In week 116 of our new reality, the country finds itself grappling with another unspeakable tragedy: the murder of two teachers and 19 young children by a high school student.
While the details are still emerging, perhaps the only thing everyone–left and right–can agree on is that we have to find a way to make sure this never happens again. How to do that will test our ability to set aside partisan interests and find sensible solutions that puts student and teacher safety first.
One thing we do know for certain is that murderer fits a familar pattern of a student with “a fraught home life” who “lashed out violently against peers and strangers,” according to a report by Robert Klemko, Silvia Foster-Frau and Shawn Boburg for the Washington Post. Over the past two years, he “missed long periods of high school, classmates said, and was not on track to graduate with them this year” and “sought social connections online as in-person friendships with peers complicated and soured.” When talking to girls online, the Washington Post reports, “He could be cryptic, demeaning and scary, sending angry messages and photos of guns. If they didn’t respond how he wanted, he sometimes threatened to rape or kidnap them… But they said their reports were ignored.”
We also know that “the peak ages for violent offending with firearms is roughly 18 to 21.” That means that students whose lives were most disrupted during the pandemic-era shutdowns are just entering that period in their lives now. With so many students left angry, frustrated and disconnected by the last three years, we can’t afford to sit by and wait for the next tragedy.
Finally, we know that like many school districts, Uvalde had invested extensive time and money in an effort to strengthen the security of their schools. “It hired two new police officers last year, expanding to a six-person force that serves about 4,000 students across several schools,” write Mike Baker and Dana Goldstein for The New York Times. “The school system’s spending on security and monitoring services more than doubled in the past four years…The district’s security plan included two-way radios, threat-assessment teams at each school, and a policy of locking each classroom door. At Robb Elementary, where the rampage took place on Tuesday, officials described fencing enclosing the campus that was ‘designed to limit and/or restrict access to individuals without a need to be on the campus,’ district records said.”
Tragically, none of it worked. A door was propped open in the back of the school, the school resource officer wasn’t on school grounds and the police who responded waited 78 minutes before moving in to end the killing. The result? Twenty one innocent people lost their lives.
As Andy Rotherham notes, “In our grief and frustration we can’t lose sight that four of five school shooters signal their intentions beforehand. We have insufficient red flag laws, insufficient awareness about the ones that exist, and a too lax culture of firearms responsibility. Our mental health treatments and general societal approach to mental health remains inadequate. All of these issues can be addressed without trampling civil liberties.”
Indeed, as Baker and Goldstein report, our efforts to address the problem without addressing these underlying causes have not worked: “there is little evidence nationally that the dollars poured into school security measures have decreased gun violence in schools.” The truth is no matter how hard we work, we can’t turn our schools into fortresses. We can’t turn our teachers into armed guards. We can and must think differently about reducing the threat—through mental health interventions, red flag laws and much more—before it reaches the schoolhouse door.
50CAN is a bipartisan network of advocates who believe America is a great country that is suffering from a drought of courageous leadership and a toxic political culture that far too often puts working across party lines for the good of our children last. It has never been more true than right now that our young people need us all to be leaders who put their interests above everything else.
Last time in the New Reality Roundup, we looked at the progress being made in career and technical education and the importance of advocates participating in the upcoming elections. This week we spotlight voices from the field and the opportunities for schools to support the mental health of their students.