Banning a My Little Pony Backpack – Are Schools Teaching and Reinforcing Intolerance?

Posted In Education, School Safety on March 20th, 2014
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Earlier this month, an elementary school in Buncombe County, N.C., banned 9-year-old Grayson Bruce from carrying his My Little Pony backpack, saying it triggered bullying.

According to the student’s mother, one of the school counselor’s suggestions was to hide it.

“If you have something like this you’re asking for trouble.”

Think about it…BANNING is actually teaching and reinforcing intolerance, BANNING is not helping youth learn how to be tolerant and inclusive. If a school bans My Little Pony backpacks because it might lead to bullying, what’s next?  Banning students with red hair, banning students who are overweight, banning students in wheel chairs and banning students with learning disabilities?

This school is missing the bigger picture and missing an opportunity to help ALL students learn a valuable life lesson from this situation.

As I think back to my days as a student, I now realize how lucky I was because my parents and a couple of really good teachers I had along the way did not BAN THINGS, they explained why an action or behavior was not a good idea and what the consequences would likely be.  This “student awareness” helped me understand how ALL OF MY decisions had consequences – good and bad consequences.

Schools should be teaching tolerance, not banning items that may cause a distraction, which is a no-win situation for everyone.  Schools should help build a culture of acceptance, build self-confidence and teach youth about how they can respond to potential bullying students and teach youth about the consequences bullying can have on their peers and on their own future.

K-12 schools and Higher Education institutions are in way too many headlines for diversity and intolerance problems.  And Higher Education headlines are revealing what happens when K-12 schools use “banning” approaches rather than “awareness” approaches.  Banning only reinforces intolerance and exclusion; banning does not address the source of intolerance to prevent problems from re-occurring in the future – in Higher Education and in the workplace.

Why do adults prefer banning?  Are adults becoming more disconnected?  Are adults becoming more intolerant?  Are adults giving up and just taking the easy way out with banning?   Are adults setting the right examples for youth?  Are school and college leaders not equipped for the next generation?

Looking at news headlines and tragedies, it is crystal clear every adult and every youth on the planet could benefit from better awareness and a better understanding of “inclusivity, diversity and tolerance”.

Connecting the dots and providing the right awareness at the right time are keys to preventing many problems in our schools, colleges and society today.   If you believe banning My Little Pony backpacks is the best way to prepare students for the real world…it is time for you to get reconnected to the real world and stop contributing to a serious and growing problem.

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Student Safety Survey Reveals What Students Know and School Administrators Don’t

Posted In Education, School Safety, Uncategorized on March 19th, 2014
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Earlier this month, Awareity released our 2013 Student Safety Report – What Students Know and School Administrators Don’t.

To request the full report click here.studentsafetyreport

The findings outlined in the report provide administrators with the validations and evidence they need to justify immediate action.

Just think how much safer every school would be if all students were equipped with the right tools to report incidents and concerning behaviors.

Just think what a difference it would make if School Officials were equipped with the right tools to collect information, connect all the right dots, investigate, perform threat assessments, intervene, monitor, and proactively prevent reports from escalating into more serious incidents or tragedies?

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National Youth At-Risk Conference in Savannah

Posted In Education, School Safety, Uncategorized on March 3rd, 2014
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After a very cold and very early start on Sunday morning with a 3 hour delay due to frozen airplane systems and frozen lines (meaning no hot coffee on a very cold plane!), I finally made it to the 25th annual National Youth At-Risk (NYAR) Conference in Savannah, GA.

The NYAR conference started with a very motivating and uplifting keynote from Keith Brown – Mr. I’m Possible.

Mr. Brown reminded everyone that we can make a difference – a huge difference for all youth if we do that little bit extra and if we do not let negativity discourage us from doing the right things.  You really have to hear Mr. Brown speak…his passion is contagious.

The Georgia Southern National Youth At-Risk Center was approved in March 2013 and their focus includes:

Youth-At-Risk signifies the urgency and seriousness of societal “risks” faced by today’s youth and is distinct from “at-risk youth.” The NYAR Conference and new Center focuses on the “risky” conditions that threaten youth’s well-being which inclyouth at riskude a range of factors including poverty, racism, drugs, school violence, gangs, bullying, negative peer pressure, negative school climate, lack of relevant curriculum, passive instructional strategies, disregard for individual learning differences, ineffective discipline systems, low teacher expectations, unqualified teachers, inadequate counseling, teen pregnancy, sexual harassment and dysfunctional home life.

Awareity is proud to be a part of the National Youth At-Risk Conference!  Stay tuned for related news that will be great for schools and at-risk students…

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A Walk in the Shoes of an SRO

Posted In School Safety on February 19th, 2014
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Article originally posted on


What does a School Resource Officer (SRO) do all day? Do they just stand in the hallway at school waiting for violence to occur? Should schools be spending their limited funding on SROs?

These are questions, Safety and Security Coordinator for Bradley County Schools, Scotty Hernandez often receives. And NO, the SROs are not twiddling their thumbs. To the contrary, these officers are heavily involved in student activities, classroom lectures, after school events, discipline and more.

Bradley County is one of the school districts fortunate enough to have an SRO in each of their school buildings. But, it was sometimes challenging to describe to the public how the SROs were being utilized and just how much of a difference they were making in the overall school community.

Bradley County recently turned to Awareity’s TIPS (Threat assessment, Incident management and Prevention Services), a web-based risk and prevention platform. The TIPS platform is successfully being used in multiple school districts across the United States to more effectively identify, prevent, and intervene in threatening behaviors. TIPS provides an easy online solution for all students, parents, faculty, staff and community members to safely (and anonymously or confidentially) report concerning behaviors, suspicious incidents, and general safety/security concerns to the right school staff and SROs.

“TIPS is a tool to be utilized by school administrators and law enforcement to increase awareness of student safety and concerning behaviors within our schools,” said Hernandez. “This tool has the potential to help law enforcement and school personnel to detect, deter, and disrupt unwanted behavior and or criminal activity.”

Incident Reports made through TIPS are reviewed by school administrators at each school and by the SRO. Reports can also be securely and safely shared with SROs at other school locations in the event of bullying between students at different schools, harassment on the bus, students transferring to other schools, etc.

Since TIPS was implemented in August of this year, one of the most valuable uses of TIPS has been by the SROs themselves. SROs have taken advantage of the incident management platform to keep track of over 400 reports, ranging from daily log activities, custody issues, juvenile citations and many other activities relating to Student Safety. Hernandez met with the SROs and said, “Your daily activities should tell a story of how you are an integral part of the school team and a contributor to the learning process. Every day you are helping create and foster a safe and secure working and learning environment”.

Guidance counselors often call upon an SRO to assist in conflict mediation efforts. Parents may seek information from an SRO if they suspect their child is using drugs or alcohol. Many times students just want someone to talk to about problems they are experiencing, and an SRO fills the role of a caring adult in the school building who works to find positive and proactive solutions for young people. In addition SROs work to educate students in crime prevention and personal safety through programs like DARE.

TIPS make it simple to view and track who has done what regarding any particular incident or student. SROs can log their daily activities and share any information they feel is relevant with SROs at other schools in the district. TIPS is saving SROs valuable time in their busy schedules as they can more easily review related incidents involving students and securely access all information in one central location.

An SRO supervisor stated “My SROs love using TIPS as a way to share information across the district. And it’s an easy way for me to print reports for statistics and analytical purposes for my department”.

Funding for TIPS in Bradley County Schools is through a Safe Schools grant

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Solving Bullying and Preventing Bullying

Posted In Education, School Safety, Uncategorized on December 9th, 2013
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Bullying has been going on since people set foot on this planet and people have been writing about bullying all the way back to Cain and Abel.  So why does bullying still exist and continue to escalate?

Why has bullying escalated to a level that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] declared bullying a “significant health problem”?

bully cartoon

Bullying exists and bullies exist in nearly every school, nearly every college and nearly every organization.  Evidence is overwhelming and it is time to accept the facts and admit status quo bullying approaches are not working, are not solving and are not preventing bullying.

Why is bullying still in existence and why is bullying still escalating?

Because most anti-bullying and bully prevention programs are not solving bullying problems and not getting to the root of bullying issues at the individual level [aggressor, target, bystander, etc.].  Instead most programs and campaigns [see below] are focused on reactive approaches that do not solve multi-faceted bullying, social and behavior problems:


  • Stop Bullying
  • Stomp Out Bullying
  • Fighting Bullying
  • Kicking Bullying
  • Waging War on Bullying
  • Winning the War on Bullying
  • And numerous others…


If these programs and campaigns were working, how could bullying become a nationwide “significant health problem”?

Shouldn’t we be solving bullying issues and helping children/students learn how to take proactive and proven actions to prevent bullying?  YES! [After all, children are not born bullies, they learn to bully.]

SOLVING any problem [math, psychology, science, athletics, etc.] requires a process. SOLVING a multi-faceted problem like bullying requires a process that involves admitting a problem exists and then identifying incidents, assessing, investigating, intervening, monitoring, connecting the right dots, preventing recurring incidents and documenting to ensure actions and solutions can be utilized and updated on an ongoing basis as bullying, cyber bullying and numerous other incidents arise.

SOLVING a multi-faceted problem like bullying is NOT going to be solved by stopping, stomping, fighting, kicking, waging war, winning the war, etc.

SOLVING the bullying problem and proactively preventing bullying is possible and innovative leaders in schools, colleges and organizations are providing evidence that others can use to follow the leaders.  If you would like to learn how innovative leaders are taking proactive steps to solve multi-faceted problems like bullying and others, click here.

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Why Kids Aren’t Reporting Potential Threats

Posted In Incident Reporting, Risk Management, School Safety on November 15th, 2013
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Last month, A 17-year-old Texas student committed suicide in a high school courtyard.  The student posted two Facebook updates that morning–one saying he was planning on committing suicide, and another with him pointing a gun at his head. In his message, he said, “I don’t know if this is going to affect people or if ya’ll are even going to care but I just want to say I’m taking my life away…”

A quote from another student after the shooting  – “He said he was going through a lot of stuff. He put pictures up before he did it. Nobody believed him until he did it.”

What if just one of the students who saw the posts online or heard the victim talking about suicide earlier had contacted an adult or reported the behaviors to the school?  Would this 17 year old still have a future?

Did you know 80% of school shooters told someone about their plan beforehand? Did you know that 80% of bullying is witnessed? And did you know that 80% of these incidents are NOT reported?   Schools cannot continue to let these alarming trends go unnoticed.  Why aren’t students sharing concerning behaviors and threats with you?

Below are 10 reasons your students may not be sharing this information with you:

1)       Fear of retaliation from peerssad teenager

2)       Embarrassed in front of their peers

3)       Not sure if the threats/concerns need to be reported

4)       Don’t know how or where to report

5)       Don’t trust their reports will be taken seriously; believe nothing will happen  (as a side note, recent school surveys revealed that even when bullying was reported by students, 1/3 of the time, nothing happened – SCHOOLS – THIS IS NOT OKAY!)

6)       Don’t want to be known as a ‘snitch’

7)       Don’t trust administration/adults

8)       Scared they will get in trouble/get mobile devices taken away

9)       Feel it will make the situation worse

10)   Red-tape/institutional barriers


44% of students are aware of a risk to their school!  You can’t prevent what you don’t know about!!


So, what can schools do?

1)       Empower and train bystanders to share all concerns

2)       Make reporting simple, easy and ANONYMOUS

3)       Ensure all Reports are Received Immediately

4)       Ensure the Reports are Going to the RIGHT people

5)       Track and document all reports

6)       Ensure accountability and responsibility for responding to reports

7)       Track all actions taken, intervention steps, etc.

8)       Proactively respond/intervene to ensure situation does not escalate

9)       Set reminders to follow-up/follow-through

10)   Review incidents ongoing


To learn how leading school districts are taking the proactive steps above and ensuring an ongoing culture of safety and prevention, visit

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Do Your Teachers Know How to Investigate Bullying?

Posted In School Safety, Uncategorized on November 1st, 2013
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A child or parent reports bullying during the parent-teacher conference.  Then what?  What constitutes bullying?  What should a teacher do with this report?  Who does the information get shared with?  What type of investigation needs to be done?  Do you talk with the bully and victim together or separately or both?  Should you call in the other parents?   How much information can you give them?  What are the consequences for bullying?

Is the situation getting better?  How do you know?  Has it gotten worse?  Are you monitoring behaviors ongoing?  Maybe the bullying stopped in your classroom, but do you know if it is going on elsewhere?

Do you need to share this report with administration?  Does this classify as bullying for the state report?  Does this involve a special needs student?  Do you have evidence or written statements from either party?  How has the student been affected at school?  Lower grades?  Less participation?  Have they been absent more often?   Do they need to be referred to outside services?  What if there was a physical injury?

School personnel are busy.  It is difficult for them to know the right thing to do in every situation, so it is critical for schools to develop clear policies and steps for investigation so all the right information is gathered and shared with the right people and appropriate actions are taken to proactively resolve incidents before they escalate.

Does your school have a clear procedure for investigating incidents of bullying and harassment?  If you do, do you know if your teachers and staff have read the policy and understand their individual responsibilities?  How are you ensuring this procedure is followed?Tulsa-MOAT


To learn how a leading school district is working to improve their ongoing investigation process, click here to listen to Tulsa Public School’s Student Services Director, Tenna Whitsel, discuss their efforts.

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Documenting Your Bullying Incident

Posted In School Safety, Uncategorized on October 11th, 2013
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If you or your child is being bullied by classmates, you have probably reported the bullying to someone at the school.  But, then what?   How was the issue addressed by the school?  Did they talk to the bully or punish the bully?  Did the situation get better?  Did the situation get worse?

Regardless of how serious or small the issue is or feels, one of the most important steps for students and parents to remember when reporting a situation is DOCUMENTATION!


If you are meeting with a teacher or principal, come prepared with proof and examples of when and where the bullying happened.   If you have e-mail communication, keep copies of all of your messages and copy all of those involved (teachers, counselors, principals, school board members, etc.).

Pictures can also be icyber-bullying-mobile-phone-facebookmportant.  If there are messages sent or posted on Facebook, be sure to take a screenshot so you have that evidence.  You can also take copies of cell phone text message logs to show any harassing messages.

Keep track of each incident – the date/time you or your child is harassed, assaulted, bullied, etc.  You should have this daily log so you can show the bullying is ongoing and that despite the school’s efforts (or non-efforts) to intervene, the situation continues to escalate.

You can also ask for witness accounts; if others were there when the bullying happened, record their statements or ask them to fill out an incident report detailing what took place.

One of the biggest challenges for parents and students is feeling defeated, like their reports are being ignored, but never give up.  It is critical to continue to document and report all incidents.

If your school has an online incident reporting form, this can be a great first step to ensure your reports continue to be documented by the school.   However the most important steps involve getting the right information (incident reports that contain the right details) to the right people so the right people can do the right things…and your documentation can help make the difference for your child.

For more detailed information and tips for Parents, please visit and request the Your Voice Parent Guide, written by David and Tina Long of the movie ‘Bully’.

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New School Year Reveals Serious PAINS and Dangerous Trends – My Urgent Plea to All School Leaders

Posted In School Safety on October 2nd, 2013
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Headlines from the first month of school are troubling with stabbings, suicides, murder, bullying, cyberbullying and numerous other incidents.

Even more troubling is that most of the incidents look like they were PREVENTABLE had the schools had the right tools to get the right information (concerning behaviors, threats, escalations, etc.) to the right people in the right places at the right time so the right people could do the right things…right away.

For example, the following messages were released on social media days/weeks BEFORE this student committed suicide on the first day of school:

“I have chosen to go with 3 peoples advice and kill myself, I just wish it was faster”

“Hey if I were to stab my eye out due to school caused insanity, who would miss me?”

“I notice if I sound sad I’m normal and if I act happy, cheerful, and ‘normal’ there is a high chance that I will try to poison myself, cut myself, commit suicide, or jump in front of a truck :)

We cannot change the past, but we can change the future if we take proactive actions right away.

Until all appropriate individuals are equipped with the right tools to PROACTIVELY PREVENT, schools, colleges, government agencies and organizations will only be able to REACT to incidents rather than PREVENT them.

Evidence from hundreds and hundreds of tragic incidents clearly reveal REACTING is significantly more expensive, more stressful, less safe for students and less safe for faculty/staff.  And lessons learned reveal it is nearly impossible for schools and colleges to create a positive and safe learning environment when everyone is on edge REACTING to risks, threats and concerning behaviors on an ongoing basis.

Fortunately, several INNOVATOR schools and colleges have stepped up across the United States and in Canada and numerous success stories can be seen in the “In Case You Missed It” section at the following link:

With all of the troubling headlines and tragedies this new school year, educational and government officials can’t just talk about SAFETY of Students, Faculty, Staff and Community Members…they must take immediate action and equip individuals to PROACTIVELY PREVENT escalations and tragic incidents.

I am ready to help…call me ASAP at 402.730.0090 or e-mail me at

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Athletic Director Leads the Way in Coaching Compliance

Posted In Education, Regulatory Compliance, Risk Management, School Safety on September 12th, 2013
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Awareity’s Rick Shaw recently had the opportunity to speak with Tulsa Public Schools’ Assistant Athletic Director Mick Wilson.   TPS is always looking for ways to save time and improve the way the athletic department manages their obligations and Wilson shares several tips for improving compliance and touches on hot topics like concussions, training, etc.

A quick excerpt from the interview is below.  To hear the full 15 minute segment, click here.


How is TIPS improving the way you make coaches aware of new information and training?

The biggest thing we have been able to do so far is really to get the information out to people.  People can login and access information, policies, handbooks and materials that need to be in front of them, including some video links so our coaches can login and look at everything.  In Tulsa Public Schools, we deal with 400-500 coaches throughout the district – it is difficult to get everyone in one room, we try to do that once a year.   We teach them how to login and access information through the year.  

We were also able to develop a compliance test.  Gil and I both spent time at the NCAA level.  Many conferences require you to complete a NCAA test to make sure coaches know the rules regarding recruiting.  We are doing the same thing here, requiring coaches to not only review information, but to pass an exam through the Vault.   You are seeing a lot of states requiring schools to have concussion policies, heat prevention guidelines, etc. and you can do that all with TIPS; it has been real helpful for us.

How are you ensuring compliance with the OSSAA policies and rules?

When we started this, we really liked the idea wanted to do it.  We wanted to be the first school district in the state to require our coaches to pass a compliance test.  When we were developing, we worked closely with OSSAA to develop the test, get their interpretations, review questions back and forth.  Now with concussions being a major area of emphasis with the national association, the governing body for all high school athletics, NHHS, coaches are required to watch the education video yearly.  This year, the heat is also a big concern with record temperatures; that information must be disseminated to all coaches (required by manual and state activities association).  Rather than having someone sign off on a sheet of paper or getting everyone together, we can use Awareity to login, document time/date they accessed it, if they have an active certificate, etc.  From a legal standpoint, they are now responsible for agreeing to the policy and they can pass that information along to their students.  This is an annual requirement and they can easily login and meet those requirements. 

We have also talked about putting our coaches manual online for them to login and review and also have that information there to review as needed.   May also include things like recruiting, physicals, consent forms, etc.   We have also included the National Association’s Coaches Code of Conduct that has been adopted nationwide.  We have also talked about tying in our transportation requests down the road.

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