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Staying Hopeful about Achieving Higher Levels of Workplace and School Safety

As I reflected on my 2019 advocacy work aimed at achieving safer workplaces and schools, my phone rang. On the line was a colleague who sought my guidance on workplace violence prevention throughout 2019.

We discussed my recent trip to Colorado where I held a private WVPI event. Attendees included some of our nation's greatest advocates for school/workplace safety: Parents of students murdered in school shootings who fight for change everyday in their children's memories.

School shootings constitute workplace violence because the safety of teachers, faculty and staff are jeopardized in addition to our nation's future, school-aged children.

(L-R) Kathleen M. Bonczyk, founder of the WVPI, and school safety advocate and her personal hero Rosie Stone, at a charity event in Denver honoring Kendrick Castillo, November 2019. Kendrick was murdered at the STEM School Highlands Ranch 5/7/19. Rosie's son Chris was murdered at the 5/18/18 mass shooting at Santa Fe High School, Santa Fe, Texas with seven other students and two teachers. Additionally, 13 other innocents - including a teacher and law enforcement officer - were seriously wounded that awful day in that small Texas town.

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I told him despite the sometimes gut-wrenching nature of my work, I was hopeful for positive change in 2020. I told him about my beloved friend the remarkable Rosie Stone aka "Mama Stone" who fights for positive change in her late son Chris's memory.

I then rather enthusiastically went over 2-3 recommendations to mitigate the risk of workplace and school violence.

My colleague asked "How on earth do you remain positive Kathleen given what you do?"

I reflected for a moment. It's true. I have seen and heard some things in my 30 plus years in the safety field that I wish I hadn't. But it is the survivors of violence I have met who occupy a special place in my heart and who inspire me to work for higher levels of safety in our nation's schools and other workplaces.

I have met too many parents of children murdered by co-workers or fellow classmates and other survivors of workplace and school violence over the past three decades. My ultimate vision is to have every American's safety guaranteed at work and in class.

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Above: Leaving Denver International Airport following a 3 day visit in and around Columbine High School where the modern active school shooter era began on 4/20/99.

(L-R) Elijah Manley candidate for Florida State House of Representatives who attended school with the 2/14/18 Douglas High School mass shooter who shot 14 students and 3 faculty members dead; Rosie Stone; Kathleen M. Bonczyk; Pamela Stanich who lost her son Jared at the 5/18/18 Santa Fe High School mass shooting and John Conard who lost his nephew on 5/18/18 at Santa Fe High School. While in Colorado, we spent a day with John and Maria Castillo whose son Kendrick was murdered at the STEM Highlands Ranch school shooting 5/9/19, and others advocating for safer schools. Our visit also included a two hour meeting with retired Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis who was shot at by one of his own students on 4/20/99. The Columbine Memorial is dedicated to the memory of the 12 students and one teacher who were murdered at Columbine High School which is located adjacent to the memorial.

(L-R) Frank DeAngelis and Elijah Manley at the Columbine Memorial, November 2019. This photo was taken following the WVPI's conference in Littleton.

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I responded to my colleague's inquiry by stating "It's because I truly believe we can prevent future tragedies by integrating simple, common sense and workable solutions today."

There is no reason not to focus on prevention.

The strategies the WVPI recommends does not cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in re-engineering to integrate. Most importantly, they could stop violence in its tracks, and possibly even save lives.

Key to prevention is incorporating safety programming that encourages employees and students to report the sort of red flag warning signs the FBI tells us active shooters leak before tragedy strikes.

(L-R): John Castillo; Maria Castillo (Kendrick's parents) and Rosie Stone (Chris's mother), at the WVPI Conference, Littleton, Colorado, November 2019.

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Then today December 19, 2019 we learned how invaluable this type of preventative measure is and that it does, in fact, work.

Read the WVPI accompanying blog piece about a student who spoke up about seeing a fellow student with a firearm in class at a Denver area school located not far from Columbine High School and the STEM School/Highlands Ranch here: https://www.workplaceviolencepreventioninstitute.org/single-post/2019/12/19/See-SomethingSay-Something-Averts-Possible-Tragedy-in-Aurora-Colorado

Prevention is the only solution to the growing epidemic of workplace and school violence.

Here's to a safer 2020.