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Opinion | Heeding Warning Signs Before School Shootings

To the Editor:

Re “When a Student Raises Red Flags, What Is the School’s Responsibility?” (news article, Dec. 5):

As a clinical psychologist who has evaluated dozens of emotionally distressed students who may have posed a danger to their fellow students, I find the story of Oxford High School administrators allowing Ethan Crumbley back into the classroom profoundly disturbing.

The most important pieces of evidence in evaluating potentially violent students are spontaneous actions, writings or statements that provide a window into their fantasy life. Ethan Crumbley searched online for ammunition in class. Then he left a note on his classroom desk expressing a sincere wish: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”

To make schools safe, resources are devoted primarily to active shooter preparedness. Not enough is done to prevent school shootings, especially by training administrators and mental health personnel who decide the fate of at-risk students.

School officials must heed the warning that has already been given by dozens of school shooters: Students who openly express violent wishes, let alone an attending cry for help, must be barred from campus and referred for treatment. They cannot return until they are in treatment, have been psychiatrically evaluated and have been judged not to pose a risk to others.

Paul Siegel
New York
The writer is a professor of psychology at Westchester Community College and Purchase College and helped create the Behavioral Intervention Team for identifying potentially violent students at Westchester Community College.

To the Editor:

As a social worker practicing in mental health settings, I sympathize with the teachers and administrators in the tragic recent school shooting. Evaluating imminent danger is so stressful that a clinician’s first response can be to minimize or deny the potential for harm.

In my clinics, we took two steps to mitigate these reactions. First, a second or even third colleague would always join in the assessment. Second, if there was any question, we would always take the most cautious option, even if it seemed extreme or made a patient or family angry. We had many meetings working on these protocols and concluded that it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Judith Levitan
New York

To the Editor:

Re “Suspect’s Parents Charged in Michigan School Attack” (front page, Dec. 4):

Karen D. McDonald, the prosecutor who announced charges of involuntary manslaughter against Ethan Crumbley’s parents, said she was angry as a mother, a prosecutor and a person living in this country because the shooting might have been prevented and others should be deterred.

But charges, trials and payments to victims always come too late. And deterrence is a myth anyway. When guns can be easily acquired, can be carried by minors under certain circumstances and do not need to be stored securely, the solution cannot be to just emphasize the last link in a long chain of causation. Blaming the obviously struggling parents is certainly necessary (and convenient), but it diffuses actual responsibility.

People in this country bask in the light of the right to gun ownership, but when the uncontrollable risks that naturally come with the loose handling of guns materialize in these terrible events, it is not sufficient to focus on what happened in the 11th hour under a paradigm of justice that becomes staler with every new death through a gun.

Ralph Grunewald
Madison, Wis.
The author is an assistant professor in the Center for Law, Society and Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

To the Editor:

The reference to the massacre at Oxford High School as “the year’s deadliest school shooting” is, through no fault of the reporter, shocking in its banality.

The fact that we now compare the numbers of schoolchildren murdered the way we might measure the stock market (“this year’s most volatile trading day”) or sports teams (“their biggest loss this season”) is disgusting.

If school shootings are banal, then we are evil.

Raleigh Mayer
New York

To the Editor:

Once again, after a mass school shooting, we’re shown the disarray in the classrooms or the sweet faces of the slaughtered students. What we really should see are photos of the dead students, killed violently. Clearly, you would need family permission, and for privacy purposes you could blur their faces.

I remember seeing photos of the massacred body of 14-year-old Emmett Till, brutally murdered in 1955. It shocked the world. His mother knew that we needed to see what they had done to her son.

Seeing the violent destruction of life may be the only way to get Congress to act now.

Helen Morik

To the Editor:

Re “Are Shooter Drills at Schools Really Helping?” (news article, Dec. 3):

I’m old enough to have participated in air-raid drills during World War II, when we sat in our school’s corridors to avoid potential enemy bombs. Now we have shooter drills instead, barricading classroom doors to avoid the growing gun danger from within our schools.

It is sad to have to go through similar anxieties in a time of peace.

Peter Samton
New York

To the Editor:

Re “Anchor Is Fired as CNN Reviews Cuomo Scandal” (front page, Dec. 5):

CNN’s firing of Chris Cuomo is fully justified, but should have come sooner and more decisively. A network promoting itself as “the most trusted name in news” dragging its feet for months smacks of an organization more concerned about ratings and protecting its top star than ethics and the truth.

CNN was wrong in the first place allowing him to interview his brother, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, over the years. But letting him keep his job once it became clear he was helping his brother navigate a sexual harassment scandal was inexplicable.

It shouldn’t have taken the New York attorney general’s revelations showing that Chris Cuomo was more deeply involved in the scandal than previously known to force his ouster. If the new revelations had not been made public, forcing the CNN executives’ hand, one senses that he would still have his job.

Greg Joseph
Sun City, Ariz.
The writer is a retired journalist and television critic.

Regardless of whether the newly proposed gender-neutral “iel” is permanently included in the authoritative dictionary Le Petit Robert, the Académie is fighting a rising tide where global influence will prevail, as it has to the benefit of English as well as countless other languages.

Ted Gallagher
New York

To the Editor:

Paul Krugman’s column convinced me that the progressive legislation being fostered by our government is likely to enhance the well-being of our country (“Spending as if the Future Matters,” Nov. 23). I was happy.

Then I read Michelle Goldberg’s equally convincing column reminding readers that American voters tend to react against the party in power and that many Republicans are doing some truly awful things in order to attain power (“The Problem of Political Despair,” Nov. 23). I was unhappy.

So I reminded myself of an aphorism that I saw many years ago written on the chalkboard in the gym of Columbia University’s Teachers College: “Happiness is a state of mind over which you have control.”

Therefore, I choose to believe that large numbers of new and thoughtful voters will agree that the progressive policies described by Mr. Krugman deserve our votes and political efforts.

That’s my opinion and I am happy to stick with it!

Bernard Gutin
Durham, N.C.

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