Schooled Reporting on education

Emotion and reality in the school safety debate

Education | Will government measures to protect students on campus really help? 
by Leigh Jones
Posted 3/14/18, 12:17 pm

The Trump administration on Sunday announced the formation of a new school safety task force to evaluate ways to make U.S. students safer on campus. The committee will examine a diverse range of proposals, including arming teachers.

But are such extreme measures really necessary?

According to a recent study by researchers at Northeastern University in Boston, they’re not.

“There is not an epidemic of school shootings,” said James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology, law, and public policy.

Contrary to the alarming statistics widely reported earlier this year, which included a variety of incidents that did not affect students, school shootings remain rare, Fox’s research revealed. Since 1996, records show 16 school shootings that involved multiple victims and at least two deaths. Of those, only eight qualified as mass shootings, incidents that included four or more deaths. During the past 25 years, 10 students died each year, on average, as a result of gunfire on campus.

Fox notes more children die each year from pool drownings and bicycle accidents. And the frequency of school shootings has declined since the 1990s, which saw four times more students die in school shootings than today.

Education and government officials should still consider ways to make students safer, Fox said, but they need to approach the task with realistic expectations.

“The thing to remember is that these are extremely rare events, and no matter what you can come up with to prevent it, the shooter will have a workaround,” he said.

Lawmakers in several states are considering raising the age to buy rifles, the mass shooting weapon of choice, from 18 to 21. But Fox noted only five mass shootings in the last 35 years involved a shooter younger than 21. Installing physical security measures such as barriers and metal detectors have also proven ineffective, Fox said.

Despite the evidence, lawmakers continue to debate new security measures, and parents continue to fear for their students’ lives. One company is cashing in on the alarm with bulletproof backpacks, although the Justice Department recently pilloried claims the bags passed any kind of official safety rating certification. And around the country, parents and officials are lobbying for more police officers on campus, a measure promoted by Florida Gov. Rick Scott after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.

But Stoneman Douglas had a sheriff’s deputy on campus, and that didn’t stop what became the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. Still, it’s hard to listen to pleas from grieving parents and shrug off attempts to do something to prevent another tragedy.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, charged with leading the Trump administration’s new school safety commission, vowed Sunday to fight for “every student and teacher to have a safe environment. “We will bring together a wide array of practitioners, including teachers, those on the front lines, to help identify best practices and solutions that are working in communities and states across the country,” she said.

Becket Becket InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Wayne State University

Off again, on again

Last week I told you about Harvard University’s decision to penalize its biggest campus Christian group over its position on marriage and sexuality. A few days later, religious liberty law firm Becket announced it had filed suit against Wayne State University in Detroit on behalf of another Christian group kicked off campus over the same issue.

The dispute didn’t last long. Two days after Becket filed its lawsuit, the school relented, reinstating InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The lawyers representing the students aren’t sure yet whether the change is permanent.

“It’s good that Wayne State saw the light after it felt the heat,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket. “But after putting these students through the runaround for months, a last-minute change of heart is hardly enough. This kind of official religious discrimination should never happen again. And Wayne State needs to return the thousands of dollars it charged the student group.”

Becket’s on a roll fighting public colleges and universities that try to force Christian groups to abandon faith-based leadership requirements. But private schools present a bigger challenge because they are not held to the same government standards for free speech and religious liberty. —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Adam Beam Associated Press/Photo by Adam Beam Teachers and public workers rally for pay increases Monday at the Kentucky Capitol.

We don’t need no education?

Emboldened by the success of teachers in West Virginia, who went on strike for nine days and forced state legislators to give them a 5 percent raise, educators in other states are issuing walkout warnings. For days, teachers in Kentucky have filled the state Capitol to protest planned pension benefit cuts. The teachers union in Oklahoma wants lawmakers to consider $10,000 in pay raises over three years, which would bring educators there closer to the $58,950 national average. They’ve warned of a possible strike if their demands aren’t met. In Arizona, where teachers also want a bigger pay raise, organizers asked educators to wear red Wednesday in a show of solidarity—and to test support for a walkout, something West Virginia teachers proved possible. “To be able to do that there? I think people in Arizona started looking at each other saying, ‘Wow!’” said Noah Karvelis, an art teacher in Phoenix who helped organize the wear red campaign. But West Virginia teachers drew strength from their unity: So many participated that officials had to close every school in the state. The same level of solidarity might be hard to achieve on a bigger scale. —L.J.

A popular choice in Illinois

Administrators for the Illinois tax credit scholarship program have a stack of 33,000 applications to process for its first year of grants. State lawmakers in the reliably blue state approved the school choice program last year, and its popularity so far testifies to the desire of low-income families to have more say over their children’s education. But many of them won’t get a scholarship for next year: Empower Illinois, the biggest scholarship administrator in the state, expects the program to max out at 15,000 grants. Donors have pledged $46 million toward the program so far. —L.J.

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Leigh Jones

Leigh is acting managing editor for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.

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  • Katie
    Posted: Wed, 03/14/2018 01:16 pm

    I do not believe Stoneman Douglas was the deadliest school shooting in US History, as the article states. Sandy Hook unfortunately saw 26 people die, Virginia Tech had more than that, and if you go back in history an even deadlier school attack occurred in the 1920s. 

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Wed, 03/14/2018 02:41 pm

    Thank you for pointing out the error. We have clarified that it was the deadliest high school shooting in the United States.

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Wed, 03/14/2018 04:05 pm


    Re: Emotion and Reality in the School Safety Debate

    I can't believe what I am reading here. Is this a news article or a World Opinion piece? If an opinion piece, then I am extremely disappointed in World, as a Christian magazine. If a news article, then quotations should be used frequently to indicate that certain statements are claims made by so-and-so, in this case, Fox News, rather than actual facts.

    This is objectionable language that smacks highly of opinion:

    1) The Headline. "Emotion and Reality". This headline already implies that there is a large disjunct between today's student demonstrations and reality. Connotations of the vocabulary of course favor the side of "reality."

    2) " But are such extreme measures really necessary?" When did taking steps to ensure school safety become "extreme measures?" Is that World speaking? This is America, folks. It is never okay for any child to be shot up in a school. Taking measures to ensure safety in a government mandated institution for children is not extreme. It's expected, minimal. We should consider school safety at least as seriously as toy safety. A toy shown to cause even one child mortal harm is subject to tremendous regulation or recall.

    3) "School shootings remain rare." That is pure opinion. Consider steak. What is "rare" to one person is overcooked to another. These are children's lives we are talking about. Now look at the quoted statistics. "Since 1996, records show 16 school shootings that involved multiple victims and at least two deaths. Of those, only eight qualified as mass shootings, incidents that included four or more deaths. During the past 25 years, 10 students died each year, on average, as a result of gunfire on campus." Once again, "only eight" is callous opinion in reference to dead children, someone else's children, I'm assuming. Eight mass shootings in 22 years is one mass shooting every three years. Who is the god who calls eight mass shootings rare? "10 students died each year, on average, as a result of gunfire on campus." And this, also, is called "rare"?

    Since World is quoting Fox, definitely these are Fox's opinions, but are they also World's opinions? The manner in which World reproduces Fox's abusive control of language causes me to think that World has also adopted these opinions about children being murdered in what should be safe zones.

    4) The central three paragraphs beginning with, "Lawmakers in several states..." seem to be making the argument that nothing works, so why bother? In fact, the last sentence of the third paragraph admits as much, "Still, it’s hard to listen to pleas from grieving parents and shrug off attempts to do something to prevent another tragedy." This is exactly what this article is doing--attempting to shrug off this latest mass shooting at a government school. "No big deal...these numbers are acceptable."

    Why didn't either Fox News or World state a single statistic regarding the success rate of other western nations which have taken large steps to ban guns themselves? We know that Fox is biased. I never knew that World Magazine considered school safety a negotiable item. If automobiles somehow were to crash into schools and kill as many students in multiple incidents as have been killed by guns, you can be sure our country's legislators would bend over backward to correct the situation.

    This article is slanted towards one side of the debate. It's an opinion piece. It's presenting the emotionally biased favoritism of Fox News towards guns as though their presentation is fact. If this Fox News reprint represents World's opinion, then this article should be clearly labeled as an opinion piece. This is written as an editorial pretending to be news. And if it is news, then it's only half of the story.

  • SB101
    Posted: Fri, 03/16/2018 09:45 am

    West Coast Gramma, the author is not regurgitating Fox News. She is quoting James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology, law, and public policy. You seemed to be upset because you thought she was parroting Fox News but she's actually quoting a supposed "expert" who has done research on the subject. I hope this clarification helps. 

  •  Bruce's picture
    Posted: Wed, 03/14/2018 05:32 pm

    @WestCoastGramma, I disagree.  I think Ms. Jones did a fine job.  Of course, WorldMag presents news from a certain perspective and is not strictly neutral with respect to the news.  'Rare'?  If you have a zero-tolerance standard, than any event is unacceptable.  Zero-tolerance is not a feasible standard, though.  And I think it is pointless to compare the US to other countries because the fact is that in the USA, people do own guns.  Proscribing the selling of some guns to certain folks, such as those with mental health issues with a tendency for violence, seems good to consider.  But in our country, people are innocent until proven guilty, so the government will not and cannot remove guns from our society.  Finally, it is a fallacy to say that, in recognizing these facts and having a response less than supporting the ban of all gun sales, this means that we don't care about such events as have occurred.  You put words in the mouth of the author.  She did not say anywhere that these tragedies are no big deal.  She reported very accurately that the problem is complex, that the difficulty of knowing what to change (much less doing it) is difficult, and when we as a society just want to do something, not being able to do so is dissatisfying.  She did not say she (or anyone) doesn't care.  Personally, I find your manner of attacking the article problematic and not defensible (you don't yourself provide any facts for consideration, just loud opinions and rhetoric), and you are not convincing me that the article is deficient.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Thu, 03/15/2018 08:28 am

    Thanks Leigh. Good info on all 4 topics. It is good to see some balance on the school shooting tragedies. They are. As are drownings and bicycyle accidents. All 3 areas are important to look for solutions, preventions, that might actually work. Rhetoric and loud protests, emotions, are understandable but do not change anything. But we know our governemnt is good at looking like it cares and implementing measures that will either not make a difference or won't be enforced. We have big issues here and reasoned approaches are critical. And prayer...

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Thu, 03/15/2018 11:41 am

    Hi Steve, I was thinking about accidents just this morning. Mass murder is not accidental. It is purposeful evil. I remember in California the years before smoking laws were passed. Those who did not smoke suffered at the hands of those who did. In those years it seemed like smoke was a given. Eventually, everyone saw the reason and fairness of creating boundaries around the smoke in order to protect those who did not smoke. Guns are no different. And by guns, I don't mean ALL guns. I regret not being more specific in my post. It is not fair to America as a whole to tolerate those who feel that they simply must have their weapons of mass destruction--semi-automatic rifles.

    Semi-automatic rifle violence in schools appears to be random. Do we want an America in which all school children must live in fear and anxiety that their school might be next? Do we want to send our children to environments every year of their young lives in which armed guards roam and teachers carry guns? An expensive solution would be to build impermeable fences around each and every school in America and install guarded gates with metal detectors at every entrance, such as most courthouses and airports  currently have. Is this the environment we want for our children? America was built on compromise. Every word in our Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, was intensely debated by our founding fathers and voted on by every state. It is time to debate semi-automatic rifle control and to make compromise so that all the children in America can live in environments of safety where there is no fear.

    As far as emotion goes, have you never read the passage about Jesus Christ when he had what might be called an emotional response in the temple, "His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." (Joh 2:17 ESV)" America is our house, and all the students in America are our children. The NRA and Fox News is saying that it's ok to sacrifice "a few" children so that the rest of them can continue to buy semi-automatic weapons of mass destruction at will. I think response to that merits a bit of zeal.

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Fri, 03/16/2018 10:16 am

    SB101: Thank-you for the correction. Knowing that the source of the article is a single sociological study led by a single individual for some reason causes me to think of Peter Singer, advocate of "abortion" extending to the period after a child is born, even by several years. The statistics James Alan Fox uncovered may be exact--it's the value laden labels, "only," "rare," that I find objectionable. Even one instance of an assasin shooting up children in an American public school is unacceptable.

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sat, 03/17/2018 12:19 am

    Feelings produce poor solutions.  When my ear aches, I go to a doctor, who examines my body to figure out what the pain signals, then prescribes the right treatment.  Banging my head against a wall may feel appropriate at the moment, but may further damage my body.

    Likewise, we will produce poor results if we do not distance ourselves from the anger and fear that these murders have provoked just enough to gain perspective.  I see two dangers:  not doing enough, and doing too much.  Fear of governmental overreach will cause the former; fear for our children will cause the latter.

    We will find a path through this problem only when we set aside our fear.  Do we trust God enough to help us to find this path?

  • TXfamily
    Posted: Sat, 03/17/2018 03:29 pm

    I agree with some other commenters that the article seems to imply the risk of getting shot when going to school is comparable to the risk of an accident when biking or swimming.  Maybe there's a statistical similarity, but most of us would agree that there's a huge difference in every other way!  Parents who allow their children to bike or be around water know and accept that there is some risk.  They could forbid their children to do those things or take measures to make them as safe as possible.  Most parents know that "accidents happen."  Mass shootings are not accidents.  And many parents do not have much choice in sending their children to school.   Should they have to say, "Oh, well, the possibility of getting shot is just one of the risks of getting an education . . . "?   I certainly hope not.  Was there a time in our country when that wasn't a risk of going to school? 

    Here is the type of statistic I think would be helpful:  How does the number of school shootings compare with random shootings in other public places?  In other words, is a child more likely to get shot while at school or at the grocery store with his mom?  Do schools actually attract shooters?  If schools are more dangerous than other places, then I certainly think calls for action are justified.  Yes, there will always be mental illness and murder, because we live in a fallen world.  But it seems that special measures could be taken to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens.  Schools should be at least as safe as other places children go.

    This statement from the article disturbed me:  Installing physical security measures such as barriers and metal detectors have also proven ineffective, Fox said.  How can that be true?  Was that "proven" because one school's system wasn't working?  When is the last time a crazy nineteen-year-old got into a federal government building with a gun?  We have tight security protecting most of our elected officials.  If it's been "proven ineffective," then taxpayers need to demand they give up those expensive safeguards.

    I, personally, don't believe that guns are the problem; therefore, I don't believe that gun control is the answer.  But I do believe that there IS a problem.  And I can certainly understand why people are desparate for answers.  Even though I think most of them are going the wrong direction, I certainly don't fault them for wanting to take action and protect their children.  And I think it's unfair to minimize that response by labeling it "emotion." 

  • not silent
    Posted: Mon, 03/19/2018 07:52 pm

    Forgive me for coming in late to this discussion, but I just can't remain silent on this.  I agree with West Coast Gramma.  As for whether school shootings are "rare" or not statistically, to me that's a foolish debate-particularly with comments like "during the past 25 years, 10 students died each year, on average, as a result of gunfire on campus" and "only eight qualified as mass shootings."  Since when is it okay for 10 students to die each year "on average" for ANY reason?  One can use statistics any way one likes.  One could compare the "average" number of Americans killed in terrorist attacks in the US per year from 1995-2014 to the average number killed by murder; and, STATISTICALLY, way more people get murdered each year!  One might conclude that maybe we shouldn't get very worried about terrorists.  Of course, that would fail to take into account the fact that over 3000 people were killed on Sept. 11, 2001 in a very traumatic incident  that changed the way we do MANY things in this country!  It's not about how often school shootings happen-it's that when they happen, they are really traumatic! 

    Of course people are emotional about a school shooting!  If they aren't, something is wrong with them!  I agree that the measures taken to reduce violence should be wise and effective, but doing nothing is clearly not working.  Even though there is a lot of anger and emotion being expressed by the students from Parkland, they seem organized, logical, and articulate.  They are not breaking rules-they even have the backing of their teachers and administration-and they are not destroying property or calling for anyone's death.  They are asking for change and they are using our democracy like it is supposed to work.  In fact, this reminds me quite a bit of the Civil Rights Movement for all the right reasons.  Compare this with the Occupy movement where adults were burning cars and rioting and causing general mayhem.  This is quite different, and these students should be taken seriously and not dismissed as just emotional.