School Shootings and Students with Disabilities: John's screed
This is a raw post, because I hurt and I hurried. I offer this post in the aftermath of the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX, US. I plan to update, so please check back on it. [Updates: (1) 10:45 AM EDT 25 May 2022: Corrected faulty URL for the “Consensus Statement.”] Although I hope I don’t, I may misstate ideas or wrongly impune people whom I should hope to protect.
As I commented to many colleagues, on 24 May 2022 the local rainy-misty-showery weather clouded my sight, but my tears on that Tuesday eclipse the weather’s effect on my vision. I weep for all the teachers who not only try to teach their students to maintain the peace but also work day-in and day-out to protect them from the horrors that seem too common now. I weep for the children, those dead and wounded, including those who were not wounded physically, but will bear witness to horror for the remainder of their lives. I weep for the families and friends of the dead, the wounded, and the horrified. And I weep for my country and humankind.
I cannot—and I doubt that any reader can—name any (just one!) individual student, teacher, or administrator who deserves to experience the terrors were visited on those people. What parent, sibling, aunt or uncle, grandparent, friend or neighbor wants a child killed in a barrage of gun fire? What child or adult wants a parent, uncle, aunt, grandparent...killed? What child or teacher or administrator would rejoice at the death of a teacher, colleague, or faculty member? I cannot name anyone on whom I would wish such an outcome.
So, I want to express my heartfelt concern for family members of those who lost life. I was sort of set up for (I had “setting events”) the sadness; I have had experiences that made me especially vulnerable. My concerns for students with disabilities was part of that vulnerability. Would our kids be especially at risk? Could they be targets because they couldn’t get out of the way, because they acted foolishly in the midst of the situation, because they couldn’t understand what was happening and froze, because they didn’t follow a teacher’s directions to a group, because....
What about kids with disabilities in emergency situations? Readers may share my concerns about the kids who use a wheelchair? The kids who are deaf? The kids with emotional or behavioral disorders or autism who freak when the environment suddenly changes?
But, even more, what about kids? Just kids? Young people who have a stake in the future. People who might grow up to be an Einstein or an Earhart, a Rembrandt or a Roosevelt, a Lopez or a Smith? What about these children who had their lives in front of them?
What about the teachers? What magical incantations can we chant to bring back those who cared about and for children? Who died doing their jobs surrounded by their students? What prayers will give them back their lives? Just the day before this horrific event, M. Renkl published “a thank-note to teachers” (NY Times, so paywall is possible) who have done so much for the world in these times of cultural clashes.
And, I have hurt—huge, gaping holes in my heart—for students, teachers, and school administrators worldwide who must live under this cloud of violence.
WTF? Again? How many times?
How frequent are school shoot-em-ups
Well, I just don’t really know how many events have occurred. I’ll be US-centric here because the USA is an outlier among countries on Earth in mass shootings. We are great, not just again, but all time! We lead the world in mass shootings! USA! USA! USA!
Here’re a few links:
The World Population Review provides alternative data that requires more digging, but dig it here. They list US states according to shootings. Where would US readers like their states to rank?
There is a lot of research about school shootings. Little of that research, however, shows empirically validated methods for changing the probability of shootings. We don’t need randomized control trials, because we already have baseline data under business-as-usual conditions; we need implement intervention. Anyway here are a few quick and incomplete ideas:
Verlinden et al. (2000) reported about “risk factors” associated with school shootings. They examined nine cases of shootings in secondary schools.
Langman (2016) analyzed 64 incidents in which firearms were used and where there were multiple victims in attacks in schools between 1966 and 2015. In the abstract, he reported that “Notable results include numerous changes in post-Columbine attacks, including greater age range of perpetrators, more perpetrators who are not white males, increased fatalities, and increased suicide rates.”
How many shooting events in schools is too many? I don’t know about your criterion, but I’ll take one. One is too many. Sure, mirate the problem with descriptive studies, but let’s get on with the quasi-experiments about how to descrease shootings in schools (and everywhere)!
What should special educators do?
There is a lot to say about this topic…and others, too. Still, here are a few thoughts.
My colleagues and I have been talking about these concerns since the 1990s. Jim Kauffman (a conscientious objector to war) led a group that wrote what I’ll call “The SpedTalk declaration” (a consensus statement about violence. Originally from 1993-94) [Write to me if you can’t use this link.]
Also, my colleague, Dewey Cornell has studied school violence for years. He has data of 10s of 1000s of respondents (maybe more) about assessing threats for schools. Dewey and his team have lots of resources about assessing threats and decreasing the probability that problems occur. See them here. Tuesday night, Dewey wrote to me:
Welcome to my world. More guns, more shootings. Gun sales surged [during the Obama administration] and continued, and at the same time states relaxed their gun laws. State by state comparisons show that these factors set the stage for more shootings. We pay attention to shootings in schools because they are especially tragic, but we have shootings everywhere and ironically schools have the LEAST shootings of any location. I just ran some numbers on this using FBI NIBRS stats for last year.
Mental health cuts two ways: Shooters may have MH issues and targets may have MH issues. We need to consider (i) creating safe environments, (ii) addressing grieving, and more. Dewey again:
It is not a choice between guns and mental health. Every violent crime has both a method and motive, and both must be addressed if we want to reduce shootings. Of course all the publicity around shooters just inflames individuals who are already on the edge, desperate and unsure what to do, until they latch onto something dramatic and powerful like a mass shooting. We cannot wait until the gunman arrives at school. We have to address problems like bullying, depression, academic failure, alienation, and radicalization when they first appear, not wait until the kid shows up with a gun.
Speducators, like all educators, have responsibility for protecting not only their students, but also protecting other students and their colleagues. Boon et al. (2011) discussed this responsibility
In a time when education and educators are dissed for what they teach and how they teach (by people who don’t know what the fuck they are talking about), is it any wonder that educators are fleeing their jobs? Please, peeps, we have to do better by educators who teach students that harming others is not appropriate and we have to do better by our children.
Boon, H. J., Brown, L. H., Tsey, K., Speare, R., Pagliano, P., Usher, K., & Clark, B. (2011). School disaster planning for children with disabilities: A critical review of the literature. International Journal of Special Education, 26, 1–14.
Boon, H. J., Pagliano, P., Brown, L., & Tsey, K. (2012). An assessment of policies guiding school emergency disaster management for students with disabilities in Australia. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 9, 17–26. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-1130.2012.00331
Langman, P. (2016). Modifications to the traditional BIT for online and remote learners. Journal for Behavioral Interventions and Threat Assessment. [Pay wall] https://www.nabita.org/resources/j-bit-2019-article-care-from-a-distance-modifications-to-the-traditional-bit-for-online-and-remote-learners/ but see https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308401952_Multi-Victim_School_Shootings_in_the_United_States_A_Fifty-Year_Review also available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308401952_Multi-Victim_School_Shootings_in_the_United_States_A_Fifty-Year_Review
Verlinden, S., Hersen, M., & Thomas, J. (2000). Risk factors in school shootings. Clinical Psychology Review, 20(1), 3-56. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0272-7358(99)00055-0
Renkl, M, (2022, 23 May). A thank-you note to teachers after a year of attacks. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/23/opinion/culture-wars-teachers.html