American News, Aberdeen, Dec. 8

Increasing threats result in impossible choices for schools

Once upon a time in South Dakota, the most controversial safety decisions school superintendents had to make were whether classes should be canceled because of the weather.

Such choices now seem minor when compared to the increasing number of threats of school violence.

American News Senior Reporter Elisa Sand asked for the No. 1 safety recommendations from a variety of interested parties — law enforcement, parents, those who design buildings, students and, yes, school superintendents — for a story published Dec. 2.

Their answers varied from their unique points of view. But their answers came down to better-planned entrances and parking lots; planning and preparedness; greater surveillance/a control center, and good old-fashioned common sense ("See something, say something").

The entire story is worth a read; it is linked today from this editorial online .

From our vantage point, we, too would make a few suggestions:

We wonder if the state doesn't need to step in to help in dealing with school violence. Not to set policy in local schools, but to be available 24/7 to advise school leaders, law enforcement and residents. We would feel better if someone who had a lot of experience with dealing with such threats on a consistent basis was part of the team making the calls on what to do.

Better communication, and more direct communication, about school threats and school violence. We understand that spending ink on threats gives the perpetrators some of the attention they are seeking. But when kids lives are at stake seemingly every day (not to mention the faculty and staff and school visitors and their families), a streamlined process that keeps the public informed while maintaining privacy and safety is critical.

School officials in a tough spot

Of those asked about school safety for the story, only the school superintendents really have the day-to-day responsibility of student and worker safety.

The job of "school district superintendent" today is akin to a security expert, mental health professional and media spokesperson.

Some superintendents are being backed into a corner with these threats. This is just not their field of expertise. Becoming an expert in threat assessment is not what they signed up for.

It doesn't take us long to go into our newspaper archives to find several recent headlines involving such threats at schools across South Dakota.

With each potential threat, school officials are left with an almost impossible balancing act of reassuring parents, ensuring student safety and avoiding causing a panic.

"Immediately, there's always a jolt (of panic)," Sioux Falls Superintendent Brian Maher told the Argus Leader. "And then you go into the routine — and I'm not meaning to sound dismissive here — of determining the credibility of the threat, the potential safety issue you're dealing with to make the best decision possible."

Some threats are leading to class cancellations.

When that happens and the threat turns out to be a hoax, school leaders face a backlash. Some parents are mad because the day's schedule has been disrupted.

"It was only a couple of kids goofing around," we can imagine some parents saying about a threat that did not materialize. "They didn't mean anything by it, and the stupid school officials should have known better."

And we can imagine those same parents being the first ones to blame those same school officials if those same "innocent" threats were found to be legitimate.

Unfounded bad weather reports lead some parents to distrust school officials. The same goes for unfounded threats.

All it takes are a few choice words out of a student's mouth or electronic device to make school officials suspicious. And these days, all suspicions need to be thoroughly investigated.

Retiring Superintendent Jim Holbeck has been with Harrisburg for 12 years, overseeing a district that actually had a school shooting. Holbeck, who has spent his entire career as an educator and administrator in South Dakota, told the Argus Leader, "Our time and resources could be better spent getting kids an education. But we find ourselves caught in having to make sure we keep kids safe, too. And there's nothing more important than keeping our kids safe."

He's right. Which is why we should give our superintendents any help we can in assessing such threats.

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Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Dec. 7

City's homeless board needs to start fresh

Minnehaha County's homeless advisory board is taking a step back to re-evaluate its approach. In this case, that's a step in the right direction.

The 11-year-old board has been reassessing its function and future in the wake of its coordinator's resignation last June. Now city and county leaders aim to get a more thorough overview of homelessness in the Sioux Falls area by partnering with the Augustana Research Institute.

A proposed study contract with ARI "aims to identify and recommend community-level metrics to measure outcomes" with the goal of developing best practices for structuring the board or similar community organizations.

The timing and methodology of the city's annual point-in-time homeless counts have been criticized. To effectively address homelessness, we need a more accurate picture of the problem in Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County — from root causes to specific needs.

Assuming the county commission agrees to split the study's cost with the city, the board expects to have ARI's report in May 2019.

We encourage the board, once armed with that comprehensive information, to be as creative and open-minded as possible. To consider casting aside some of the old methods in favor of new approaches.

ARI, under the umbrella of The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Augustana, is a good choice of partner in the board's revisioning. ARI has already worked with Sioux Falls Thrive in identifying systemic obstacles to student success.

Thrive's "collective impact" approach favors cross-sector collaboration to tackle big-picture community issues. In pursuit of cradle-to-career success for Sioux Falls students, Thrive works to turn existing resources into efficient service systems.

That's pertinent here: the homeless advisory board's 2017 report features a chart listing over 100 support services, all important contributors for which Sioux Falls is grateful. But the sprawling patchwork of entities assisting the homeless makes for a strategy that is more scattershot than synergistic.

To remedy that, it behooves us to look westward.

We noted last year the efforts of a Rapid City coalition working toward the creation of OneHeart, a campus of collected homeless services in the vein of San Antonio's Haven for Hope. The 22-acre "transformational campus" in Texas gathers a range of more than 300 services in one place: employment and education services, life skills training, health care, legal services, substance abuse and mental health treatment, and more.

Homelessness isn't just about housing.

Leveraging our community is the key to addressing the plight of our homeless. We should be ready to explore significant public-private partnerships, to forge a chain linking local government, business, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. The San Antonio and Rapid City projects wouldn't have gotten off the ground without help from big individual donors.

It's important to remember that our county and city governments aren't the only stakeholders here. The impact of homelessness on students' academic success means that the Sioux Falls School District also has skin in this game, and its representatives are valuable contributors to this conversation. In August, the district identified 613 youth, including students, as experiencing homelessness.

Last year, we said that children going hungry and living without a home should never be perceived as normal, and that the efforts of every organization trying to combat this problem are commendable.

But in this season celebrating so much of what "home" means, we can all commit to doing more.

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Rapid City Journal, Dec. 4

GOOD, BAD & UGLY: Healing and forgiveness take effort

GOOD: A stain of shame spread across Colorado musician Brad Upton. decades ago when a relative shared the photographs of frozen Native American corpses and explained that Upton was a descendant of James Forsyth, the commander of Army troops who massacred about 200 Lakota men, women and children near Wounded Knee Creek on Dec. 29, 1890. Upton has since wondered if karma from that event explains the dark cloud hanging over his extended family. Guilt draws its own connections. Upton finally was able to begin washing away the inherited guilt on Nov. 23 by attending a healing ceremony on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Upton was helped by 85-year-old Basil Brave Heart, whose willingness to participate in healing ceremonies was instilled long ago by a grandmother. The actions of both men stand as an example to everyone. Pain from past generations surrounds us. Healing takes a long time. Forgiveness comes one person at a time, often requiring great courage of conviction.

BAD: Flames seared another family holiday over the weekend. Memorabilia got soaked and all sense of security disappeared behind black char. Nobody was injured in a weekend fire that spread from a garage to a rural Custer home, but dripping firefighters watched embers during another long and cold night. This was far from the season's first local fire tragedy. A garage fire in Rapid City on Nov. 26 killed a 46-year-old homeless man. Another Rapid City fire on Nov. 23 sent a person to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. Fire also displaced a Spearfish family on Nov. 20 when smoke caused an estimated $45,000 in damage to their house. These tragedies follow upon a rash of fire-related deaths in the Black Hills area from September to October. Fire is an equal opportunity destroyer. It requires only the tiniest bit of carelessness — maintenance deferred or combustible material abandoned too close. The slogan of the 2018 National Fire Prevention Week comes to mind again: "Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere."

UGLY: Life expectancy in the United States declined again last year, driven by twin plagues of drug overdoses and suicides. Overall, there were more than 2.8 million U.S. deaths in 2017, or nearly 70,000 more than the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase partly reflects the nation's aging population, but it's a rising rate of deaths among the middle-aged people that affects life expectancy. The suicide death rate last year was the highest it's been in at least 50 years, according to U.S. government records. For decades, U.S. life expectancy was on the upswing, rising a few months nearly every year. Now it's trending the other way: It fell in 2015, stayed level in 2016, and declined again last year, the CDC said. The nation is in the longest period of a generally declining life expectancy since the late 1910s, when World War I and the worst flu pandemic in modern history combined to kill nearly 1 million Americans. Despair is spreading, and we should all take notice.

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