Students are evacuated by police from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, after a shooter opened fire on the campus. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Another shooting took place this week. This one, in South Florida, resulted in the deaths of 17 high school students and teachers and shocked the nation yet again with horror of children being slaughtered.

The national debate over these types of killings seems to center on an either/or proposition: either it’s because there are too many guns, OR it’s because of mental health. But in fact, it’s not a simple either/or proposition. This is a complex issue, with a lot of contributing causes.

We have reasonably strong gun control laws in Massachusetts, and we have low levels of gun violence compared to the rest of the country.  That’s the good news.  Beyond that, I don’t see any need to wade into the gun control debate here locally, because what I’m interested in discussing is this: what are practical steps we can take in our community and in our schools to make our kids safer?

Here are some of the steps I believe we should explore in our community:

Physical Security – Reducing the Risk of Harm in the Event of An Incident

  • It’s important to conduct an overall risk assessment. The attention is on mass school shootings, as it should be, but we need to be looking at all potential threats to the safety of our students.
  • Conduct a thorough assessment of the physical security of our school campuses. This should include a primary focus on entrances into the buildings, including side and rear entrances. We’ve taken some good steps here already with the installation of vestibules in the schools’ main entrances, but if a side door is propped open, that investment is wasted.
  • Explore the cost of installing and operating metal detectors at the schools. This is a costly measure, not because of the equipment (about $4 to $5 thousand per metal detector), but because of the ongoing personnel costs to operate them.
  • Ensure every classroom can be secured from the inside. Inexpensive security barriers are available which can be used to securely lock classroom doors and prevent entry of intruders during an emergency situation.
  • The cost of installing school wide surveillance systems should be explored.
  • Ensure each classroom has a “Go-Kit” — a self contained backback or bucket containing emergency supplies

One thing we have to consider as a town is that many of these kinds of security measures – especially additional staff required to operate metal detectors – will require considerable funding. Given the school system’s relatively flat budget over the last several years, it’s not feasible to expect the school system to fund these types of initiatives within its current budget.  If we, as a town, want to make these changes, then the town will need to fund it.

Prevention — Working to Prevent School Violence From Happening

  • Connection is essential. One of the most common traits of mass shooters is social isolation and disconnection. As a school community (and the town as a whole) we need to think about how we can address bullying, social isolation and disconnection in our community.
  • It’s time to reassess our bullying prevention plan. Are we doing enough? Is it proactive?
  • Building a positive school climate is essential. Our schools must be safe places for all of our children, and it’s important to focus on identifying bullying patterns, social isolation and depression.
  • Our school system should do a comprehensive review of the state of current research on smart phones and social media in school. The latest research makes it clear that both teen depression and suicide have increased more than 30 percent in the last five years. As a school system and a community we must assess whether or not it is appropriate for children to have unfettered access to the internet on a routine basis.

Town-Wide Initiatives

  • The town should revive the Youth Commission or create a Youth and Family Commission with the goal of increasing connection and youth involvement in the community.

 

Some useful links and studies:

National Public Radio: The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked To Smartphone Use, Study Says

Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time Clinical Psychological Science. Vol 6, Issue 1, pp. 3 – 17. First Published November 14, 2017