Barking up the wrong tree
The school shootings in Florida and the one recently much closer to home in Southern Maryland were terrible events and have brought the fear of school invasion to a new level. The Maryland State Legislature just completed its 2018 session and is requiring every school district to have school resource officers (or an affiliation with the sheriff’s office ) in every school. Don’t be confused, a school resource officer (SRO) is a person with a gun in a school. The idea is that this one person with one gun will protect and defend our children from an armed invader. We know two things about this situation. The first thing we know, sadly, is that the SRO may choose not to risk his/her own life by confronting the invader. We saw that in the Florida invasion. The second, and perhaps more important thing we know, is that school invaders are kids with a grudge against the school or are upset about a personal relationship.
School invasions go back to the 1800’s. Better news media and social media make us all know about them more quickly now. Columbine was the first school shooting incident that gained traction in the national news in recent time. After the Columbine shooting, I asked our students if they were afraid. To a student they said no, because our teachers care about us. The root cause of that shooting was the same as all of the subsequent shootings, the perpetrator felt alienated from the school or felt to be unknown by the school.
So we have a pretty good idea of what turns otherwise fairly typical kids into people intent on destroying other people. It is not clear to me how throwing more money into armed guards is going to fix the problem.
There are about 132,000 schools in the United States. That means a student in a public school has about a .01% chance of being in a school with an invader. Thirty-three thousand of those schools are private. As of the end of 2017, private schools have been spared the horror of any large scale shooting. I think there is a clear reason for this difference. It is simple to me. Private school students are known to their teachers. The schools are much smaller. Kids are not numbers; they are faces with names and interests. Teachers ask about family members and family events. That just doesn't happen in secondary public schools and not in many elementary schools.
School districts in Maryland will be spending millions of dollars to hire, train and equip armed SRO’s. One or maybe two of these people will be guarding high schools with 2,700 or more students. How much better it would be if these millions could be spent on more clinicians who had the time and interest to care about and talk to kids. People who wanted to give these kids an identity within the school. People who were not wasting their skills pushing test scores around. We need to spend those dollars on saving kids not shooting at possible invaders. And let us hope, that if we get all these new SRO’s and a shooter does come into the school, those 1-2 people won’t be off somewhere barking up the wrong tree.