a real-life reenactment of the O.K. Corral? Or do you try to get a hold of the school? On Friday afternoon…. .
Superintendent Tom Burris commented on the issue saying that, “I think that the things that are on Facebook can be very disruptive to school,” he said. “It’s the (old) rumor mill issue that I say one thing and then it gets taken by somebody else in another way, and then in another way, and then another way, and pretty soon you’ve got a problem. I think it started out as inappropriate.”
That’s exactly my point, Tom. What was Mrs. Alvarez supposed to do? What programs did you have in place to address this possible danger, Tom? Do you publish your home number for parents to report these things, Tom??? Your office was the immediate point of contact for this, Tom. What systems do you have in place for this, Tom?
At NAPS, this is exactly what we do: We help schools set up proactive programs for addressing these situations as they arise, and streamline the process for the community. We continue to contact our school districts, and they continue to let us know that they have “satisfactory” systems in place. You should make sure that your school district provides a way for you to contact them in such emergencies; I wouldn’t want you to be guilty of creating a public nuisance for the sake of school safety. Additionally, what message does this send to the community? Don’t react to a possible threat; just keep it to yourself if you can’t get ahold of anyone using their “satisfactory” system.
As for Mrs. Alvarez, I think she did what any mom would have done: She went to her “phone tree”. She alerted as many people as she could with the limited amount of time that she had. If my two kids had been at that school, I would have been extremely grateful for her actions.
And two more kids would have been absent.
Jason Wells is the President and Founder of the National Advancements for Proactive Safety, an educational non-profit organization committed to providing a safe community through intervention processes. He is a former Special Agent with the United States Secret Service, and holds a Masters of Science with highest honors in Strategic Security and Protection Management. Mr. Wells is currently pursuing his doctorate in Strategic Security with a focus on proactive interventions to stop threat-related behavior. Additionally, he is a weekly contributing writer to the online publication Robious Corridor. Jason can be contacted at email@example.com.