The pain at Arapahoe High School in the wake of the recent shooting will linger for a long time. But the anxiety provoked by the incident extends far beyond that neighborhood as parents naturally wonder just how safe schools are and what might be done to make them safer.
Most students are out of class this week for the holidays. Will they be heading back in January to facilities that are inviting targets of deranged malcontents?
Should parents worry?
The reality is that schools are, for the most part, the safe havens the public has every right to expect. And crime statistics bear this out.
Don’t misunderstand: It’s imperative that school districts implement effective safety measures, although those may vary from district to district and even from school to school.
It is also important that everyone in a school be trained to handle a crisis.
In that regard, the Arapahoe student body and staff appeared well prepared to respond to this month’s attack. And an armed deputy reached the shooter within two minutes, a remarkable feat that very likely saved lives.
Could more be done? Perhaps, but it’s also important to ask at what point security interferes with a school’s mission.
"We can’t let our schools become fortified castles or military installations," Gov. John Hickenlooper told Colorado Public Radio. "It’s a place for learning and for ideas and for children."
Hickenlooper recognizes that schools, by and large, are already comparatively safe places.
"If you look at the number of kids who die in accidental deaths in swimming pools, [it is] far more than die in shootings," Hickenlooper said. "But somehow the shootings are so visceral and affect us Š so deeply."
Hickenlooper is right. As NBC reported recently, "An average of 23 youths per year were the victims of homicides at elementary or secondary schools or on the way to a school event, over the years 1992 to 2011."
By contrast, nearly 140 children drowned in pools and spas in the summer of 2012, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
And while experts argue over whether school shootings are more frequent in recent decades, NBC reports that "federal surveys suggest that school violence has decreased dramatically over the past thirty years."
That would make sense, since crime rates generally have declined.
Just two years ago, the National Center for Education Statistics took an in-depth look at school violence. "In each year during the period 1992-93 to 2006-07," the center concluded, "there were at least 50 times as many homicides of youth away from school than at school and generally at least 150 times as many suicides of youth away from school than at school. During the 2007-08 school year, there was approximately one homicide or suicide of a school-age youth at school per 2.1 million students enrolled."
"What I’ve been trying to tell people all weekend is that this [sort of shooting] happens once in a blue moon," Hickenlooper told CPR. That’s not an argument for complacency, but it is a call for perspective and for calm.
~The Denver Post