6 Ways to Reclaim Our Schools as Safe Havens

News stories keep claiming violence as the national platform in our schools. To be truthful, when we consider the thousands of schools in this country, the percentages of gun violence are relatively low. But the percentage should be zero.

How to keep our schools safe from guns and violence

11-year-old arrested for attempted murder at Frontier Middle School.
11-year-old arrested for attempted murder at Frontier Middle School. (photo courtesy of NY Daily News

Just last Wednesday, an 11-year-old student was arrested for bringing 400 rounds of ammunition, multiple kitchen knives and a handgun to Frontier Middle School in Vancouver, Washington. Around 900 students attend the middle school, and another 600 attend the elementary school next to Frontier.

The student was also found to be carrying two loaded .22 caliber magazines, according to court documents filed Thursday. Police said the boy had “claimed in the presence of school officials that a ‘voice in his head’ was telling him to kill” another student after he had called the boy’s friend “gay.”

There were no injuries and no shooting. However, police stated the teen has been booked into a juvenile detention facility and is facing an attempted murder charge.

Messages in his head

How could an 11-year-old who could not deal with the messages in his head, have access to this level of weaponry and threaten 900 students? It is frightening to think of what might have happened in this school. It is even more frightening to realize children have access to guns because they are not locked up.

Incidences like this must certainly re-ignite the discussion about guns and accessibility of guns by youth. I know there are many sides to this argument, but no 11-year-old should be bringing a gun (or any weapons) to any school.

There are lots of ways to help prevent such an incident.

Admittedly, nothing can be guaranteed as 100% effective. However, persistence on a few key issues can maximize the safety factor for our schools. Six are listed below.

  1. We need to make urgent appeals to parents who have guns to keep them locked up and not available to their children or teenagers.
  2. Preventing bullying is critical. Helping students understand how to deal with bullies will help them in the moments they feel victimized. Additionally, parents need to realize the extent of cyberbullying and discuss it with their teenagers.
  3. We must provide counseling and support for students who demonstrate mental health issues, serious behavioral issues, or symptoms of severe stress as volatility and instability can result.
  4. Offer help to parents who are struggling to handle the violent or volatile tendencies of their children or teenagers. We cannot afford to ignore these students or their families.
  5. There must be safety plans for every school and as many violence prevention options as possible. Special door locks, security systems, video systems, safety procedures and safety equipment can be used to improve security in any schools.
  6. Finally, a conducive emotional and relational environment within our schools should be maintained so students feel like they can share important issues with key staff and counselors who will listen, be understanding and offer the support that they may need.

Schools are so much more than educational institutions.

They are places where our students gather to receive their education, build relationships, be mentored by trained professionals, receive nurture and support and prepare for their futures.

We desperately need to restore the safe haven of our schools by doing all we can to protect our students, teachers, and administrators. In a day where our educational programs are being diminished by financial cuts and other limitations, we need to restore the capacity to provide for the needs of our schools systems. Only then can they create the best environment for learning, physical, emotional and relational safety.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

One Comment

  1. Garry

    We too quickly label children who act out with such rage as ‘crazy’ and then focus on the parent’s need to lock up guns. But, the real problem is that family violence is an everyday part of many children’s lives. Domestic violence and abuse in homes is rampant. If you want to intervene on children contemplating violent acting out at school with guns, then we have to open our eyes to the reality that violence is often learned in the home. Family histories and parental histories of emotional violence, verbal violence, physical violence and neglect and abuse are common among those who act out in rage. I grew up in an upper middle class home. My father was a prominent physician and my mother was a registered nurse but my siblings and I lived in terror. Shaming was a constant and so was severe abuse — and adults we knew saw it and did nothing. My home growing up was unsafe — and my siblings and I never knew ‘what’ to expect. My parents went at each other and they regularly targeted us with their self-hatred and rage. We were beat, slapped, and called terrible names. We experience severe neglect even to the point of severe hunger pains. We felt tortured. The early message I learned was that all adults could do anything they wanted to us and nothing would be done. Adults would never be held accountable. I never expected any adult to protect me. At five years of age, I decided that my goal was to live to age 18 so I could leaven the home. It was a miracle that neither I or one of my brothers did not go on a shooting rampage. As an young adult, I almost killed two men with my bare hands. Thank God, I got help and so did my siblings. Every one of us needed therapy and it has taken years to get over the worst of that experience. My parents are dead but the effects of what they did to me and all of my siblings continues on. But, today I am grateful to be alive and to have come out of that hell. How I wished other adults would have intervened. I think some kids get pushed to a breaking point — I almost did several times — but thank God I did not give into the strong impulse to go on a shooting rampage. I had ready access to guns. I went to church and was taught that murder was wrong. And, so I believed if I murdered my peers who bullied me I would go to hell. So that belief help to stop me and gave me enough time until my twenties to start on the road to get help. Want to stop school violence? Start by opening our eyes to domestic violence and family violence! Abuse, neglect and severe shaming is happening in these children’s homes. Children feel alone and that no one cares and they hurt and feel ashamed. Schools should help families get help for the violence that is happening in their families.

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