Guns or Guidance Counselors?
Guns or Guidance Counselors?
In 1847, the nation's first school shooting occurred at the University of Virginia. The Charlottesville Republican confirmed the details: John Davis, a beloved professor, "was shot by an unknown hand, with a pistol, in front of his dwelling" and "the ball was received just below the navel." Davis died. A manhunt ensued for his killer who, it was ultimately determined, had taken his own life.
Today’s headlines and statistics are overwhelming. CNN reports that there have been 288 school shootings in the last decade alone. Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland are etched in our memories forever. Respected studies confirm that 9 in 10 schools now conduct active shooter or armed intruder drills and that 87 bills were passed nationwide to address school safety this past year alone. The percentage of schools with a security guard, resource officer, or other sworn law enforcement officer on campus at least once a week has exploded to nearly 60 percent.
Our schools have become ground zero for law enforcement interdiction and paramilitary training. Take, for example, Florida’s Manatee School for the Arts, which has hired two combat veterans to serve as “guardians” for the school, each equipped with a Kel-Tec semi-automatic rifle and a Glock handgun. Few developments, planned or not, have had a greater impact on education than our response to potential armed intruders. Yes, we are taking this issue seriously; but are we addressing safety (managing unintentional risks) and security (preparing for intentional threats) comprehensively? I am convinced that we are not.
The Office of Homeland Security advises that all schools need in-house safety committees. But are we leveraging our greatest strengths - presence and community - to that end? The tendency to date is to work primarily in isolation or connected through security companies that may struggle to understand school life. Yet, there is so much we can learn from each other, ranging from best training practices to how to develop effective mediums to talk directly with students about safety and security. There are many wonderful experts and well-meaning folks out there who place entirely too much emphasis on armed response and not enough on the social and emotional health of our students and teachers. I recently attended a workshop where the facilitator counted how many people he could kill, by running through the auditorium, using his hand as a mock weapon. Aren’t we better served focusing on positive, pre-emptive training rather than advancing hysteria?
It’s time to connect and collaborate as educators. According to a joint report from the Department of Education and the Secret Service, almost 100 percent of active shooters experienced or perceived a major loss before their attack; 78 percent had a history of suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts and 71 percent felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked, or injured by others. The answer seems clear. We need more guidance counselors.
Steve Mandell has spent 25 years in education, most recently serving as Head of School of Pinewood Preparatory School in the Charleston, SC area. In addition to being a Head of School for 10 years, Steve has held various administrative posts in independent schools including Chief Financial Officer and Guidance Director, where he created numerous programs and curriculum for student guidance, faculty professional development, and health education. He is a Certified School Safety Manager through the Institute for Safety and Health Management as well as an Authorized Facilitator for Darkness to Light Stewards of Children Training.