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April 23, 2015

These student whistleblowers spoke up to prevent a shooting


When high school student Matt Garrett sat at a lunch table with a classmate who began describing detailed plans for a violent attack, he knew he had to speak up.

Several others that overheard the comments thought that they were just a joke. But the comments came up repeatedly, and other incidents outside of school spurred worries that the students would follow through, said Cedar Crest High School principal Nicole Malinoski.

After Matt and a few others reported the threats, police launched an investigation and arrested the two students. They were eventually convicted of criminal attempt and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and terroristic threats.

You have to make decisions about things that you hear, Matt said, “because sometimes they will actually turn out to be a real incident. And then you’re the one that just shrugged off a threat, and let it happen, and you have to live with that then for the rest of your life.”

Students are an important part of ensuring school safety, according to Justin Schlottman, police officer for the Cornwall-Lebanon School District where the incident happened. “I feel they did the right thing. They took some concern for the lives of their fellow students,” he said.

Warm up questions
  1. What makes someone a whistleblower?
  2. If you overheard someone making threats in your school, what would you do?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why is it sometimes difficult to speak up when you see or hear something that you know isn’t right? Why do you think these students felt compelled to take action?
  2. This video was produced by another student at the school with PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs program. What are the challenges of reporting on something that happened in your own community? How do you fairly and accurately report on an incident when you know the people involved?
  3. Lesson plan: Ask students to think about what it means to be a bystander and what influences group behavior.

This story is part of the Student Reporting Labs school safety series “The New Safe.” Read more on this story from the student filmmaker’s perspective.

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