Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hostage Situation at Stissing Mountain Middle School: Send in the Peers

This morning, a man walked into Stissing Mountain Middle School in Pine Plains, New York, assembled a gun in the bathroom, and took my colleague, Principal Bob Hess, hostage. The standoff lasted two hours before the suspect surrendered, releasing Mr. Hess. The entire bulding locked down for those two hours, with children hiding in locked classrooms, the school kitchen and even under the desk in the counseling office right next door to where the gunman was.

The fact is, we all know it's a possibility. Any school Principal who has given any detailed thought to an armed intruder coming into the school has already realized that the most likely target is the Principal. An angry parent, a custody dispute that we intervene in, a trespasser we ask to leave, or a disturbed child, if they took out a gun, could all very well be aiming it at us. In places where, as in Michigan, we practice locking down the school, we practice it with the administrator directing the rest of the staff and taking the lead. We try not to think about the possibility that we would be shot or held hostage ourselves.

Counseling will now be offered to the students, staff and families at Stissing Mountain. In the official curriculum I teach on Critical Incident Stress Management, they say that peers may not be necessary in delivering CISM services to schools. If there's anyone from Pine Plains out there listening, I want you to know that I think a peer is absolutely critical in assisting Mr. Hess.

If this were me, I would not want to talk to a counselor or a social worker or a psychologist. I would want to talk to someone else who has lived with the knowledge they walk around with a big target on their head every day. I would want my person to understand that in an emergency I take pride in being able to keep everyone calm and safe, and who can imagine that being the one person least able to do anything in this situation was horrible. I would want someone who has had their own child in the building when something bad happened, and had to worry about the group, not the individual. I would want someone who knew the significance of having something happen "on your watch." I would want to talk to a really well trained Principal.

I hope they have one in Pine Plains. And Principal Hess, I'm glad you're safe.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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