A series of mass shootings have darkened the United States in recent months and while all of them were tragic, senseless acts of violence, the travesty that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday seems to have elicited a far more visceral reaction in our country. This is not supposed to happen. Not in our schools, not to our children. The grief is unimaginable and the questions unceasing.
How did this happen? What went wrong? Could this have been stopped? How can this be avoided in the future? As a society, we all have a lot of soul-searching do to in the days, weeks, and months ahead. School systems will be asking themselves these questions, too, as they comb through their safety procedures and emergency protocols, ever mindful of their obligation to protect those in their charge.
While it may sound hollow now, the truth of the matter is schools are one of the safest environments in the nation and have been getting progressively so.
According to the CDC’s School Associated Violent Death Study, less than 1 percent of all homicides among school-aged children occur on school grounds or en route to school. In raw numbers, 17 children between the ages of five and 18 were killed at or on their way to school during the 2009-2010 academic year; a fraction of the 50 million students who attend school. And this figure is about half of what it was in the 1990s, when another school shooting, this one in Colorado’s Columbine High School, shocked the nation.
Since then, schools have enacted much tighter safety measures, installing security cameras and guards, developing emergency plans in concert with local first-responders, and controlling access to building entrances, as Sandy Hook apparently did. School officials have also tried to address the root causes of such violence through bullying prevention initiatives, character education and conflict resolution programs. But as we’ve known and acknowledged, schools cannot do it all themselves, especially when dwindling budgets force them to cut positions like school counselors and deranged outsiders arm themselves with high-powered weapons and force themselves in.
Ensuring that schools remain the safe, nurturing learning environment they’ve always been is everyone’s responsibility and it’s because of this that Friday’s tragedy should be a call to action for us all.