Posts Tagged ‘Guns in School’

‘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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NYTimes Article on China’s Surveillance Bears Chilling Resemblance to Hardened Schools

April 7, 2019 Comments off

Earlier this week the NYTimes ran an article by three journalists full of photographs illustrating how the Chinese government turned a city in the Western part of the country into a virtual prison. The plan required the hiring of hundreds of police, the installation of thousands of surveillance cameras, the systematic collection of data from those cameras, and the use of the data to segregate non-compliant and non-conforming citizens— especially Muslims— from the rest of the presumably “law-aiding” and “normal” residents. Oh… and to make the cameras function more efficiently some older sections of the city that had a maze of alleyways were demolished and replaced with open spaces that could more readily be monitored. And finally, citizens and children are coached to bring misbehavior of their neighbors and classmates to the attention of authorities and any child who acknowledges that they are being taught the Koran by their parents is separated and assigned to a re-education facility.

As one who has read and written frequently about the implicit message the hardening of schools sends to children and the potential for abuse when masses of data are collected, I found an unsettling parallel between the actions of the Chinese government and the actions our local governments and school districts are recommending when it comes to monitoring children in school. This is not the world I want to see anyone live in… and it is certainly not the world I want my grandchildren to live in… but it DOES look a lot like the world we want to create for our public schools.

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Skewed Priorities: 14,000,000 Students Attend a School With a Police Officer But No School Counselor, Nurse, Psychologist, Social Worker

April 3, 2019 Comments off

A Common Dreams article at the end of last month had the subheading that is repeated above. The headline of the article by Angela Mann read:

Why School Psychologists Are Worried About the Mental Health of America’s Students

The article was an outgrowth of a recent study conducted by the ACLU– “Cops and No Counselors,”, written by Ms. Mann and six other experts in the field. Drawing on data from the US Department of Education, the report described the appalling consequences of the nation’s collective decision to “harden” schools instead of supporting students who are experiencing social and emotional problems. She writes:

We found that the majority of K-12 schools are ill-equipped to address the mental health needs of children who are experiencing record levels of anxiety and depression during their formative years.

Children today are reporting just as much stress as adults, with 1 in 3 reporting that they are feeling depressed. Suicide, once on the decline as a risk for young people, is now one of the leading causes of death among youth, second only to accidents. Many of the kids I personally work with have one thing in common: significant trauma histories.

Knowing that suicide is on the increase and those children who are troubled have “significant trauma histories”, how does it help to spend scarce funds on surveillance cameras, entryway upgrades, and “good guys with guns”? How does it help to pass laws that enable teachers to carry weapons in schools? Here’s how Ms. Mann posed those questions, noting that there is no evidence whatsoever that police in schools do anything to improve school safety:

Rather than helping students suffering from stress and depression by investing in adequate support, precious resources have been diverted toward “hardening” schools, including hiring law enforcement personnel who may not be properly trained to work in schools. This approach has been pushed by the Trump administration and many state governments after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, but there is no reliable evidence that embedding police in schools makes children any safer.Yet 14 million students attend a school with a police officer but no school counselor, nurse, psychologist or social worker, as the ACLU report found. This is the epitome of misplaced priorities and the foundation of a crisis.

Ms. Mann notes that improving school safety remains a priority… but the way schools are addressing this priority is maddeningly misbegotten:

…Only three months into 2019, state legislatures nationwide have proposed nearly 250 bills to enhance school security, and the pattern is disconcerting: emergency preparedness and funding for on-campus police officers (without requirements for appropriate training to work in schools) top many lists. While schools need improved threat assessments and crisis response, they also need more funding for mental health services. What we don’t need are more hardening measures like metal detectors, minimally trained law enforcement, and armed teachers. We know that metal detectors can’t detect abuse.

School resource officers, with the right training, can be helpful in addressing depression or suicidal thoughts. But ultimately, identifying and treating these issues is the fundamental job of school psychologists and other mental health staff. It’s up to all of us to make sure that every child has their needs met and goes out into the world with a fighting chance.  

Political capital, like every resource, is limited. Spending it to harden schools is a terrible thing to waste.

School Safety Drills Mandated in Indiana Public Schools vs. Assault Weapon Bans in New Zealand

March 22, 2019 Comments off

I read a post on Facebook this morning that sent me to Google to do some research. The post described an active shooter drill in Indiana that strained credulity, but proved to be based on facts. Here’s the account of the “active shooter drill” as reported in Education Week:

In an active-shooter training, Indiana elementary teachers were asked to kneel down and face a classroom wall before being shot, execution-style, with plastic pellets by local law enforcement.

Terrified teachers were screaming during the exercise, which left them with welts and bruises, according to the Indiana State Teachers Association, which testified about the experience to lawmakers this week. State legislators are considering a school-safety bill that, among other things, would require schools to conduct at least one active-shooter drill each school year. The bill has already passed the state House, and is now being considered by the Senate.

While union leaders support the bill, they want safeguards put in place so that teachers and students are not inadvertently harmed during active-shooter trainings.

Indiana already mandates on “man-made occurrence” drill pre semester, but some districts can opt out and substitute fire drills based on a 2018 report from Fox News.

According to the Indiana Department of Education (DOE), districts are required to conduct one “man-made occurrence drill” each semester. Those drills could include bomb treats, knife threats, or active shooter training. It’s up to each district to decide which of the drills they choose per semester.

Some districts do more than one drill each semester. The state allows schools to substitute a monthly fire drill for an active shooter or lock down drill, if they choose.

And to help organize and review these drills, Indiana requires that each district have a school safety officer who is “...responsible for developing and implementing preparedness plans.”

But this preparedness is not limited to schools:

Indiana State Police (ISP) troopers often go into businesses and offices to teach active shooter training. Sgt. Trent Smith said mass shootings bring an increase in local organizations wanting to learn tools to keep people safe.

ISP teaches the “run, hide, fight,” approach to an active shooter. Sgt. Smith said even with plans and procedures, sometimes tragedies can happen…

Sgt. Smith said that such preparation is necessary because people who are intent on committing mass murders plan carefully, which means fastidious prevention plans are necessary, as are the need to report suspicious behavior:

“These people are very well versed in what they’re doing, their plan. They know what the response time is going to be. They know where the large groups of people are going to be. They know they have a limited amount of time to do as much damage as possible,” Sgt. Smith said.

To prevent a tragedy, Sgt. Smith said sometimes the best procedure is prevention. He says it’s important to speak up and be vocal if you see something suspicious.

“We don’t want to be the agency that’s responding to it, we want to be the agency that’s out there trying to prevent this tragedy before anything like this ever happens,” Sgt. Smith said.

There was a horrific mass murder committed in New Zealand over the weekend. Their Prime Minister and legislators acted quickly and decisively in response to the shooting, imposing an immediate ban on assault weapons.

Our country to this point would prefer to allow “these people” who commit mass murders who “are very well versed in what they’re doing” to plan ahead by acquiring whatever weapons they need to do as much damage as possible in the limited amount of time they have. What if we took away the opportunity for them to get those weapons instead of mandating drills in schools and offering preparation plans to businesses and offices? What if we decided that we’d rather ban assault weapons than subject students and teachers to “man-made occurrence” drills, drills that require elementary children to cower in corners while their teachers are subjected to “realistic” drills? And in Indiana’s case, what if they mandated a counselor in each elementary school instead of mandating drills that allow local law enforcement officials to shoot teachers with pellet guns?

But the overarching questions are these:

What if we spent scarce dollars for schools on helping disengaged students instead of “safety officers”, surveillance cameras, and facial recognition software to identify potential intruders?

What if we forbid the acquisition of weapons designed to kill people instead of encouraging children and citizens to report suspicious behavior to the police?

What if we operated our democracy based on loving our neighbors instead of fearing “these people” who are very well versed in planning mass shootings?

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Techno-Autocrats Already Control 1/3 of Globe… and US is Ripe for Picking

March 20, 2019 Comments off

Axios writer Steve LeVine’s recent article, “A Paradise of the Age of Techno-Autocrats”, offers a chilling account of how China is using a combination of omnipresent surveillance cameras and AI to monitor citizens they deem to be “deviant” from the norm. But, as his article notes, this combination of AI and surveillance data is not limited to China: it is spreading to other authoritarian regimes across the globe… and to the United States.

So far, the use of this technology in the United States is dispersed… but it is trending in the wrong direction. LeVine’s overview describes how “benevolent” uses of facial recognition technology can quickly be translated into malevolent ends, as has occurred in China:

The big picture: Lisa-Marie Neudert, a researcher with Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project, said researchers are working on powerful AI technologies with enormous potential “for good.” But they also can have malicious uses — facial recognition employed for police purposes at a football stadium can also be used to repress the Uighur people of western China.

“When these technologies become weaponized, they can be used for surveillance, manipulation and self-generating propaganda,” Neudert tells Axios.

  • Critics say that facial recognition systems deployed by China and passed on by Beijing to other autocratic states increasingly resemble Orwellian tactics.

  • But “persuasion architectures via surveillance-based micro-targeting are already deployed in the United States,” Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells Axios.

  • Mostly that has been for use in advertising, such as at Facebook. “But we’ve already seen it used for politics and more,” Tufekci said.

As noted often in this blog, the hardening of schools is raising a generation of children who are increasingly comfortable with surveillance technology and data collection. District Administration, a journal for school administrators, reported that “according to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 80 percent of public schools—and more than 94 percent of high schools—in the U.S. used security cameras to monitor students during the 2015-2016 school year, nearly doubling the number of schools using cameras a decade earlier.” And surveillance cameras are not the only way authoritarian monitoring is being witnessed by students. According to data from a survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, armed officers were present at least once a week in 43 percent of all public schools during the 2015-16 school year, compared with 31 percent of schools a decade before.

The trend over the past several decades toward “data-driven decision making” is based on the premise that teachers can target academic deficiencies of students by examining data generated by standardized tests– not only the annual summative tests administered by the States to determine “school success” but also periodic on-line formative tests used to determine if a child is making progress. This “benevolent” use of instructional databases to help teachers make decisions regarding an individual students academic progress is relatively innocuous in terms of its potential misuse outside of schools. But the newer forms of data collection, touted as a means of addressing the unique needs of students who have “behavioral challenges”, could have some chilling effects. Saint John’s University, for example, touts 7 apps that can be used to catalog and collect data on student misconduct as part of its Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy. The goal of ABA therapy, “to collect objective data based on responses made by the child and analyze the data to determine if behavioral improvements are being made” is high-minded. But what assurance is there that data collected on a student’s behavior will not be used to perpetually pigeonhole a child as a “problem” in the future.

When this acceptance of monitoring and data mining is combined with a sense that technology offers a cheap solution to the complicated problems that face us as human beings we are setting ourselves up for a world where a centralized team of “techno-autocrats” can assume a dominant role. The access to the data collection currently occurring in schools is currently limited to school personnel. But it’s systematic collection makes it plausible that it could someday be used for repressive purposes… as could the data being collected on surveillance cameras, smart phones, and internet searches.

As one who read George Orwell’s writings, I find the trend of widespread data collection, the expansion of video surveillance, and use of facial recognition software unsettling. As Richard Kagan noted in the Axios article, our current trends in the use of technology indicate that “We may find ourselves back where we were circa 1914, when the only free, democratic space was in what Walter Lippmann called the ‘Atlantic Community’ — comprising the U.S. and Western Europe.”

I hope that as we contemplate “hardening” our schools even more that we will do everything possible to ensure that our students are not being raised in a democratic space.


4 Year Olds Huddled in a Bathroom: The Price We Pay Forward to Keep Guns Available to All

February 22, 2019 1 comment

Because the politicians in our country want to make sure anyone who wants a gun can get one, we are raising a generation of children who become accustomed to lockdowns. This chilling Common Dreams article describes a group of 4-year-olds who are experiencing their first lockdown drill… and it is an excellent argument against Universal Preschool. What parent would want to subject their 4-year old to this kind of experience? Presumably a parent who fears that the government will take away their gun is willing to make this trade off. Other parents may want to enroll their child in a school that is willing to assume that the odds against an invasion by a gunman are very high and would, therefore, avoid subjecting its children to this kind of de facto shock therapy.

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Diane Ravitch’s Recent Post and Steve Nelson’s Recent Article Flag the Debate We Need to Have: How Much is Enough?

February 5, 2019 Comments off

A recent post by Diane Ravitch and a recent op ed article by Valley News columnist Steve Nelson underscore the need for us to have a national debate on the question “How Much is Enough?”.

How much is enough for setting income tax brackets? The debate about taxing billionaires sidesteps the question of whether higher tax rates are needed for the top 10%, or top 20% Or the question of whether roughly 50% of the voters are not required to pay ANY income tax?

How much is enough for setting the maximum taxable limit for social security? As written in previous posts, the “social security crisis” could be solved for decades if we eliminated that maximum taxable limit for social security. What aren’t we talking about that?

How much is enough for business tax breaks at all levels? I have railed against the scandalous tax breaks offered to Amazon, Foxconn, and Walmart. But it is possible that small businesses might benefit from some kind of break in their taxes and those kinds of breaks might enable them to stay open and hire local people at a living wage.

How much is enough for the privatization of public services? As a school superintendent for 29 years, there were many instances where it became clear that it was better to hire a contractor to perform work that was to hire staff members. An easy example is plowing snow. In order for school district employees to perform that task the district would need to have trucks capable of pushing large volumes of snow. Tougher questions revolve around the provision of food services, transportation, maintenance, and business support services. Arguing that ALL privatization is bad is akin to arguing that ALL taxes are bad.

How much is enough for regulation? There are undoubtedly regulations that overreach and are needlessly onerous. But the profiteers have persuaded elected officials (and voters) that anything that restricts profits is “over-regulation” and that the market will punish those who pollute too much or treat employees badly. As we witness the dismantling of the EPA, Consumer Protection Agency, and virtually all regulatory controls at the federal level voters MAY be getting to appreciate the role regulations play in their workplace and in our society in general.

How much is enough to ensure our safety at all levels (i.e. national defense spending? local police and fire departments? hardening of schools?) We need to spend SOME money for our Armed Forces and we need to ensure that we take care of those who served our country in the military… but do we need to subsidize corporations that manufacture obsolete fighters, arms manufacturers who supply weapons to our allies (like Saudi Arabia), and private contractors who supply the military at high profit margins (see the question on privatization). We need to have professional police forces and fire departments, but do the police need military grade weapons to protect small towns and suburbs? Do we need armed police officers in every school, church, and shopping mall? We need safe and secure schools, but do those schools need bullet proof windows, 24/7 surveillance cameras, and sophisticated entry mechanisms for every door?

It seems that billionaires can never have enough money and, therefore, to accumulate more and more they can never have low enough taxes. The billionaires have done an admirable job of promoting the idea that ALL taxes are confiscatory, that private businesses can operate more efficiently than government, and that big-hearted philanthropists can move more quickly to solve problems than democratically elected officials and the administrators they hire. Therefore, they have been able to persuade voters that privatization and philanthropy are the answers to the problems facing our country.

As the man elected to the POTUS indicates, the billionaires have done an excellent marketing job. And more importantly, as the appointees to courts over the past GOP administrations indicate, the “long game” of the billionaires is working.

Welcome to the plutocracy.

Maybe we can change our course in 2020.