School Shootings

by Albert B. Kelly, Mayor, City of Bridgeton

It was over the Thanksgiving holiday that I shared the thought that I’m glad I’m not raising school-age children in this day and age given all of the dangers in the world. Not long after, the headlines were filled with news coming out of Michigan about a 15-year-old killing three of his fellow students and injuring eight others.

Sadly, I was not shocked—not because the incident itself wasn’t shocking but because school shootings have become such a common part of the landscape. This wasn’t always the case and if you’re of a certain age, you can think back to a time when the reaction would have been shock and then perhaps outrage.

Maybe it was 22 years ago when we learned of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado where 12 students and a teacher were killed. Maybe total numbness set in with the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 26 people, including 20 first graders, were murdered. It was in the wake of Sandy Hook that cynicism came full circle when the best we could do was “thoughts and prayers.”

In the wake of this recent shooting, I wanted to know how many school shootings had taken place in recent years so I looked it up. According to the metrics used in Education Week’s 2021 School Shooting Tracker, the number this year so far is 28 school shootings with nine dead and 48 injured. In both 2018 and 2019, the number was 24 shootings.

But the number that jumped out at me was the 2020 statistic. With the onset of the pandemic and the shift to remote learning, there was a significant drop in school shootings in 2020, when 10 such incidences left three dead and seven injured. Most students, but not all, paid a high price as we scrambled to the online model and remote learning became a seat-of-the-pants affair. But the lower number does raise the question as to whether there is more to unpack here.

What does it say about us that the thing that lowered the number of school shootings was not tighter gun legislation, nor better security measures, nor early detection and intervention, but a global pandemic that forced us into lockdown? How should we think about this going forward and is there data that the experts should be examining?

While it’s obvious to say that school shootings were down because school wasn’t in session, there might be more beneath the surface. It’s not just that school wasn’t in session, but it might also be that there were no occasions for bullying, no opportunities for kids to be targeted for isolation or exclusion, no chronic humiliation—no chance for the types of things that seem to emerge as motives after each one of these tragedies.

In 2020 everyone was isolated in some way but for those most vulnerable, was that isolation a form of protection? My point is that some students thrive using a remote- or distance-learning model. And for those who do, is there value in developing a well-considered hybrid approach that lets some students, perhaps those most at risk for bullying, exclusion, and humiliation, get their education without all the extra curricula fixin’s?

I hesitate to jump to quick and easy conclusions about any group but I think there may be value in considering whether a provision for remote learning could allow those most at risk for being bullied, excluded, picked-on and humiliated—who might then feel so aggrieved that they consider acts of violence—have a viable alternative as opposed to us risking them becoming another statistic or a headline.

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Mayoral Musings