Gary Horton | Do What Is Effective to Protect Students

It’s been a couple of weeks now. The shock is still there, but is fading with time, as expected. The appropriate silent respectful phase is phasing out — and soon we’ll be inundated with requests and demands for “Just how the hell are we going to protect our kids when we drop them off for school.” 

We must reject extremism.

There’s going to be a great temptation to over-react. Action will be demanded. Security must be enforced. No protection, prevention, intervention will be deemed too intrusive, too expensive, too… demeaning to spirit. 

Safety will be deemed necessary to be imposed — no matter what financial or spiritual/educational cost.

Such will be the overriding temptation when the dust settles from the shooting. The move toward overpowering security will be driven by school boards and principles working to avoid legal liability. And lawsuit-driven policy doesn’t always provide happy outcomes. 

“CYA” reaction isn’t synonymous with good student growth and enrichment.

Yet, what just happened is very real. Three students dead, others injured. Thousands traumatized. This can’t be minimized. And, liability for the incident will try to be assigned…

Analysis is appropriate. Corrective policy is prudent. But, if we over-react we will further enforce traumatization. Going to school could be like entering a demilitarized zone with backpack inspections, metal detectors, special gate systems, armed officers abounding, reduced school hours, perhaps even… teachers with guns. 

Attending school itself might become traumatic and dehumanizing. All this is counter to a conducive educational atmosphere.

We must remember that what just happened is extremely rare. It never happened before in the SCV over hundreds of years of students. Never. 

There have been no shootings in the North San Fernando Valley L.A. Unified schools, either. Not in San Fernando, Sylmar, Mission Hills, Granada Hills. Not in elementary, junior high, high school. Not in these “tougher areas.” Not in these very polyglot, integrated schools. Not over decades. Not through good times, bad times, and even times of riots in Los Angeles. Not over hundreds of thousands of students.

Know that school shootings around our parts are extremely rare. 

While it sounds harsh to say, schoolground shootings are statistically non-existent. They don’t happen. Except for our one, very sad, very tragic event. Which also makes the problem seem oversized, with pervasive threats everywhere. 

But that is not actual reality.

So, how do we respond to an event that remains without precedent, and without apparent reason? 

Not over-reacting would be the best start. 

Remember, we can put in all the fences, all the metal detectors, all the armed guards we can afford – and still, if a kid or adult really wants to create mayhem, they can always do it right outside the gates. Bullets don’t care if they are inside or outside gates or fences. 

We have to face the fact that, with current lax gun availability, getting hyper-tough inside schools might simply move gun violence outside the fences – if we happen to have another kid or adult with that motivation. 

And, as to pressing security too hard, the L.A. Times recently reports: “The problem with fencing, armed officers and daily random searches is that they can make schools feel like prisons — which some point out is hardly conducive for learning and emotional growth. If they contribute to student alienation, they could wind up exacerbating campus confrontations.”

Our response to our shooting incident must be made with this awareness. We had a social/psychological problem. And, that problem met an easy gun availability problem. We cannot immediately change our gun culture or our violence culture. We are hamstrung by law from those logical steps. 

However:

We can change our social norms between students. We can teach awareness of how to treat and assist one another. We can, if we want, in this very next semester, teach a true civics course. Teach our obligation to one another. Teach love, tolerance, acceptance, caring, commitment to one another. 

We can intervene in mental wellness. We can open offices for counseling. We can stress that it’s OK to seek help when kids feel under pressure. We can break communication obstacles down and open up communication and mental wellness channels. 

We can do all this – without walls or fences or metal detectors or teachers with guns or any of the other stuff that never would have stopped this exact event and won’t stop another – because the problem was human, not just guns. 

And besides, this could happen again – outside the gates – if we don’t address the root cause, the human cause, of this tragedy.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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