Posts Tagged ‘ School Safety ’

School Stabbings

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

The emerging story of school stabbings at a high school in Murrysville, PA, will inevitably stir up debates about school violence, mental health, and gun control. For example:

  • The point will be made that it’s not all about guns at school. This is true – knives and other weapons can be used to cause harm. We need to understand how a range of weapons can be used by individuals who intend harm at schools.
  • The point will be made that we need to learn more about the factors that cause individuals to attempt mass murder. This is true. We need targeted research that will have, as an endpoint, strategies for identifying youth who may be on the verge of such behavior and routing them to interventions.
  • The point will be made that schools need to be better protected. This is true. Many schools have increased their security procedures and will need to continue to revisit them as necessary, and prioritize these initiatives.

What shouldn’t happen, however, is a myopic focus on just one issue and dismissal of the other issues – the kind of polarization that stymies progress. We can’t focus on just guns/knives/etc without thinking about mental health issues. We can’t just put all of our resources into the mental health angle without considering how we reduce access to weaponry in youth. School security is an ongoing concern because it is impossible to completely secure a school every second of the day, and as such we have to continue to refine how risk is minimized. There are of course other issues that should be examined and put into the mix. Serious public health concerns like school violence require at a minimum a multifactorial perspective and ideally a synergistic evaluation of many of the root issues.

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2013 and … School Safety

Friday, December 20th, 2013

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, we have seen a number of changes in school safety in 2013. It’s clear that schools across the country have recognized the need for evolving safety procedures and for implementing them on a daily basis.

But the fact remains that no school can completely eliminate the risk.

We had another school shooting the day before the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

A sobering reminder that this is a problem that is not going away – and that we need to continue to support efforts to keep kids safe in schools.

Sandy Hook December 14 2012 via Shutterstock.com

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The Sandy Hook Anniversary: The Public Health Challenges That Still Remain

Friday, December 6th, 2013

As we mark the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, it is a salient time to consider the substantial public health challenges that were raised by that tragedy – and that still remain. Three are most prominent.

School safety is an ever-present concern. Although no school can eliminate the potential for a tragedy, strides are being made at many schools across the country to put into place practices and technologies to keep children as safe as possible. It has been suggested that 90% of school systems have made some type of concrete change to improve school safety in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. Lock down drills have become a reality for children, practiced with the regularity and acceptance of a fire drill. Teachers and administrators are trained to know how to react in the event of an attack and how to best try to secure the safety of their students.

Some schools have video surveillance systems in place that are monitored for potentially suspicious activity. Schools may have changed their policies concerning entry at different times of the day. And at some schools there is a police presence or security guards in place. Yet these types of changes will undoubtedly need to be evaluated, and potentially evolve over time. It does appear, however, that that sad and startling day at Sandy Hook Elementary promoted a nearly universal awareness that no school can be assumed to be safe – and that every school needs to take a comprehensive approach to trying to best ensure their students’ safety.

Gun control – always a polarizing topic – remains a hotly contested issue in the aftermath of Sandy Hook. There have been some actions to promote gun control in some states, and some reactions to ensure gun owner’s rights in other states. As the swinging pendulum of gun control plays out across the country – evidenced by the current swirl of debate surrounding how access to firearms should be regulated – what remains most clear is that we are no where close to coming up with a focused effort to reduce the likelihood of someone with a gun entering a school and killing children and adults. Most influential – and sobering and inspiring – has been the efforts of Sandy Hook parents to promote a ‘cultural change campaign’ to properly orient our attention on violence prevention, particularly gun violence aimed at our children.  It is hoped that this effort will inspire a change in our collective mindset that will do away with the philosophical rhetoric about the pros and cons of gun control and gun rights and focus instead on ways to prevent gun violence from permeating our schools.

Mental health remains another core public health issue that has been illuminated by the Sandy Hook massacre. We have yet to get a good handle – at the most public level – on the burdens faced by those with mental illness, the importance of properly recognizing and treating those who suffer, and the myths and realities about the risk posed to society by some individuals. What can be stated with confidence is that despite the substantial progress made over the last few decades in the identification and treatment of mental illness, we simply need much more support for research and intervention.

This unfortunately comes at a time when our national finances are such that research funding has been cut dramatically over the last few years.  We just witnessed a government shutdown that kept scientists away from doing their work. Deciphering the inner workings of the brain, the effects of genes on development, and the impact of a multitude of environmental factors that convey risk for mental illness is a task of extraordinary complexity. Bringing sustainable, evidence-based interventions to those in the population who need them is a daunting undertaking. Until we grasp how important this effort is, and embrace how much financial support it will take, we may find ourselves wondering and debating  if a future shooting could have been prevented via advances in knowledge and practice.

Although these three public health challenges remain, it is good to know that they are at least not being dismissed or are fading away. We may eventually look back on that horrific day at Sandy Hook Elementary as a turning point and catalyst for making real and sustainable progress in our efforts to keep children safe in school.

More on Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook via Shutterstock.com

Joe Biden Answers Your Gun Safety Questions
Joe Biden Answers Your Gun Safety Questions
Joe Biden Answers Your Gun Safety Questions

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Is “Ignorance” Killing Our Kids?

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

An editorial in the New York Times suggests this is so in relation to gun control issues and the devastating losses of young lives that we continue to witness, the most recent being the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. The crux of the argument is that we need to consider the seemingly endless stream of senseless murders (from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Aurora to Newtown) from the perspective of public health – meaning we need to treat this like an epidemic and rectify all the gaps in knowledge that currently exist about guns and violence.  I couldn’t agree more.

This month, I used the public health framework to discuss our knowledge base on the four central issues we have all been discussing in relation to Sandy Hook:

Mental Health

Gun Control

School Safety

Violent Video Games

The conclusion each time was that we really are pretty ignorant about how these factors come together to lead an individual to murder innocent youth. What we need now is to start asking pointed questions in research designed to help us arrive at meaningful next steps that would reduce the likelihood of these heinous acts taking innocent lives – based on reputable data and not just rhetoric or philosophy. That’s what public health research does – plain and simple, it identifies factors that can be modified to prevent the probability of death, and conducts scientific tests to generate an empirical foundation for making decisions that impact the problem. Studies showed that seatbelts save lives – we require use of seatbelts. Studies showed that teens who text when driving are at increased risk for getting killed – we ban texting. We don’t know right now the relative mix of influence posed by mental health issues, access to guns, and exposure to violent video games – and we need the studies to sort that out rather than pitting one factor against the other in a philosophical game of chess that does nothing to improve school safety. Public health is agnostic – just get answers and act on them. If we don’t take that principle seriously, then yes, ignorance is killing our kids.

 

Epidemiology and Public Health via Shutterstock.com

 

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How Safe Is Your Child’s School? Another Public Health Issue In the Aftermath Of The Sandy Hook Shooting

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, this is a question we all have. But, in reality, it is a very difficult one to answer. So, to that end, here are some questions to ponder as we all think about how we can improve school safety. Or put another way – here are some questions for parents to consider about their child’s school.

What is your school’s policy concerning entry? Are multiple doors open during the day? Can anyone walk into the school unattended? Is there a locked door and a buzz-in procedure? Depending on your answers to these questions, should your child’s school reconsider their existing policies?

Do you know how prepared your school is in case someone enters? What procedures are in place? Are these common knowledge? Has the school shared their system with parents?

Does your school currently utilize armed guards? How do you feel about this? If your school doesn’t do this (and most don’t) – would you feel better if they did? Is your school having an active dialogue about this topic?

We all have an adaptive tendency to get back to our daily lives after a tragedy. Sandy Hook Elementary has resumed classes in a different school building. But although we move ahead, it’s really important that we keep the conversation going about school safety – and that parents make sure they have a voice and partner with their child’s school to have thoughtful discussions about the lessons learned. The most sobering one is that even in the case of a school with extreme precautions and a very well trained (and heroic) faculty and staff, schools are always going to be a vulnerable place. That said, we all know now that we need to do everything we can to make them as safe as possible.

For other recent thoughts on the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, see the following links:

Mental Health as a Public Health Issue

Gun Control as a Public Health Issue

School Security Cameras via Shutterstock.com

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