A Day of Tragedy
[caption id="attachment_1146" align="alignleft" width="400"] Image courtesy of Simon Howden[/caption] Monday, February 27, 2012: A Day of Tragedy It’s almost ironic, but when I sat down yesterday to write my daily education news article I seriously considered reviewing a government report about the decline of violence in schools. But, when I found a great report on autism that was a bit more complete, I decided to write about it instead and moved on with my day – until 7:45 a.m. That’s when the first shots were fired at Chardon High School just outside Cleveland, OH. I read the first news reports of the shootings a few hours earlier and found myself transported back to a similar day in April 1999 when, as a high school student, my idea of what it means to be safe in school changed forever. Few adults realize or remember the days and weeks following Columbine as well as those of us who were the same age as its victims. The concept that our school hallways could be grounds for so much anger and tragedy was truly jolting for an adolescent just coming to know the world. At my suburban New York high school, scheming teenagers took that tragedy as an excuse to lodge false “bomb threats” at the school almost daily. Something as simple as the word “BOM” scrawled on a bathroom stall sent administrators and teachers into a panic. At first, the break from class was nice, but after a while the constant jaunts into the sports fields got old as we processed what these “threats” really meant. A few years later, as a graduate teaching assistant, the reality of violence at school hit a little too close to home yet again. I was teaching my own class of freshmen at the time of the Virginia Tech shootings, and I remember the fear in those students’ eyes. They were too young to remember Columbine like I did, so this was all new to them and déjà vu to me. Away from home for the first time in their lives, these young adults began to comprehend the impact and assault that violence in school has on our collective conscience as students and teachers. It is hard to explain, even as a writer paid to do just that. So, rather than present yet another article that takes you through yesterday’s tragedy or talks about the horror going forward for the families of its victims, I wanted to share a piece written by one of Cleveland’s local reporters about the “decline” in gun violence in our nation’s schools. Through referencing that same report I was going to review yesterday, Lisa Hoffman explains that numbers are “remaining steady.” However the tone of her report as well as the echoes of the nation’s discourse this morning reminds us that the concept of a gun in school at all is unacceptable. As a mother, a teacher and someone who remembers the wounds of April 20, 1999 all too clearly, I pray that it is in this direction we move… Chardon High School Shooting the Latest in a Deadly Month for the Nation’s Schools By Lisa Hoffman, writing for WEWS, ABC News’ Cleveland affiliate This month alone, at least four shootings of students have occurred in schools across the country, including Monday's deadly attack outside Cleveland, Ohio. Experts say the spate of shootings may be coincidental and not indicative of a troubling trend. They note that, overall, crime and violence in America's schools have been declining in recent years. And murders are particularly uncommon. Homicide in a school setting “is a rare event,” said Jennifer Truman, a Bureau of Justice Statistics statistician and co-author of a new federal report on school violence. The study counted 17 homicides of school-age youths at U.S. schools from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010, which was “the same as the year before,” Truman said. The annual report, released last week, is a joint effort by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and National Center for Education Statistics. Even so, the February shootings, along with confiscations of high-powered weapons in other school hallways this year, are noteworthy. According to news accounts, the following shootings occurred this month: -- On Feb. 10 in Walpole, N.H., a 14-year-old boy shot himself in the face in a crowded elementary school cafeteria. The teen, who police said was upset by a "relationship issue," survived. -- On Feb. 20, two teens wielding guns shot at a group of kids at a Murfreesboro, Tenn., school. A 14-year-old student was shot twice in the leg. The shootings allegedly stemmed from a beef between two groups, police said. -- On Feb. 22, a .45-caliber handgun a 9-year-old boy in Bremerton, Wash., had stashed in his backpack accidentally discharged, critically wounding an 8-year-old girl in their elementary school classroom. Police said the boy found the gun at his mother's house and brought it to school because he wanted to run away from home. Those were not the only incidents involving guns in the nation's schools in the first two months of the year. In Las Vegas, authorities confiscated a 9-mm handgun from a 16-year-old student at a high school on Jan. 30, and on Feb. 2, stumbled upon a loaded .32-caliber handgun when they searched a teenage student at another high school who was suspected of stealing property from a classmate. In Harper Woods, Mich., near Detroit, a 16-yearold student was showing off the 9-mm handgun he had brought to his high school when it went off. No one was injured, but a search of the campus found two more guns. In Mesa, Ariz., on Jan. 6, a 7-year-old boy on a school bus inadvertently discharged a handgun hidden in his backpack. The single shot missed the 30 elementary students aboard for the ride home. Authorities said the youngster got the weapon from a closet at home, and had it with him all day at school. Twelve days later, in the same Arizona city, a 12-year-old boy was caught with a semiautomatic handgun and a loaded magazine at his junior high school. The seventh grader said he got the weapon from his granfather's house, and took it to school because he felt threatened there and suicidal, police said. Experts say a focus on making schools more secure, training to recognize the signs of a potentially violent student, and heightening efforts to curb bullying have been the positive legacy of the April 20, 1999 massacre of 12 students and a teacher by two students at Columbine High School in Colorado. Even so, the Columbine tragedy continues to carry a fascination for some troubled students. "Copy cat threats are a real serious problem," said Dewey G. Cornell, director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project and a University of Virginia professor of education and school psychology. "We see them every springtime around the anniversary of Columbine. We have kids who make copycat threats not only in the United States but in Europe," Cornell said. "The dilemma for schools is how do you tell the difference between someone who is being foolish and someone who intends to commit a serious act of violence.