Rania Mankarious, CEO of CrimesStoppers Houston, detailed a list of actions parents can take to ensure the safety of their children at school following a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, this week that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
The nonprofit, which has been active for 42 years, has a mission to "solve and prevent crime in partnership with citizens, media and the criminal justice system," with a particular focus on school safety, Mankarious told Fox News Digital.
Recognize the possibility of danger
While parents have witnessed "the evolution of safety" procedures in schools following the Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings, CrimeStoppers Houston has found that "a lot of … families just don't think this will happen where they are," Mankarious explained.
Shootings in places like Uvalde, Newtown and Littleton take both families and elected officials by shock because tight-knit communities "don't think this can happen in their local small towns or local big towns because they think they're in a great community." But, as history has shown time and time again, shootings can happen anywhere.
"We've got to stop and we've got to transition into thinking not that this won't happen here, but this very well can happen wherever my child is — elementary, middle and high and high school," Recognizing said. "What are the policies? What are the procedures? And what are we doing to make sure that they are actually enforced? That requires getting parents involved. And that, to me, is one of the biggest missing pieces."
Read the handbook
"How many parents at the start of the year, when they get that first parent handbook, actually sit down and read it?" Mankarious, a mom of three, asked. "I'm guilty of this myself. But many of us get that handbook and file it away…if we ever need it."
School handbooks often detail policies and safety procedures a school or district has in place in case of a threat. Handbooks often detail how schools investigate threats, how they discipline those who make threats and what information parents will be afforded in the event of a threat.
There are "a lot of privacy laws when it comes to children," but handbooks can give parents "an idea what measures the school is taking to investigate a threat," the Houston CrimeStoppers CEO explained.
In the event that parents are not happy with the information, or lack thereof, a handbook provides on potential threats, parents can take their concerns to school boards and draw attention to where taxpayer funds are being spent in school districts.
"I cannot tell you how many parents will call me and say, 'Security's the last — if not smallest — line item … on the school budget," Mankarious said. "Well, you need to look at that because it's the parents that will go to the school board and say, ‘We demand more money spent on security,’ and that security will look different depending on where you live. It might be an armed officer. It might be…vestibules with protective layering. It might be that they want all doors locked or a buzzer installed with cameras. There are a lot of different options. But until parents get involved, and involved aggressively and with solutions, a lot of districts are very overwhelmed, and, sadly, following the … path of least resistance."
Talk to kids about the internet
All parents have "a duty and an obligation" to monitor their children's changes in behavior, aggressive speech at home and their online activity, Mankarious said.
The CrimeStoppers CEO wrote a book titled, "The Online World: What You Think You Know and What You Don't," which discusses what dangerous communities children can get involved in online and how parents can address appropriate online behavior with their children.
"There's a massive disconnect between the lives our children are living online and then what families — what parents who love them and care for them and invest in [them] — understand to be really happening. … Where there is a disconnect, parents need to be monitoring what their children are doing online. They need to understand what spaces there, and they need to understand what they're exposed to do, and they need to be actively working to combat it. They must," Mankarious said.
She added that while it can be exhausting for parents who "feel out of touch" with the latest technology, she has outlined how parents can discuss these issues with their children and monitor their online activity in her book.
Parents need to be tapping into the issue of mental health, red flags, changes in behavior and online posts that "can change threats."
Don't get complacent
Mankarious calls it the "three-week cycle" — the three weeks it takes for people to stop talking about a major tragedy like the Uvalde shooting after it occurs.
While certain politicians and organizations have championed school safety as a priority, "everybody moves on," which is "very hard for the victims' families," Mankarious said.
"It's hard for those of us who are in this space all the time. It's frustrating. But at the same time, we appreciate any discussion on it because it always pushes progress. Always. Ultimately, we'll make steps forward following this horrific tragedy," she explained.
The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (UCISD) says on its website that it has a number of safety proponents in place to curb or eliminate threats, including, but not limited to, security vestibules and outside buzz-in systems; a locked classroom door policy; four school district officers; partnerships with local law enforcement agencies; security staff that patrols door entrances and parking lots at secondary campuses; social media threat monitoring; a visitor management security system; canine detection services; motion detectors and alarm systems; perimeter fencing at Robb and other schools; and a threat reporting system.
Victor Escalon, Texas Department of Public Safety on Thursday said the alleged shooter is believed to have entered Robb Elementary on Tuesday unobstructed — possibly through an unlocked door — without confronting a school resource officer, as previous statements suggested.