When I was in high school more than three decades ago, there were some students who brought guns to school. A brother of a classmate was shot and killed in junior high school.
I mention this because the recent school shooting in Ohio brings to the fore the issue of safety and security in our most public of institutions – public schools. What have we learned in my time? There are more violent shootings like Columbine and Chardon High School.
We also learn that while shootings in school are infrequent, they are devastating to the community affected.
T.J. Lane, the student who shot and killed multiple classmates, was described as “a troubled youth.” But a long-time neighbor was shocked when Lane was identified by police as the shooter: “This was absolutely out of character,” he remarked. How can you have such a divergence of viewpoints?
It means it’s hard to identify such students in a world of disaffected students. Lane was caught between parents in a violent divorce, and wrote about existence and death online, concluding: “Seizure in the Pestilence that is my scythe. Die, all of you.” He took the gun he used from his grandfather’s barn.
What can we do?
For starters, as a parent, know what the safety and security procedures are at your child’s school. If you think they are inadequate, get involved in changing them. Most schools don’t have on-site security, but rely on safety plans, lock-down procedures and police response. In the Ohio shooting, a teacher chased Lane from the property, and police arrived long after the devastation. (The teacher had a ballistic vest, but was not armed, meaning to act the teacher had to risk being a bullet-catcher.)
If you see a child who is withdrawn or exhibiting unusual behavior in public or online, ask the school administration about it. Monitor your own child’s online activity. I recently heard one parent say his children do not have an expectation of privacy – he monitors computer and phone use, inspects their rooms and knows where his teenagers are – or should be – at all times.
Put in place a reporting system by which your children can be in contact with you at any time. Phones are great, but if you’re in a meeting and cannot respond, what good is the system? Many of the students at Chardon High School communicated by text with a parent – at a minimum giving the parent or parents information, not speculation.
Remember this: Most students who bring guns to school for violent purposes gain access to them from family or friends. Make sure any weapons you have are locked up and not easily accessible to your children, or your children’s friends.
While we may hope for, and work toward, a time when there’s no violence in our schools, the reality is public education reflects our communities and our times. Deal with the world that is, not what we’d like for it to be. (TDH)