School Shootings and Settlements Soar: 5 Disturbing Perspectives and 5 Positive Prevention Strategies
Consider these five disturbing events that seem to repeat after school shootings and what we can all do to reduce violence.
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Nine families of the Sandy Hook mass shootings victims reached a $73 million liability settlement with Remington Arms, maker of the rifle used to kill 20 first-graders and six teachers.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced a $127.5 million settlement resolving 40 civil cases including 16 of the 17 families of shooting victims of the 2018 Parkland mass school shooting, where 17 people were killed and 17 were wounded.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control, reports that the “first half of the 2021-2022 school year had the most school gun violence in recent history.”
Gun violence in schools has been a growing concern for years and has been exacerbated by the pandemic. As students return to in-person learning, violence is pouring into school buildings and nearby neighborhoods. With the increase in school violence, particularly gun-related violence, comes an increase in settlements.
After many of these incidents, five disturbing perspectives seem to repeat. With all due respect, consider the high-profile school shooting tragedies, and reflect on how these series of responses evolved.
- Disturbing images. The first response is the media sharing pictures and videos of the crime scenes.
- Blame. After the crime is visually depicted, the media turns to school violence experts to ask, “Who or what is to blame?” Is it guns, mental health, bullying, drugs, social media, parents, or the newest trend? We look for blame as we try to make sense out of senseless violence.
- Blueprint. After disturbing images and blame, step-by-step vivid descriptions of the crime itself appear — making some wonder if this is providing the next school shooting plotter with a game plan.
- Legal battlefields. Lawyers are brought in and lawsuits address who is to blame and who should receive the funds from the donations or litigations. Often, passionate parents who have lost children, surviving students, and supporters unite to form national organizations to promote school safety and change laws regarding gun control. But in spite of these heartbreaking and significant efforts, school gun violence is increasing. Education Week found that based on their data collected, “2021 had the most school shootings in the past four years.” Time will tell if the Remington Sandy Hook or Parkland settlements will make a difference.
- Business blunders. School safety is a multibillion-dollar industry. Everyone wants safe schools, but what works and at what costs? Unfortunately, for the responsible school safety professionals, there are those with questionable expertise who promote misinformation and unproven simple solutions to complex situations for a substantial price. Communities and school boards often push for visible and quick but controversial fixes, like metal detectors, rather than long-term but often out of sight programs, like behavioral threat assessment training, that can provide mental health detectors for those at risk. Cutting-edge school safety hardware equipment and technology have incredible capabilities, but without human input and training, are useless, regardless of costs.
There is no quick fix for school violence. People point fingers but do not realize that it takes a village to raze a school with violence. It has been said that there is no school violence but only community violence that takes place in schools. Everyone needs to step up and help make a difference.
Here are five positive prevention strategies to help reduce school violence.
- Be kind. Rachel Scott, who was the first student killed in the Columbine High School shootings, left a note in her bookbag that said, “With kindness, you may just start a chain reaction.” Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “You cannot do kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”
- Be aware. Situational awareness is knowing what is going on around us. It helps keep you and others safe. As you read this article, what is happening around you? What do you see? What do you hear? What would you do if you suddenly feel unsafe? Do you plan an escape route when you enter new surroundings?
- Be assertive. If you see or hear something, whether it be bullying, threats, weapons, or concerning behaviors, say or send something. The 2021 National Threat Assessment Center’s “Averting Targeted School Violence, A U. S. Secret Service Analysis of Plots Against Schools” reported that 94% of the students who plotted school attacks shared their intentions about carrying out an attack targeting the school in various ways, including verbal statements, electronic messaging and online posts.
- Be prepared, not scared. Practice updated emergency response plans that are based on research and reality. All staff and students need to be well trained and ready to respond to any emergency, including suicide risk management. Comprehensive community and school safety programs, with hardware and heartware, need to be built-in — not tacked-on. As we often see with destructive risk behaviors, hurt people hurt people. The use of mental health professionals, such as school counselors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists, as well as trained school resource officers, may enable us to help people help people. Today, behavioral threat assessment tools offer new solutions for old problems.
- Be an advocate for safe schools. Denial remains a huge issue. After a shooting, often you will hear, “I can’t believe it can happen here.” But it did. Be proactive, not reactive. The word ‘crisis,’ written in Chinese, has two characters: one represents danger and the other represents opportunity. Let’s make use of the dangers found in our school shooting crises as an opportunity to help make our schools safe and healthy so our kids can learn more and live better.
Stephen Sroka is an adjunct assistant professor, School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, and president of Health Education Consultants. He has keynoted the largest national school safety conferences, written articles about school violence for diverse publications, and consulted with school systems before and after school violence for over 30 years.
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