What does it say about the world today that in between the lessons on algebra, English and geography we have to teach students about the cold reality of life and death?
Perhaps it speaks to societal changes — although we won’t say it is indicative of an increasingly violent time in history. More than anything, it says that preparing for something with the hope it never occurs is better than not having a course of action.
School-involved attacks are unfortunately not new — the first one recognized in the U.S., the Enoch Brown school massacre in 1764, resulted in the death of nine schoolchildren and their teacher at the hands of American Indian warriors. They are not isolated to the United States, either. The Bremen school shooting in Germany in 1913 left five dead — and is one of 22 in Europe since that time. Sixteen school shootings have taken place in Canada, three in Mexico, two in South Africa and 12 in Asia.
Many of the attacks at schools and universities over the years have been thwarted without any loss of life or have involved singular targets.
The number of shooting incidents is on the decline —according to the National School Safety Council, there were 12 school-property shooting deaths each year on average from 2009 to 2014, compared to 27 a year on average from 1992 to 1997. What is on a dangerous trajectory upward is the number of people killed in confrontations lately.
Although the largest loss of life in a school attack came in 1927 in Bath Township, Michigan, when a man killed his wife and then bombed the school, the attacks since 1999 are growing deadlier. Fifteen died in the shooting in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999; 27 died in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut; 33 died in the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.
The problem is serious — made worse in some regards by the exaggeration of facts and the 24/7 coverage by national news media — but it’s important to remember that schools remain some of the safest environments for children and young adults.
What makes the difference if and when an attack occurs is advance preparation and clear communication.
That’s where a series of bills signed into law comes in.
In addition to making some money available for school and university safety improvements, the law will allow teachers and administrators to provide first responders and law enforcement personnel with updates to emergency and crisis plans through electronic devices.
Most important is that the laws recognize the importance of conduct annual school-shooting drills and reviews of security preparations.
The drills have been required for about a year for public schools, but now is extended to require the practice among the 1,800 private schools and the 300,000 students who attend them in the state.
“Parents need to have confidence that their children will be safe throughout the school day and kids should be able to focus solely on their studies,” state schools Superintendent Christopher A. Koch said.
Laws that focus on ensuring preparation rather than giving into fear are an important part of keeping classrooms as safe as possible.