School safety and security issues were suddenly thrust back into the news spotlight last week after a 16-year-old in Ohio shot five fellow students, killing three of them.
The tragic incident understandably left law enforcement and school officials across the nation at a heightened state of alert, fearful of similar incidents in their own communities.
In Forsyth County, a 17-year-old was arrested for making terrorist threats toward other students on a social media Web site.
In neighboring Hall County, two schools were locked down after a text message was accidently “autocorrected” to suggest a gunman was at a high school.
Across the nation, educators, students, parents and law enforcement personnel all were reminded yet again of the potential for violence in an environment where students and teachers gather in large numbers and with little means of personal protection.
Amazingly, there are some who believe school and law enforcement officials overreacted in incidents such as those in Forsyth and Hall counties. We are not among them. We believe action has to be taken immediately whenever there is suspicion that violence may be planned at any school. The operational mentality has to be to defuse the situation first, and sort out the facts later.
In the course of a single year, from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010, there were 33 violent deaths involving students or adults who were on campus, at a school event, or on their way to or from school, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. And while 33 in a single year seems a staggering number, in fact it was the lowest one-year total since the report started compiling statistics on violent deaths in 1992. In 2006, the number reached an annual high of 63.
Sadly, the incidents have become so common that they don’t always register anymore, and if they do we tend not to remember them for long. Most of us remember Columbine, where 12 students and a teacher were killed and 23 others wounded, but we’ve forgotten the three girls at the Amish schoolhouse in 2006, forgotten the principal shot and killed after giving a disciplinary warning, forgotten the five students, teacher and guard killed at an Indian reservation school in Minnesota in 2005.
We’ve forgotten so many lives lost in incidents that seem to happen somewhere every school year.
But you can bet the people living in those communities haven’t forgotten.
The campus environment of our nation’s schools is such that it is impossible to guarantee the safety of all students and school personnel every minute of every day. All we can do is be eternally vigilant and never forget that every threat has to be taken seriously, every suspicion examined and evaluated.
In a perfect world, no student would ever again face the threat of fatal violence on a school campus.
But our world is far from perfect, and as a result law enforcement and school officials face a mandate to act, and act fast, when confronted with a potential school threat. We support them in doing so.