So for however stressed out parents and educators are feeling about the start of the school year, we must remind ourselves that it is children who will be most affected.
Kids pick up on the slightest changes in the moods of adults close to them. Given the levels of anxiety being felt across Vermont today over COVID, there is no “slight.” It is obvious. And that takes a toll.
But kids had enough to think about before COVID. And we need to respond accordingly.
School officials nationwide should improve mental health resources, monitor student social media accounts and improve physical security measures, according to a Justice Department report on school safety released this week.
The report, compiled by the department's School Safety Working Group, examined what the panel believes are the 10 most essential actions that officials can take to prevent mass shootings and other attacks in schools across the U.S.
The study finds that while school administrators need to keep their focus on COVID, they also must balance it with security measures and protocols that have been put in place in recent years to continue to prevent violence in schools.
Among the report’s key findings is the need for a comprehensive school safety assessment, which would be updated annually and would be a foundation for educators to evaluate potential vulnerabilities. School officials often forget to address whether there’s an ability to send an emergency mass notification to students and parents, as well as plans for reuniting families in case of a shooting or a lockdown, the report found. It said school officials should also address the possibility of so-called copy-cat attacks after a mass shooting or other incident at another school.
The report also highlights the importance of mental health services and employees with specialized training to deal with those experiencing a mental health crisis. The report points to the findings of the Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education that many attackers involved in mass attacks at schools had felt depressed or desperate or have experienced a history of suicidal thoughts, though many had not received a formal mental health evaluation or diagnoses.
The report also found that bullying prevention and training programs are critical to reducing school violence. A report by the U.S. Secret Service made public earlier this month found that many of the suspects in mass attacks in the U.S. last year had experienced stressful situations, or had struggled with substance abuse or mental health issues.
A separate Secret Service report released in November found that most students who committed deadly school attacks during the past decade were badly bullied, had a history of disciplinary trouble and their behavior concerned others but was never reported.
Officials also lauded the work of school resource officers - police officers who work in schools and often receive specialized training to address school violence - and pointed to several incidents where those officers had built relationships with students and helped prevent or stop school shootings. The report said school districts may want to consider signing specific agreements with local police to detail the officers’ duties and expectations or hiring private security guards.
Officials say practice drills, anonymous reporting systems and increased coordination with first responders are essential for schools.
Throw in growing concerns about cyberbullying and social media monitoring, and it’s enough to keep all adults up at night. But the bottom line is this: Kids need as much stability as we all can provide right now. We must be supportive, strong and generous with our patience and compassion.
It matters. A lot.