August 2, 2022 – After several tragic instances of school shootings over the years, America is appropriately focused on protecting our children and school staff by discussing measures to protect our schools.
While recent school shootings have been the primary impetus for these discussions, school safety involves several elements to consider including gun policy on school grounds, bullying, increased mental health challenges resulting from the impact of COVID-19 on school operations and fentanyl.
Some people have taken the approach of focusing on gun control policies in response to school safety concerns. However, as the Supreme Court wrote in 2008, “(t)he Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia,” so efforts to ban the possession of commonly owned firearms by law-abiding people is no longer a viable approach.
The Supreme Court also recently clarified that law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs have a Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense. An effective way to provide physical security for our schools would be to allow trained and licensed adults to exercise their constitutional right of self-defense by having the means to stop an armed attack at the school.
Rather than wait several minutes for law enforcement to arrive, and then hope they will act to protect others, having competent and prepared adults already on site within the school is a more thoughtful approach. As an alternative to competent and armed adults already on site, securing the schools as a sensitive location like a courthouse or airport terminal with armed guards, metal detectors and X-ray machines is another option that may be considered.
Bullying has long been an undesirable part of many children’s school experience and leads to other conflicts and consequences. Reports of bullying are common among those kids and young adults that participate in violence and antisocial behaviors toward others.
School districts across the country, including ours in Steamboat Springs, have adapted a disciplinary model of “restorative justice” where offenders are preferably sent to counselors instead of experiencing traditional negative consequences like suspension or being charged with a crime. Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, employed this model and repeatedly counseled the student that later killed 17 people at the school rather than involve law enforcement during previous events.
When a school district shields bad actors from accountability for illegal actions, it becomes complicit in these acts. Hopefully, our local school board will reconsider this model and revisit our district’s current model of discipline to hold our high school students legally accountable in all instances of violence against others on school property.
Mental health is another area of school safety where it seems our challenges are more pronounced today than in past decades. The internet has created an open and generally unmonitored arena, 24 hours a day, for kids to experience the consequences of bullying with a direct impact on mental health and developing healthy coping skills.
This environment of social media can also aggravate other challenges of growing up, adding to mental health struggles among our youth. Although counselors have been an important component of our public schools for decades and should remain, the growing instance of mental health challenges have placed an additional burden on our schools outside of their primary mission of education.
Rather than expand school operations for mental health at the expense of academic focus, we think our schools and community would be better served by returning to a focus on academic success and holding students that misbehave accountable in real terms. With a focus on academics combined with an effective discipline program, we will experience a return to more orderly schools, better academic performance, and less need for mental health services. In the interim, our schools should partner with other organizations in the community better resourced to address mental health to meet this growing need.
The danger of drugs on campus has been a concern of many parents for decades, yet the introduction of fentanyl into our community is a significant escalation of risk in this regard. Every school should have Narcan for such an emergency. Besides adopting the model of searching every person and object that enters the school, stringent laws that restrict illicit supply, discourage possession and impose consequences for convictions would provide some additional level of protection against the growing threat of fentanyl.
We’d like to work together and exchange ideas to provide safe schools for our community.
PUBLISHED SOURCE: Steamboat Pilot & Today