So what should schools do? John S. Carlson, professor of school psychology at Michigan State University, answers that question in the following post. Carlson is also a licensed psychologist in Michigan and a nationally certified school psychologist.
This first appeared on the Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts, and I was given permission to publish it.
By John S. Carlson
In the 25 years I’ve spent working as a school psychologist and professor of school psychology, I’ve never seen so much federal, state and local money spent to “harden” school buildings and campuses.
The term encompasses a wide array of steps being taken to keep students safe amid increasingly frequent mass shootings. Examples include arming teachers, conducting active-shooter drills and installing surveillance systems.
It’s a booming business that by 2017 had become an estimated $2.7 billion industry, with about $1.5 billion directed toward K-12 school safety.
With the federal government’s 2018 commitment to spend $1 billion over the next decade and states like Florida allocating hundreds of millions more in 2019 for school safety initiatives, changes are happening everywhere.
Most money to date has been focused on changes to school buildings.
The money is paying for curved hallways to reduce a shooter’s line of sight, concrete “wing walls” that jut out a few feet to create a physical space for people to seek cover from gunshots, impact-resistant windows to protect students and staff from glass shattered by gunfire, and technology that makes it possible to instantly lock classroom doors when someone perceives a threat.
In Oregon, the Bend-La Pine school district is spending millions to build “safety vestibules” — locking entryways that can slow or prevent access through the front door.
Gunshot-detection technology is spreading too. In Wisconsin, the Kenosha School District used $384,000 in state funds to install a system that instantly alerts the police following gunshots, turns on video surveillance systems and triggers automatic door locks.
Florida recently became the sixth state, joining Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas, where teachers who meet certain conditions may carry weapons.
I’ve been leading a team of researchers that’s studying whether these efforts make a difference. Through our close examination of the literature and affirmed by a soon-to-be-published study, there is no evidence that architectural and equipment hardening measures prevent or reduce firearm violence in schools.
At the same time, we’re growing more concerned that there is no way to protect all school spaces, including the portable classrooms used extensively across the country to relieve overcrowding, and open spaces like playgrounds and football fields.
That became more evident when six people were shot and others were injured inside a high school stadium in Alabama as the 2019-2020 school year got underway.
In addition, the presence of armed school resource officers does not appear to be associated with a reduction in shooting severity, according to a study released in the summer of 2019.
In part, that study looked at the deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. The officer on hand was subsequently criminally charged because he didn’t confront the shooter.
The school’s surveillance systems fell short too. Video of the incident unfolding was on a 20-minute delay.
In my view, the need to focus on human behavior and what’s known about the thoughts, feelings and actions of school shooters deserves more attention and funding.
A 2002 Secret Service analysis of 37 school shooting incidents found that 98 percent of shooters perceived a major loss prior to the attack, 78 percent had a history of suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts, 73 percent had a prior grievance against at least one person they were targeting and 71 percent reported feeling bullied or threatened or were previously injured by others.
There are two other kinds of hardening approaches, which my team is calling procedural and psychological. Psychological approaches emphasize the behavioral characteristics of people who may wish to harm themselves or others.
These options generally costs less than renovating buildings or installing new surveillance equipment and may require only shifting some staff responsibilities. We’re finding evidence that they work to get students with homicidal or suicidal tendencies the supports they need and have few downsides.
As school fortification has grown, so too has the number of deaths from shootings on school grounds. There were a total of 22 gunfire incidents on school grounds in the first six and a half months of 2019, CNN reported, in which people were injured or killed.