Posts Tagged ‘Guns in School’

Criminalizing the Disease of Addiction is Wrong Approach

September 4, 2019 Comments off

As reported by, an NBC news story indicates that 38% of the school districts in the US will be doing some kind of screening for drugs, up from 25% a year ago. At the same time the money being spent on prevention programs at the elementary level is declining. The bottom line is that we have decided to spend scarce dollars on law enforcement instead of spending it on medical prevention. This same approach is also being used to address the issue of school shootings where we are devoting billions to hardening schools to protect students from alienated outsiders while slashing budgets for student services. Fear is a potent force and protecting children from bogeymen is a powerful narrative. We need to use medical science and data to guide our decision making… not fear and compelling stories.


Video Surveillance in School Hallways + AI = Training Students for a Future WITH Guns and Stealth Mental Illness Screening

August 27, 2019 Comments off

I’ve written several posts decrying the expanded use of surveillance cameras and cautioning against the use of facial recognition software in schools, so when I read that President Trump is proposing to use AI to flag potential mass murderers I was immediately appalled. To be clear as possible, here’s a synopsis of the President’s proposal as reported by Common Dreams reporter Julia Conley:

As The Washington Post reported Thursday, the Trump administration has worked with Bob Wright, a close friend of Trump’s and his collaborator on the reality show “The Apprentice,” to develop a proposal for a new federal agency that would be called the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA), within the Health and Human Services Department.

HARPA would be modeled after and led by a top official at the Pentagon’s research office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has developed drones, artificial intelligence meant to merge with deadly weapons, and technology to help U.S. soldiers detect safety threats during deployments.

Instead of developing military equipment, HARPA would draw information from people—gathered strictly from people who opt in to the program, the administration says—to identify “neurobehavioral signs” of “someone headed toward a violent explosive act.”

This would be disturbing enough if our President supported world leaders who value the rule of law, but given that we have a President who extols the virtues of leaders like Vladimir Putin, whose nation has used psychiatry to deem political opponents as mentally unsound, this proposal is very unsettling.

Since school shootings seem to be an area that everyone agrees is the most distressing and every level of government from local school boards to the Federal government seems to think that “hardening” schools is a good idea, it would not surprise me at all to see this new agency conducting field tests in schools.

We are already training our children to accept video monitoring, limited access to public facilities, and training drills designed to protect them from individuals who are unconditionally allowed to purchase military grade weapons designed to inflict maximum damage on soldiers. Do we now want to subject them to profiling based on untested algorithms? Do we want to use AI to identify “neurobehavioral signs” of “someone headed toward a violent explosive act.”? This voter does not want to allow that to happen.

This is America Today: Bullet Proof Backpacks, Retailers’ Active Shooter Drills… and Fear

August 12, 2019 Comments off

I read with dismay that the sales of armored backpacks is peaking and that businesses like Walmart– like public schools and churches– are contemplating active shooter drills. This is our country today, where fear outsells hope and open carry laws and “second amendment rights” are more important than the safety of children, consumers, churchgoers, and citizens gathering in public venues.

Are we headed for a time where we will eventually do everything on-line? As schools scare children with realistic active shooter drills, businesses are invaded by open-carry advocates with AK-47s outfitted in body armor, church activities are invaded by gunmen, public events are disrupted by shootings, more and more Americans become convinced that their lives are in peril whenever they set foot outside their homes. And the 2nd amendment advocates are OK with all of this because in their view everyone will be safe when everyone carries a gun and everyone protects their home, presumably with some kind of rapid fire weapon. Those of us who are presumably foolish enough to believe that being armed is unnecessary will be viewed with disdain should we be shot and killed just as a school that fails to offer active shooter drills would be criticized for failing to provide the training needed should they experience one of the regrettably routine school shootings.

And here’s what I find especially troubling: astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was roundly criticized for a tweet he issued pointing out the cold hard fact that statistically speaking gun deaths are relatively rare. He wrote:

In the past 48 hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings.

On average, across any 48hrs, we also lose…

500 to Medical errors
300 to the Flu
250 to Suicide
200 to Car Accidents
40 to Homicide via Handgun

Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.

Mr. deGrasse Tyson did not comment on the rationale for his tweet… but I believe he was trying to stem the groundless fears that compel us to overreact to widely reported sensational news stories. For example, if we used the DATA Mr. deGrasse Tyson gathered to set priorities for how schools might address problems that confront students over the course of their lives, we would spend far more on counseling services and health education, and less on security personnel and surveillance gadgetry. We would be examining the sales of handguns as well as the sales of military grade weapons. We would be spending more to ensure that fewer errors are made in the provision of health care. And last, but not least, children would not be living in fear every time they set foot inside of school. Their parents would not be purchasing bulletproof backpacks. And Walmart would not be worried about conducting active shooter drills.

Mass Killings at El Paso and Dayton Elicit Call from President for Mental Health Services, A Call that is Chilling

August 5, 2019 Comments off

This past weekend 29 people were killed in mass murders perpetrated by two white nationalists operating independent of each other: on in El Paso, TX and one in Dayton, OH. The murderer in El Paso issued a manifesto full of language that mirrored the xenophobic exhortations of President Trump at his campaign rallies. The murderer in Dayton had a history of developing “hit lists” of classmates he wanted to kill.

The President’s reaction to the killings was that we have “a mental illness problem” in our country and he urged bi-partisan support for increased background checks prior to the purchase of guns.

I am concerned that Mr. Trump’s focus— and that of all NRA-owned legislators— seems to be on “mental health”. I am concerned because we have a POTUS who’s record on truth-telling is horrible, who holds science in low regard, and whose admiration for totalitarian leaders is high. It is not implausible that Mr. Trump might well define those who oppose him as “mentally ill”. That seems to be the method used by the world leaders he admires.

I am also concerned because as a retired public school administrator I can only imagine how the FBI might use information gathered by high school disciplinarians to identify “potential shooters” and how much money might be spend to incarcerate those who pose some kind of risk…. money that does not seem to be available to help young children who current face adversity related to poverty.

Until we are willing to spend as much to prevent violence as we are willing to impose it we will not get out of the spiral we find ourselves in today. Ceasing the sale of military style weapons, armor, and bullets is an important and necessary step. Proving help to those in need, however, reinforces our hopes for the future instead of our fears about the present. It would be money well spent.

NYC Mayor Shows the Way Forward to Make Schools Safe AND Fair: More Social Workers and Fewer Arrests

June 23, 2019 Comments off

Earlier this week NYTimes writer Eliza Shapiro reported on a major shift in the approach to discipline in NYC public schools, a shift that will de-emphasize arrests in favor of restorative justice and intervention by social workers. Here’s a synopsis of the recently issued 15 page MOU between the NYPD and NYBOE:

School safety agents will be discouraged — but not explicitly banned — from arresting students or giving summonses for minor offenses like marijuana possession, graffiti or disorderly conduct.

That shift, which was first reported by the education news site Chalkbeat, is covered under an agreement between the Police Department and Department of Education that had not been updated since former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s administration. Mr. de Blasio is also proposing that the maximum length of an out-of-school suspension drop to 20 days from 180 days.

Ms. Shapiro recounts the difficulties Mayor de Blasio faces in making changes to the existing discipline system, citing widely differing ideas about what is needed to maintain school safety. On the one hand there are students who want to remove metal detectors from school and on the other are teachers who oppose Mr. de Blasio’s eminently reasonable proposal to ban suspensions in Kindergarten. This incremental change, I believe, moves the district in he right direction, which appears to move in the direction of replacing police officers and arrests with social workers and restorative justice. Here’s Ms. Shapiro’s synopsis:

After years of sometimes rocky experimentation with ways to replace former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s so-called zero tolerance approach, the city will use restorative justice practices that emphasize defusing conflict over suspensions in all middle and high schools starting in the next school year. The city will add 85 new social workers, funded as part of the final city budget, to schools in an attempt to ease the transition.

Ms. Shapiro notes that Mr. de Blasio’s shift in the school discipline is congruent with his overall aim for the city:

Mr. de Blasio has heralded his school safety agenda as a microcosm of his broader goal that the city can be both safe and fair to black and Hispanic communities who have had the most contact with the criminal justice system.

Mr. de Blasio’s critics on the left might not think he is moving fast enough… but in fairness to the mayor, he is fighting two potent forces in introducing the changes to the system: fear and racism.


This is What a Safe School Looks Like: Walls, Good Guys With Guns, Surveillance Cameras, and Technology that Identifies Source of Gunfire

June 2, 2019 Comments off

Our local newspaper featured an article by AP writer Stefanie Dazio outlining the steps taken at a Beverly Hill Junior High School. The article gave me chills. Here are a few paragraphs from her piece describing some of the “safety features” at the Horace Mann, which are in bold print:

Beverly Hills is among 200 U.S. school districts using the Share911 app. The board of education added it and other measures, including armed security officers, following the Parkland shooting.

In the fall, the district will add a central command center that will monitor feeds from all the district’s surveillance cameras and use software to monitor keywords in online search traffic for potential threats.

“Safety in schools is evolving. Technology and software, like in all aspects of the modern world, need to be utilized and used,” said Christopher Hertz, district director of school safety. “We want our kids to feel and be safe. … If we do all this, then our teachers can do what they need to do.”

Wealthier areas have not been immune to violence. Horace Mann parents and teachers stressed that they and students feel safe within the walled campus, and not just because it’s in an exclusive area.

We live in a nation that wants to build a wall, use facial recognition software, expand the use of surveillance cameras, and monitor our social media to “protect us” from incoming migrants, criminals who live among us, and potential criminals who are using our new high tech devices to find information on how best to commit crimes. This will require the expenditure of billions of dollars, money that is no longer available for the personal face-to-face interventions that guidance counselors, social workers, and teachers could provide if we had more robust staffing in schools. But despite the loss of these opportunities Dazio reports that most parents and teachers in Beverly Hills appreciate the school district’s efforts:

“I’m grateful I live in this community that has so much security, and I know they are protected,” Evelyn Lahiji, 42, said as she picked up her sons, Lorenzo Naghdechi, 8, and Leonardo Naghdechi, 9.

Christina Richner, 45, said her 6-year-old son, Julian, and 9-year-old daughter, Olivia, have gone through so many emergency drills that “their reflexes will kick in” during a shooting.

The students are trained to gather in a corner with the classroom’s lights out and blinds drawn in a lockdown, social studies teacher Laura Stark said. Staffers check in via the Share911 app to share information, including if any kids are missing or injured.

The real beneficiaries of this, though, are the companies who sell this equipment, companies who lobby as hard as the major corporations and who benefit whenever a school shooting takes place. Ms. Dazio describes these military-technological businesses that prey on the fears of parents as

a billion-dollar industry where companies manufacture products from “ballistic attack-resistant” doors to smoke cannons. The hardening market, as well as lobbying efforts to get taxpayer dollars to fund upgrades, had stalled in recent years but rekindled after the Parkland shooting.

No matter that these businesses are siphoning those billions from revenue starved schools who often cut teachers to provide these kinds of “hardening” products, no matter that other businesses are springing up to provide staff development to teachers so they can train students to “…gather in a corner with the classroom’s lights out and blinds drawn in a lockdown“, we should capitalize on fear to promote spending. That seems to have worked at the national level… and seems to be working locally as well.

‘Fight if You Must’: Students Take a Front-Line Role in School Shootings – The New York Times

May 10, 2019 Comments off

Some students appear to have concluded that they cannot wait for a teacher or security officer to protect them during a school shooting.
— Read on

It appears that the only way schools will ever get the help they need to address mental health issues is to call them “threat assessment teams”. Uniting people based on fear is always easier than uniting them out of compassion for those who are troubled.

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