When you’re running a school, there’s nothing more important than ensuring the safety of your students, visitors, and staff. Unfortunately, the idea of school being a safe space for learning seems to be slipping further and further out of reach. According to the Center for Homeland Security and Defense, a record-breaking 97 shooting incidents occurred on K-12 campuses in 2018. That’s up from the 44 incidents that occurred in 2017 and by far the worst year on record for gun violence in schools.
With the 20-year anniversary of Columbine fast approaching, we must ask ourselves if we are doing everything we can to protect our schools — and more importantly, the kids in them. Or, is it time to rethink the way we’re approaching school safety? Jillian Peterson, a Hamline University criminology professor, believes the answer to the latter is a resounding YES.
“We’re really focused on security in schools — running lockdown drills, watching training videos, resource officers in schools,” says Peterson. “In Minnesota, we put a lot of money into building more secure buildings, more secure entry points … we know that it’s inadequate. It’s not preventing school shootings.”
Peterson, along with her research partner James Densley, recently built a database of 160 mass school shootings in the United States to determine why our current approach to school safety isn’t working. Here is a sample of their findings about those who committed mass acts of gun violence in schools since 1966:
- 91% were current or former students of the school where the shooting took place.
- 77% had received a prior diagnosis, previous counseling or hospitalization, or medication use for their mental health.
- 87% had shown signs of a crisis before the shooting.
While proper security measures must be taken to keep our schools protected, perhaps it’s time to think beyond security systems. Along with brave, well-trained security personnel, perhaps we need to turn our attention toward other preventative measures like mental health services.
What do you think is the answer?