SCHOOLS: TARGETS OR SOLUTIONS?

As of this writing, March 22, 2018, there have been 18 school shootings since the beginning of the year. This is Day 81 which means one shooter every 4.5 days has used a school as the object of what seems like unresolved and untreated anger, or frustration, and/or isolation. We say that the mental health of the shooter is one of the underlying issues and that we have failed to recognize and treat these individuals early on. Furthermore, we say that their access to guns makes it easier for them to have a handy weapon to destroy what they perceive as the one of the causes of their extreme unhappiness.

Regardless of your definition of a “school shooting” the fact remains that each one has to do with a school, a gun and a shooter. Two were solely suicides, and one of those occurred at a school that had been closed for several months. Three involved the accidental firing of a weapon. Eight resulted in no injuries. Only seven were intentional shootings that occurred during normal school hours. Only seven? Is that supposed to weaken the case for taking action to intervene where and when possible?

When I said recently that one more is too many, someone responded with “What do you mean by that?” I believe that while this issue may be a bit more complex than many people seem to realize, there are some clear signs indicating where we have failed. Continued apathy on a large scale and hoping that someone else will address these issues and solve the problems because we don’t have time or the interest allows more of the same. It will be interesting to see the response this Saturday, March 24, in the marches around the country and in Washington, D.C. as people mobilize to express their deep concern. We will be in San Francisco. Why? “If not us, who and if not now, when?”

As I think back over 50 years of working in, with and for schools I can remember many students whose behaviors caused great concern for teachers, their fellow students, parents and the school. We dealt with those as we could and I seldom believed that suspension or further isolation was a good response. I remember a number of serious incidents, one of which was a pipe bomb that was fortunately thrown into a nearby dumpster and not into the school. Another had to do with a toy gun, a replica that was brandished by a student on stage in the middle of an assembly. That scared the “bejesus” out of students and adults in the audience. There were numerous other fairly serious disruptions due to the mental health of the individuals involved.

Since schools are an integral part of every community we need the community’s resources to be part of each school and not just assigning an SRO to each school. However, there may be a clue here and that is community resources being aligned with a school to provide support and intervention using the time-tested, well-researched model of early diagnosis, early treatment. We know the results of too little, too late so perhaps it’s time to consider something different, and the sooner the better. It’s time to stop wringing hands and saying how awful it is and instead, stand up and see what we can do to change this prevailing condition.

I believe the answer is in more collaboration and cooperation, first of all inside the schools themselves, among teachers, students and parents. Schools need to be clear about how they identify and deal with students who are uncooperative, distressed, upset, or acting in some way that causes someone to be concerned. Secondly, there needs to be a tri-partite agreement reached among the three principal participants – the school, the student and the parent(s). Thirdly, additional resources need to be made available and part of the agreement when appropriate. And finally, continued close monitoring and support can enable adjustments to be made along a path of hoped for progress and improvement. Perhaps we could then see schools as solutions, not schools as targets.

Please share your thoughts and opinions