Updated: Dec 7, 2021
The United States has the dubious distinction of being the number one country in the world . . . for school shootings.
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One would think that our national and local leaders, school boards, law enforcement officials, psychologists, and the like, would be able to solve this national crisis. Yet, it continues to happen. The latest tragedy happened in Oxford, Michigan, only 20 miles from my home.
My novel, Betrayal High, takes a compelling look at the crisis and offers sensible ways to combat bullying, improve school safety, and use the criminal and civil justice systems to combat this epidemic. Here are several practical suggestions based on my research for the novel:
Take threats seriously. In Oxford, MI, there were multiple warning sighs ignored by school officials and the parents of the child involved. In this unusual case, the parents seem to have been the child’s partners in crime. When the school first became aware of this child’s issues, law enforcement officials should have been notified immediately. Had the sheriff’s office been called at the time of the parent’s meeting with school officials, I seriously doubt the child would have been sent back to class.
Strengthen and nationalize gun laws. It is too easy for people to travel to other states to purchase weapons. Concentrate these initiatives on mental health issues. Assure that people who purchase and own guns are properly trained, know how to use guns safely, and are mentally fit to own and carry. I know we have a Second Amendment in this country, but our gun laws are far too inconsistent. Furthermore, if the Second Amendment truly prevented ‘gun control’, we would virtually have no laws regulating guns. The fact is that sensible gun control is a safety issue and is not, per se, unconstitutional.
Improve anti-bullying and mental health initiatives in our schools. The child portrayed in Betrayal High had serious mental issues, was “different” than the other kids, and was mercilessly bullied by his fellow students. It is no secret that most active school shooters have been mentally unstable. It is time to tackle mental illness and bullying in schools and improve mental health services across the board. Mental health resources must be readily available in our schools and utilized at the first sign of trouble. Treatment protocols should be initiated and strictly adhered to. Programs to educate healthy students about the stigma attached to mental illness should be created and implemented.
Improve school security. On-site security personnel and metal detectors must become a fixture in our schools. Search backpacks and lunch boxes. Many people believe these tools are an invasion of student privacy. Tell that to the parents of four dead children in Oxford. Use security personnel to monitor students’ social media activity. What groups do they belong to? Are they posting or reading inappropriate messages? Social media is often the place where harmful ideas originate or are cultivated. Schools and parents must be vigilant in limiting students’ exposure to violent content.
Improve the quality of the school counselor system and increase the number of school counselors. Counselors should be specifically trained to spot the root symptoms of a potential crisis and stop it, long before it morphs into a serious shooting event. The traditional role of a school counselor has been academic—college and career planning has been the priority. That focus must change. Today, the priority must be developing social skills. Counselors must work with all children to build self-esteem, prevent bullying, train to handle conflict appropriately, and skills necessary to be a “friend” rather than a “tormentor.” Counselors must also work with the adults in the room, parents, teachers, and administrators, to create a system of early problem detection and support for potentially troubled students.
Video game creators, movie-makers, news and media outlets must stop glorifying violence, especially when covering actual events. Focus should be on the victims and their families. Their life stories should be the focus of reporters. Too many news outlets cover the shooters, their stories, and forget the victims and their families. Want the public to witness the damage caused by a school shooting? Focus on the victims of these tragedies.
Create systems for anonymous or safe reporting of students who discuss the possibility of hurting themselves or others with a weapon. Provide training on use of these protocols for all students, teachers, and administrators.
Involve parents, neighborhoods, and the law enforcement community. Spread awareness of and provide easy access to violence prevention resources.
We are all in this together. Schools should provide safe and welcoming environments for students and educators. Legislation, law enforcement, community involvement, education, policy-making, places of worship, leadership, students, faculty, and administrators must all play important roles in creating safer school community environments for our children.
With strong leadership and unified, non-political effort to implement systemic changes, we can make schools safe places for our kids to learn and grow into responsible adults. After all, our children represent the promise of America. It is our collective responsibilities to help them realize that promise.
Attorney/Author Mark M. Bello is the author of Betrayal High and other Zachary Blake Social Justice Legal Thrillers available at Amazon and other online bookseller websites. For more information, please visit www.markmbello.com