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Opinion | What Can Schools Do About Disturbed Students?

Josh McKivigan, a behavioral health therapist who works with middle and high school students, said that the majority of threats that he has encountered do not turn into violence. “It’s usually students acting out, needing some sort of mental health treatment,” McKivigan said. And he said that students are getting better and better at identifying and sounding the alarm to teachers and counselors when their friends are exhibiting worrying behaviors — like not sleeping, not bathing, isolating from people or saying bizarre things.

Still, he said that as a school therapist, he found the Michigan incident chilling because it seemed, based on reports, like the accused student’s parents weren’t willing to work with the school to help monitor their child. McKivigan also said that with Covid, he’s seeing a baseline level of irritability, anger and mistrust among parents and students alike, which he finds worrisome. “It feels like a perfect storm for a crisis happening,” he said.

Despite the absolute terror that mass shootings inspire in just about everyone, it’s worth pointing out that these types of events are relatively rare, and schools remain among the safest places for children. According to the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which monitors youth behaviors every two years, 11.8 percent of students carried a weapon on school property in 1993 in the 30 days before the survey and only 2.8 percent did in 2019. Brock also pointed out to me that violence in schools is prevented all the time; we just don’t often hear about those cases. The Post just ran a story about a grandmother who did contact authorities, potentially averting a tragedy.

Just because students may be relatively physically safe does not mean they feel psychologically safe. There is evidence that they don’t. According to YRBS data, almost twice the percentage of students missed at least one day school because of safety concerns in the 30 days before the survey than was the case years ago — 8.7 percent in 2019, up from 4.4 percent in 1993. Lauren Koong, who won a Times Learning Network essay contest, wrote about how every time she hears the lunch bell ring at her Houston high school, she is reminded of a gang-related shooting that happened her freshman year.

For too many of our kids, we can’t erase these awful memories, and I confess that after reporting this out, I don’t feel optimistic. Not because I don’t think teachers and school counselors aren’t prepared to address potential violence. On the contrary, I think most of them are doing their best to keep students safe. But they aren’t psychic, and in a country where there are, according to one study, 120.5 firearms for every 100 residents, there will always be the potential for a worst-case scenario.

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