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University of Alabama announces online program to prevent school violence

Highschool students carrying out written task

One Alabama university announced that it will partner with a company to provide free services to k-12 schools to prevent school violence for 1 year.

In a press statement, the University of Alabama announced that it would partner with Firestorm, a crisis management company, to create an online tool, nicknamed BERTHA, for educators to be trained to identify signs of trouble in students.

“There’s not another program out there like this,” Brenda Truelove, program manager for corporate engagement for the University of Alabama, said. “This can be done at your church and business, but our focus is school. When someone signs up for Bertha, they get access to the e-training model, and it walks them through the process step-by-step on what exactly they need to do.”

Truelove said the program will allow schools to track troubled students through grade levels and act appropriately given the circumstances.

“For example, a student named Billy may have a behavior of concern in third grade,” Truelove said. “They will follow his data with this program and see if it continues and escalates in fifth grade. If it continues by seventh grade, they can codify and assess to see if this student needs an intervention or whatever else is needed.”

Measurements for a troubled student would include bullying, fighting, stalking, threats, and bringing weapons to schools.

The company is offering a 1-year trial period for schools to use the program and charging the schools $2,500 every year after the trial period. Firestorm CEO James Satterfield said the program would help ease parent’s concerns.

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“At the end of the day, no one wants to pick up the phone and call a family and say ‘your child is not coming home from school today,’”  Satterfield said. “Alabama can lead in solving this problem that’s affecting our children. It’s a topic that every superintendent and every PTA is thinking about.”

The university and company are pitching the program as a means to prevent school shootings like the Parkland, Florida, shooting that claimed over a dozen lives in February. In that case, the shooter exhibited multiple warning signs and had been reported to local law enforcement multiple times by friends and family.

Since that time, Alabama’s state government has debated school safety measures in the Legislature. They ranged from arming teachers in the schools to establishing first-alert laws that would provide a judicial framework to seize firearms from disturbed students.

While all the bills died this year, leadership in the Legislature indicated that the topic will be re-visited in next year’s session.

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