Dear Commons Community,
There is no end to the foolishness of the education policies being promoted by Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education. The latest introduced last week is to use federal grant funds to let schools buy guns to arm teachers and staff members. Putting guns in schools would only lead to more violence and create a climate of fear in places that should be nurturing and protective. A New York Times editorial (see below) this morning comments on DeVos’ latest lunacy.
Schools Can Keep Kids Safe Without Giving Their Teachers Guns
Betsy DeVos’s latest scheme flies in the face of expert advice.
By The New York Times Editorial Board
September 1, 2018
Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, floated a plan last week that stood out in its absurdity even among her many other foolish proposals: She is considering using an obscure federal grant program to let schools buy guns and pay for firearms training for faculty and staff members.
That news stoked the ire of educators and gun-control advocates. They argue that guns will contribute to a climate of fear in schools and note that study after study equates more guns with more injuries and deaths.
Still, Ms. DeVos is not alone in her thinking. Since the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., this past February, lawmakers in at least 14 states have proposed laws that would use taxpayers’ dollars to arm educators.
Only one of those state laws has passed. And Congress, for its part, has barred new school safety funds from being used to buy firearms. (Ms. DeVos’s plans would circumvent this restriction by drawing from a different fund.) But it’s clear that plenty of policymakers still see this as an option worth pursuing.
That’s too bad. In their rush to arm up, they are overlooking solutions that are both more promising and less contentious, and that violence prevention experts have spent years clamoring for.
Prioritize “school climate.” That term refers to the general level of well-being and comfort students and teachers experience on campus. Is bullying pervasive? Do students feel comfortable confiding in the adults around them? The concept might sound fuzzy and foreign — it rarely comes up in the national conversation about violence prevention — but experts say that a healthy school climate is crucial to reducing the threat of violence.
The Department of Education has developed at least some protocols for doing this: frameworks for how to respond to outbursts, guidelines for how to penalize students without alienating them. But there is no national requirement that schools implement such protocols, nor any dedicated funding for doing so.
Provide more mental health services. If you put an armed guard into a school, there’s at best a possibility of preventing a shooting there, says Dewey Cornell, a professor of education and a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia. But, he says, “put a counselor or psychologist in a school, and you have the potential to prevent shootings in any building anywhere in the community.”
The average student-to-counselor ratio in the United States is nearly 500 to one. According to the American School Counselor Association, it should be closer to 250 to one. Mr. Cornell and his colleagues say that schools also need far more psychologists and social workers than they currently have. Hiring more of these professionals is the key to helping students who are on a path to violence before they bring a gun to school.
Implement proven threat-assessment programs. Law enforcement has long used threat assessment to protect public figures, but after the Columbine massacre in 1999, psychologists began adapting the protocol for schools. In such programs, teams of educators, mental health professionals and law-enforcement officials work together to assess threats within a school and decide how to respond them on a case-by-case basis.
Since 2013, Virginia has required all of its K-12 public schools to employ threat-assessment teams. The results so far have been encouraging. Fewer than 1 percent of students seen for a threat assessment have carried out their threats; none of the threats to kill, shoot or seriously injure someone were carried out; and, in most cases, students deemed a threat were able to get help without having to leave school. This past July, the Secret Service endorsed this approach to school safety.
These three ideas for improving school safety, along with several others — including the obvious need to strengthen federal gun control laws — were included in a call for action published earlier this year. So far, it has been endorsed by some 4,000 experts in the field.
Similar reforms were called for in 2013, after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people, 20 of them small children. But those calls were never heeded, and in the years since, more than 100 students, teachers and school staff members have been killed in American schools. That should infuriate everyone, regardless of their personal feelings about guns.