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December 20, 2012 9:40 am

EDITORIAL: Kids need a reassuring message

Written by Don Amend

The deaths of 26 people, 20 of them children, in a Connecticut elementary school has, understandably, raised questions about school safety here in Powell.

The death of any child by homicide stirs deep emotions, but, when a stranger with no apparent motive, but with a lot of firepower, wipes out an entire first-grade class, the anguish affects the entire nation. As we have seen when similar shootings have occurred in the past, that anguish sparks discussions about how we can prevent such tragedies in the future.

Similar discussions will go on this time, as well. Guns and mental health will be big parts of these discussions, but the best way most of us can react is to make sure security policies and plans in our own schools are in place and rehearsed, and security systems are installed to prevent an invasion such as last Friday’s.

Still, there is only so much a school can do, and nothing can guarantee that another incident won’t happen. There is no way to predict whether a seemingly ordinary person will suddenly turn into a killer fueled by mental health issues or deep-seated anger at something that happened in school years ago. Nor is there a foolproof security system that can’t be bypassed, as was demonstrated last week, when a barrage of bullets allowed the killer into the school.

But even given the near impossibility of perfect protection, we should be aware that, despite the news coverage of last week’s atrocity, it is rare that children become homicide victims while at school, and it is important that our students hear that reassuring message as well.

Parents and staff members can also be reassured, because, despite the perception that things are getting worse, in reality such homicides have declined over the last 20 years. In 1992-93, according to government statistics, 34 children were homicide victims while at school. By contrast, only 17 school homicides were reported in 2008-09, half as many as in 1992-93, and there were only 17 the next year as well.

Between 1992 and 1998, the number of kids killed at school averaged 31 per school year, but during the 1999-2000 school year, the toll dropped to 14, and only 14 were reported the next year as well. Since then, annual numbers of homicides stayed in the teens and low 20s, with the exception of 2006-07, when there were 32 fatalities.

This isn’t any solace to those who lost children last Friday, nor does it mean we can quit thinking about school safety, but it should reduce anxiety about our children’s safety.

Schools should continue to make every effort to maximize our kids’ security, but we should not give our kids the impression that they are in constant danger from crazy gunmen or turn our schools into fortresses. Kids need to know what they should do when their school is violated, but they should also be reassured with the knowledge that it is very unlikely that such an event will happen in their school.

With that reassurance, they can focus on acquiring the education they will need when they become adults.

(The statistics noted above are contained in the report of a study on school crime and safety conducted in 2011 by agencies of the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. They may be found on the Internet at http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/iscs11.pdf in Table 1.1 on page 94 of the report.)

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