Schooled Reporting on education

Can two little words solve our school safety crisis?

Education | Shooting statistics illustrate the difficulty of legislating a solution to a pervasive cultural problem
by Leigh Jones
Posted 3/28/18, 03:15 pm

The Washington Post published an in-depth article on school shootings last week. It’s a long but worthwhile read. Some of the findings parallel the school safety study I wrote about two weeks ago. Among the findings:

  • Most school shootings are targeted to specific victims (like last week’s incident in Maryland) and do not involve a shooter interested only in indiscriminate killing (like the Valentine’s Day attack in Parkland, Fla.).
  • Because targeted attacks typically take only seconds, it’s difficult for school resource officers to prevent them or intervene in time to save lives. At least 68 schools that have experienced shootings employed a police officer or security guard. In all but a few of those incidents, the shootings ended before law enforcement of any kind interceded.
  • In targeted shootings, the school serves only as a convenient venue: The shooter knows where the victim will be at a specific time of day so he or she attacks there.
  • Since 1999, 62.6 percent of students exposed to gun violence at school were children of color, and almost all of that violence was targeted or accidental, rather than indiscriminate.
  • Out of nearly 200 incidents of school gunfire in the last 19 years, only one ended when a resource officer gunned down an active shooter.
  • In at least four of the five worst school shooting rampages, resource officers or security guards were on campus at the time: Colorado’s Columbine High School, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Kentucky’s Marshall County High, and California’s Santana High School.
  • The mass shootings at Columbine, Stoneman Douglas, and Sandyhook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., accounted for 43 percent of the school shooting deaths in the last 19 years. In all three cases, the shooters used rifles with the ability to fire off numerous rounds quickly, but handguns account for the majority of deaths in school shooting incidents.
  • A majority of school shooters, 85 percent, brought their weapons from home or obtained them from family members and did not purchase the guns themselves.

Saturday’s student-led March for Our Lives protests called for measures that might have prevented the Parkland shooting but wouldn’t have stopped others. Banning rifles wouldn’t prevent the majority of deaths. Some lawmakers want to put a police officer at every school, but that hasn’t helped prevent past shootings. Installing metal detectors on all campuses sounds like a good safety measure, but shooters have managed to get past or around those plenty of times. As for raising the legal age to purchase guns, most teen shooters don’t own the weapons they use.

These statistics illustrate the difficulty of legislating a solution to a pervasive societal sickness. Every proposed solution addresses the symptoms but ignores the root of the problem: The desperate hopelessness and futility that drives some people to believe killing offers their only chance for significance, whether that means wiping out one life or dozens.

Kay Coles James, president of The Heritage Foundation, put it this way: “The knee-jerk answer by many liberal is ‘ban guns.’ But I think the questions we face are just too complex to be resolved by two little words.”

Associated Press/Photo by Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times Associated Press/Photo by Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times Jim Piazza speaks in front of a photo of his son, Timothy Piazza, in Bellefonte, Pa., on Friday.

Judge dismisses manslaughter charges in pledge death case

A Pennsylvania judge on Wednesday threw out the most serious charges against 11 former Penn State fraternity members in the nation’s most extensive and closely watched hazing case.

Pennsylvania District Judge Allen Sinclair ruled prosecutors do not have enough evidence to pursue involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza. Six of the defendants saw the charges against them dismissed completely, while the other five will go to trial on lesser charges of furnishing alcohol to minors and conspiracy to commit hazing.

This is the second time Sinclair has thrown out charges in the case. After a similar decision in September, prosecutors refiled charges in November and added new offenses to the list. Sinclair will consider those new charges in May.

This month’s hearing featured more details about the incident, provided in part by previously deleted security camera footage. On Friday, a forensic pathologist testified Piazza could have survived if the fraternity members had gotten him help sooner. The security camera footage recovered by the FBI after one of the fraternity members erased it, shows the young men serving pledges drink after drink. Piazza consumed 18 drinks in about 82 minutes. He eventually fell down the basement stairs and spent the night on the fraternity house's first floor. He ended up back in the basement the next morning, with his head on the floor in between his arms.

Members of Beta Theta Pi carried him upstairs about two hours later but waited another 40 minutes to call an ambulance. He later died at a hospital from severe head injuries, including a skull fracture, and a shattered spleen that caused massive abdominal bleeding. —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Carlos Giusti Associated Press/Photo by Carlos Giusti Students at Ramon Marin Sola Elementary School in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico embraces charter schools

Puerto Rican lawmakers are pushing ahead with a plan to approve charter schools on the island, despite virulent opposition from the local teachers union. Under the plan Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is expected to sign, nonprofit organizations can open charters in new locations or apply to convert existing public schools to charters. Education officials say the move will help reform a system already struggling before Hurricane Maria drove many families to relocate to the U.S. mainland, leaving classrooms empty. Puerto Rico’s reforms also include a small number of vouchers that will help some low-income students and those with disabilities attend private schools. The island’s charter embrace has drawn comparisons to New Orleans, which turned almost all of its public schools into charters after Hurricane Katrina. The New Orleans education experiment had mixed results, an outcome charter advocates blame on over regulation. When he announced his charter plan in February, Rosselló emphasized the necessity of flexibility and innovation: “In Puerto Rico, we have extraordinary talent, intelligence, and capacity in our students and teachers. What we lack is a system that lets us develop these talents.” —L.J.

Arizona voters get final say on school choice plan

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled last week that voters should be allowed to consider a measure repealing an expansion of the state’s school choice program. Last year, lawmakers narrowly voted to open the Empowerment Scholarship Account to all students, making it the most expansive school choice program in the country. Opponents collected enough signatures on a petition to get a repeal initiative on the November ballot. School choice supporters insisted the petition language contained inaccurate information and fought the ballot measure in court. Now both sides will refocus efforts on the November election. It’s a battle sure to draw big donors and lots of outside interest. Meanwhile, Arizona teachers are waging a separate campaign for better pay and school funding. If they continue to stage walkouts that cut into education time and leave parents scrambling to find childcare during the workday, they might find themselves with fewer supporters on Election Day. —L.J.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Thu, 03/29/2018 07:06 am

    I wonder if there might be a deterrent effect of having an armed officer of some sort on campus. The data seem to go against this as noted above. Of around 200 incidents in the last 19 years there seems to be little or no deterrent effect. At the same time it seems that this cannot be easily measured. We don't know how many times a potential target was changed or dropped because the potential attacker knew there was an armed guard around. 

    So do we spend lots and lots of money for what may be a potential deterrent? My guess is that we won't do this, at least in the long run. In the short run, maybe.But I'm skeptical that budgets will continue to allow this as time goes by and tax dollars are limited.

  • Bob C
    Posted: Thu, 03/29/2018 11:49 am

    Steve you raise an interesting question, how many potential shooters backed off because there was an armed officer present?  I don’t think knowing that answer helps, because in great majority of actual cases the shooters by passed any armed officers who were present.  The solution needs to be aimed at the problem, which as the article states is, “the desperate hopelessness and futility that drives some people to believe killing offers their only chance for significance, whether that means wiping out one life or dozens”.   I propose the problem starts and ends with the parents. Parents who are not engaged with what is going on in their child’s life at school, is the source of the problem.  When the parents are engaged with what is happening at their kid’s school, the teachers and administration are more likely to help, if there are issues or problems for the child.  I think an investigation would discover that the majority of shooter’s had parents who were not, or hardly involved, with their kid’s school.          

  • Narissara
    Posted: Thu, 03/29/2018 05:15 pm

    And I would suspect, although I don't know for a fact, that in the majority of cases, the father's presence was non-existent.

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sat, 03/31/2018 07:40 pm

    Deterrence works only when the potential murderer cares about his own life. I could be wrong, but I think that a good number (majority?) of mass shootings end in the shooter's death. So there is a suicidal bent to this evil.

    Maybe adding unknowns to the mix like allowing teachers to carry concealed might help. But at any rate, it seems to me that broadening our focus from simple deterrence to tactical flexibility would benefit us.

  • momof 13
    Posted: Fri, 03/30/2018 05:22 pm

    My heart breaks for the parents of Timothy Piazza. May the LORD comfort you in your loss. 

  • not silent
    Posted: Fri, 03/30/2018 11:02 pm

    I keep seeing statistics about school shootings, and seems to me that statistics can be used to prove almost anything.  However, they don't always seem to reflect what is really important-at least not in my opinion.  Statistics are just numbers-they don't take into account the human factor, the emotional impact of things.  For example, according to an FBI website listing homocide statistics from 2011: regarding homocides for which the circumstances were known, most involved the use of guns (67.8%).  In cases where the relationship between the perpetrator and victim was known, 53.3% of the victims were killed by someone they knew and 36.5% of female murder victims were killed by husbands or boyfriends.  42.9% of victims were murdered during arguments.  According to a different website, there were zero fatalities from terrorist attacks in the US that year.. 

    Even if you looked at average numbers over a period of years, the percentage of deaths from terrorism is very low.  According to, there are approx 16,238 murders per year.  According to, the TOTAL number of deaths in the US from terrorism from 1995-2014 was 3264.  Based on thesse statistics alone, one might conclude that terrorism isn't a very important cause of deaths in the US; but we are VERY concerned about it.  Why?  I don't think it's hard to explain: while the death of any person is tragic, when acts of terrorism occur, they are shattering for the entire country.  The attacks on Sept 11, 2001 which resulted in over 3000 deaths traumatized our entire country.  Even though major terrorist attacks do not happen all that often, they cause major emotional impacts when they do.

    Mass shootings at schools like the one that occurred in Parkland are also shattering, even if they do not happen very often.  The article says that the mass shootings at Columbine, Sandy Hook Elementary, and Stoneman Douglas account for 43% of the deaths in the past 19 years and that in each case rifles capable of firing numerous rounds were used.The article also says that 68 of the schools that experienced shootings had resource officers on campus, which tells me that there were at least 68 total events and probably more!  So 43% of the school shooting deaths happened during these unusual cases (less than 5%) that were "random" shootings committed by someone using a rifle capable of firing numerous rounds of ammo.  I am not sure about the overall message of the article because it told us a number of things that suppposedly didn't work and then ended with a quote that seemed to say the problem was "too complex to solve" by banning guns.  Are we supposed to do nothing?   I'm afraid I can't accept that.  Even if this type of shooting IS less common than other types, I can't help wondering how waiting until mass school shootings are MORE common will help us!  When the US was attacked on Sept 11, terrorist attacks in the US were almost nonexistent; but the event wounded us deeply and led us to take drastic action.  It was pretty complex to change the way we fly, but we did it because it was NECESSARY. 

    Instead of saying the problem is too rare for us to care about or that it is too complex to solve I would suggest that we study the problem carefully and find reasonable and effective solutions. Why wait for more trauma?


  • Narissara
    Posted: Sat, 03/31/2018 04:01 pm

    What causes me the most heartburn about school shootings is the fact that the victims are there because the law says they have to be.  The law says parents have to entrust their children for six to eight hours a day to state employees who cannot guarantee their safety.  Instead of empowering teachers to do more to actively protect their charges, these same employees are now talking about disarming those parents who would choose to own a firearm to protect their own children.  Indeed, children might stand a better chance in their own homes because a perpetrator isn’t as likely to know whether or not the parents are armed.  There’s no question schools are gun-free zones; the kids are sitting ducks and most of the solutions that are considered reasonable are passive at best.