Build Up Student Mental Health, Not Fences, to Prevent School Violence

The number of shootings that are occurring at schools is rising.

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there have been 417 school shootings in the United States between 2010 and 2019. Sadly, when those annual totals are broken down, an upward trend becomes quite clear. The past two years have seen more school shootings than all five years prior.chart (1).png

One study from the DHS also breaks down the affiliation of the shooter to the school. It indicates that over 70% of school shooters have a direct affiliation to the school with the vast majority being current students. The rest of this group is comprised of former students, parents of current students, and individuals that have approval to be on campus for sporting events.

This means that the majority of school shooters have complete and total access to school grounds, buildings, and classrooms. These individuals are able to walk past any and all physical security measures including fencing, school resources officers, and surveillance cameras. Still, school districts spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on new security fencing and HD cameras in an effort to deter violence. According to The Washington Post, school shootings have fueled a school security industry worth $2.7 billion.

Such precautionary measures would only be beneficial if the shooter does not have an affiliation with the school.

  • Sandy Hook Elementary School had security fences in place. The shooter was the son of a substitute teacher. 20 children and six staff members were killed.
  • Stoneman Douglas High School employed an SRO. The shooter, a former student at SDHS, was able to enter the school building after the outer doors were unlocked for dismissal. 14 students and three teachers were killed.
  • Sante Fe High School employed two SROs. The shooter was a current student. Nine students and one teacher died.
  • Saugus High School had security fences and cameras throughout the campus. The shooter was a current student. Two students died in the attack.

The results of these shootings are tragic. In all, over the past decade, 225 children left for school in the morning and never made it home. This problem simply cannot be stopped by installing fences and security cameras. The solution requires a more proactive and comprehensive approach.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in five children experiences a mental health problem during their school years. Examples of mental health problems include stress, anxiety, bullying, family problems, depression, learning disabilities, as well as alcohol and substance abuse. Serious mental health problems, such as self-injurious behaviors and suicide, are on the rise, particularly among youth. Unfortunately, up to 60% of students do not receive the mental health treatment they need due to social stigma and lack of access to services. Of those who do get help, nearly two-thirds do so only in school.

The Child Mind Institute reports that half of all mental illness occurs before the age of 14, with 75% by the age of 24. These statistics highlight the need for schools to be able to address mental health concerns early on and with fidelity, an approach that focuses on early intervention strategies rather than last-minute crisis response. It’s imperative that these at-risk students be given the support they need before they engage in dangerous and violent behavior.

Unfortunately, the mental health services that are present in school exist mostly at the high school level. These programs are constantly acting in a crisis mode as many of the teenagers that these programs serve have already been exposed to some level of trauma in the past. It is vital that mental health services are provided for students earlier in life in order to provide support early on. A study from the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools reports that students who receive early positive behavioral health interventions see improvements on a range of behaviors related to academic achievement, beyond letter grades or test scores.

Building fences and installing cameras will not provide these struggling students the support they need. Our nation’s education system needs to invest more time and resources to the mental health and wellbeing of all its students. The U.S. Department of Education has announced a series of grants to help fund mental health education programs in schools. Information on these grants can be found here.

About the Author

Dr. David Franklin, Ed.D. is a nationally and internationally recognized speaker and an experienced school administrator, consultant, curriculum designer, and professor of education. Dr. Franklin has presented at education conferences around the world delivering keynotes and breakout sessions and is currently serving as National Education Consultant for Securly.

Published by David Franklin

Dr. David Franklin is an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter. Dr. Franklin has presented at national and international education conferences as is available for school and district professional development sessions.

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