With heightened uncertainty comes social isolation, as well as an increase in both mental health issues and violence.
As students are returning to in-person schooling, many have witnessed another consequence of the coronavirus pandemic – and it doesn’t have much to do with its spread. Administrators, families, and state legislators are noticing an uptick in student violence. This ever-increasing threat means that those in charge experiencing adverse effects have had to implement new measures to keep everyone safe.
Mass shootings at schools have been reported over the years, and today many schools have already rolled out protocols for handling especially dangerous situations, teaching students what to do in case of an emergency. Now, public data has found that gun violence rose to its highest point in nearly two decades. This, administrators believe, has to do with a number of factors, including heightened mental health issues resulting from social isolation and fear of contracting the virus, grieving the loss of individuals who’ve passed, and other pandemic-related adverse events.
According to The Washington Post, as of mid-August 2021, “137 individuals under 18 had been injured due to gun violence in Philadelphia” alone. Of those young people, 32 died. ABC6 Philadelphia also reported that “gun violence rates in the city [of Philly] are up 50% over last year.” In addition to Philadelphia-specific data, “there have already been 15 school shootings nationwide as of early September.”
The Columbine High School massacre that happened in April 1999 brought with it widespread shock and fear. Many districts experiencing similar events were unprepared. Luckily, today, schools have initiated crisis response initiatives. However, it’s a shame that it typically takes something terrible like this to happen before preparations are put into place. Now, administrators with knowledge of COVID-era violence can attempt to ensure staff and students are well-trained.
“Everything that is beginning to shape out with regards to gun violence in schools was absolutely predictable. If folks look at the history of gun violence and public schools, it is not somebody deciding at random to shoot up a school. It is the bright, sick minds that are involved in the incident,” insisted Joe Erardi, retired superintendent of Newton Public Schools. “In almost all shooting cases, the individuals were isolates who had nobody. With the pandemic that issue has been exacerbated. Solutions are also no longer limited to simply hardening the building as experts have recognized the importance of taking into consideration community conversations with parents, staff, and elected and appointed officers, as well as the social-emotional needs of students.”
He added that partnering with public safety officers prior to experiencing violent situations is key. Erardi said, “One of the most important things around relationships I tell school leaders is that they must have a professional relationship between the chief public safety official in the community. If they don’t, then there is no safety plan. If that relationship is fractured, it has to be repaired immediately or somebody has to leave, because it is not safe.” Choosing not to delegate entirely, however, is also key, according to Erardi. “If [administrators] delegate school safety and security post-tragedy, they have done a disservice to the community. You have to own it, stand in front of, explain and move forward as harsh corrective.”
Knowledge is power (and certainly the best defense). The more that this issue is brought to light, the more able families are to educate their children on what is happening and what to do when experiencing distress. Also, the more their children become aware of warning signs to report to those in charge, the more likely they will. When people know about gun violence, in general, they can be proactive. This is just another unfortunate consequence of the ‘new normal,’ and it is not one that can simply be ignored.