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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

A peaceful learning environment

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When the recent school shooting in Noblesville happened, I became slightly obsessed with the public discourse surrounding this incident. Rightfully many people praised the teacher, Jason Seaman, who was able to rapidly come up with a plan to stop the child who had brought two handguns into the classroom and started shooting. Seaman was unfortunately shot three times and yet he was able to physically recover within days, however a child by the name of Ella Whistler is still in the hospital, having been shot about seven times. Fortunately, Seaman was a previously noted successful college athlete, smart, use to responding quickly under pressure and was able to use those skills, in addition to his deep love and commitment to his students to act in an effective manner. But is he the typical profile of our teachers? No. And in fact I would argue that no teacher regardless of their athleticism should ever have to do what he did as they need to be just as protected as the children they teach. And no, I do not believe teachers should be armed, that is a ridiculous idea and I can only imagine who would suffer “mistaken,” consequences. What I do believe is that we need to make sure we have enough, highly trained and appropriately compensated school safety and police officers who are able to relate well to children, identify those that may need some extra attention and who can also serve as mentors beyond the other school personnel. 

As with many other school shootings, the public conversation after the Noblesville shooting cycled between discussions of actual school safety measures, such as arming teachers to discussions of the need for more resources for mental illness — so vague, few specifics. As I am not connected or even familiar with the community of Noblesville, I have no idea how these conversations in their more localized arena have continued but I do recall some parents mentioning metal detectors. Those are only effective if you have appropriate and well-trained school safety staff. What we additionally all need to discuss is what exactly constitutes a peaceful learning environment. 

Earlier this year Phillip Bump wrote an article in the Washington Post (2/14/2018) that mapped out the number of school shootings since 2000. Referencing data that was compiled by Wikipedia, Bump determined that there have been more than 130 school shootings at elementary, middle and high schools and another 58 more at colleges and universities. If those numbers don’t alarm you, consider that there have been school shootings in 43 of 50 states. Furthermore, while we can’t say there is a particular “profile,” of these school shooters, they have all been male and there are some common factors that have surfaced, according to a blog post in Psychology Today (3/29/2018). Aggregating data from the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime and the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, a group of researchers came up with seven factors that need to be considered such as the school shooters, along with being male are 90 percent active or returning students. There is always an element of anger or revenge present and they have typically been harassed or bullied by their peers as they are often socially awkward or are seen as “acting strange.”  Some have felt unfairly treated by their teachers and use art or social media to express their frustrations. Most of them come from somewhat dysfunctional families, which include a lack of supervision and at least 68 percent obtained their firearms from home — their weapon of choice. Some of these factors we probably could’ve guessed, but the data provides validity and hopefully some ideas about what preventive measures need to be put in place.

The largest school district in this state is the Indianapolis Public School (IPS) district and while a number of these school shootings, at least the ones we hear about from the media, happen in smaller rural and suburban communities we need to make sure that all school districts, especially the larger ones have appropriate numbers of school safety and police officers who are highly trained and compensated. This is especially critical now that there has been a decrease in the number of high schools in the IPS district to four where I would imagine the populations of these schools will now have large numbers. There is also a number of charter schools within the district boundaries that have some sort of partnership with IPS so they may also need some additional safety measures that the current IPS police can not cover. In fact, the salaries for IPS police are 13 percent below the national average for all police officers and given the cutbacks that have occurred in recent years they are probably severely understaffed. If there is going to be a referendum brought before the voters concerning IPS funding, this is one area that needs to be prioritized, along with the teachers. Our children deserve to learn in peace.  

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