U.S. Schools Address Increase In Shootings And Guns On Campus

Kenny Rodrequez, the superintendent, was deeply saddened by the news of the shooting at the Nashville elementary school last week that killed three children and three adults.

But as the head of the school district, he soon got into a routine that was all too common. Knowing that any school may be the next, he reads news reports about every new school shooting and looks for ways to improve security in his district.

“It’s not like it’s in some faraway land,”  stated Rodrequez, the mayor of a small Missouri district outside of Kansas City. “It’s happening everywhere.”

The evidence shows that school gun violence is widespread and growing. According to databases on gun violence, the number of firearms confiscated in schools and fired on school grounds has increased dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic.

Schools have responded by reducing safety concerns and calming worried students, staff, and parents. However, students in a Maine district have learned how to barricade classroom doors and repel potential assailants.

A Pennsylvania district is preparing to install metal detectors in its elementary schools. While still others instruct families on how to properly store their weapons, other districts that had severed connections with their school police are re-establishing them.

Several educational institutions attempt to tread a narrow line by increasing security without transforming their campuses into oppressive fortresses or gateways to the criminal justice system.

Even as some lawmakers advocate easing the state’s gun rules, a nationwide discussion over gun control is raging around schools. On Monday, Tennessee students left class to demand stricter gun control.

U.S. Schools Address Increase In Shootings And Guns On Campus

The discussion may be frustrating for school administrators, who cannot control kids’ access to weapons yet are expected to shield them from gun violence.

“Many times when there’s a shooting or a gun found in a school, people are like, ‘You’ve got to keep guns out of the schools,’” Rodrequez said. Yet he thinks the gun debate needs to be expanded: “We have to keep them out of our communities.”

Schools Confront Rising Gun Violence

Most gun deaths among American children occur in homes and neighborhoods, as opposed to schools, which account for fewer than 1% of all gun-related fatalities.

However, there are more incidents of gun violence in schools. According to the K-12 Shooting Database, which keeps track of all gun-related occurrences on school territory, including those that result in no injuries, guns have been pointed at or discharged on school property more than 230 times this academic year.

The number of these instances is up roughly 170% when compared to the same period before the epidemic, however, it is down significantly from the same period the previous school year.

Also, more pupils are carrying weapons to class. Since last August, the Gun Violence Archive, which monitors news and police reports, has tallied about 850 incidents of guns being discovered in schools.

Comparatively, less than 500 firearms were found before the pandemic, and a little over 600 were located during a similar time last year.

Superintendent Brian Polito of Erie, Pennsylvania, believes the lack of consistency and structure during remote learning is to blame for confident kids’ growing involvement with firearms. Also, during the pandemic lockdowns, a citywide anti-violence campaign was suspended.

“When the pandemic hit, everything kind of fell apart,” he said.

According to Polito, the last shooting in the district since the 1990s happened when a freshman at Erie High School allegedly shot another student within the building. Following the event, the community equipped all middle and high schools with metal detectors.

Polito says the community has invested nearly $2 million in security improvements over the last two years, including new alarm systems, door locks, and security cameras, using federal pandemic recovery funding.

Even very young pupils are becoming involved in the rising tide of juvenile violence in the neighborhood, which includes the high school shooting.

According to Polito, confident elementary school children were on a recent list of students at a local university who were at an increased risk of violence based on crime and discipline data.

This information persuaded Polito to introduce metal detectors in elementary schools coupled with the January report that a 6-year-old Virginia kid had shot his teacher in the middle of a lesson.

“Unfortunately, it’s our reality now,” Polito commented on gun violence and added that the district had increased student mental health care. “It’s something we all have to deal with.”

Schools Aim For Safety Without Over-Policing

Schools must be ready, even in areas where gun violence is uncommon. When a school shooting reaches the news, Heather Perry, the superintendent of schools in Gorham, Maine, a small town just west of Portland, says she gets calls from frightened parents.

“People are much more hypervigilant,” she said, mentioning how faraway shootings can appear in viral recordings “like it’s next door.”

Perry sends communications to families following high-profile shootings assuring them that the district has elaborate safety plans. The district has also invested in security technologies, such as electronic door locks and video cameras that the police can access.

As part of active shooter drills, the local police department also instructs middle and high school kids on how to divert a shooter by shouting or throwing things, according to Perry.

Perry stated that she does not want pupils to be continuously frightened or watched over, even when schools prepare for the likelihood of violence.

“We don’t want our schools to become prisons,” she said.

During the protests in 2020 over police brutality against Black people, several school districts increased security, while a few others reinstalled school police officers who had been removed or reduced in number.

After a Colorado high school student shot and wounded two employees last month, the school board quickly overturned its ban on armed school officers.

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Research, according to some who criticize school police, shows that their presence increases the number of student suspensions and arrests.

When school security is increased, they are also concerned about the possibility of racism since Black kids, students with disabilities, and others may be subject to more scrutiny and perhaps criminality.

Yet, supporters contend that school police, also known as school resource officers, minimize violence by mediating disputes and building rapport with children.

The National Association of School Resource Officers Mo Canady stated that given the uptick in gun violence, he is not shocked to see schools hiring additional cops.

“Schools are most definitely under pressure to try to figure out how to keep their students safe,” he said.

Yet, he issued a warning against hurriedly appointing security guards, contending that efficient school police officers are well-versed in law enforcement and interacting with children.

“In the rush to shore up” school safety, he said, “we can easily create a whole new problem if we don’t do this the right way.”

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