As the community has adjusted to the school year, active-shooter drills and media headlines have kept today’s depressing reality in the forefront of our minds. At a time where our students should be focused on learning and growing, they are also coping with an undeniable cloud of fear and confusion. For many, it may feel like solutions are being ignored or that those in power are failing to do enough.
Mass shootings have become a policy concern at all levels of our government. At the national level, we see polarization and political maneuvering preventing any practical response. Across the state, we see a spectrum of responses, from fortifying schools to yoga classes. There are millions of dollars available through Pennsylvania’s Safety and Security grants to make significant changes, and districts should capitalize on these funds. Moving forward we need to act as a community — at a local level and independent of politicized conversations — to make our schools safer.
Although the possibility of a mass shooting happening in any school is slim, that does not mean it should not be taken seriously. However, in order to best address the safety of students, we cannot afford to only look outward to perceived external threats. While preparing for rare acts of violence we must also address the interconnected factors that contribute to school safety. Unaddressed mental health disorders, drug use, and increased suicide attempts are real threats that impact students on a daily basis.
We must sustain a nuanced conversation about mental health, which will help break the stigma and identify areas where we need additional support. We need to make our current resources more visible and accessible while also exploring new means. Normalizing mental health care can improve student performance by fostering an environment where they are not afraid to seek help for a wide range of issues. Local school boards should add additional school counselors, mandate youth mental health first aid and de-escalation training, and deepen community partnerships.
Better communication with the community can also improve safety. Conversations on security are often limited to meetings out of the public eye. This can be reasonable for some topics, but schools would benefit from parental and student input. Safety is a community effort. It takes a united front to keep our communities safe, and school boards should establish committees that hear and integrate those perspectives.
Every school will require different approaches, however better communication and mental health needs to be part of the equation. With issues this important, we cannot afford school boards reacting impulsively to national news. We cannot afford to throw mud at a wall and see what sticks. We must act with consideration to all aspects of safety, security and wellness, and address these issues comprehensively.
East Rockhill Township
Originally Published in the Intelligencer and Bucks County Herald