The specter of a school shooting always lurks in the back of parents’ and educators’ minds, but this week, it openly torments us. Adequate prayers cannot be uttered at a time like this, but we pray, nonetheless. In the days and weeks ahead, we will learn more details, but we will also lose focus and interest as well. Before that happens, we must seize our current state of crystal clarity and chart a different course regarding school safety, juvenile justice, and juvenile mental health.
First, we must recognize who is to blame for this school shooting. Yes, the Uvalde shooter was troubled, bullied, and disadvantaged, but so are billions of children who do not do such things. This young man was simply evil. Yes, he was once a good boy, but in the end, he proved to be pure evil. Yes, he watched bad movies, listened to bad music, and visited bad websites, but unlike the countless others who also do those things, he chose to do evil. Yes, in hindsight, everyone could have done more for him, but he alone is responsible for his evil acts, not everyone and everything else who could not see the future. Evil people will always have somewhat of an advantage because normal people do not think the way they think. Evil people have an even greater advantage, however, when we are unwilling to recognize evil, or we keep blaming evil actions on everyone but the evil person. He and he alone is responsible for this.
Our responsibilities lie in trying to prevent this in the future, while this is fresh on our mind. We must commit to quickly rebuilding our juvenile justice and mental health systems. Almost without exception, people who were close to school shooters recognized the evil tendencies, but they rarely had any options because we have completely dismantled our juvenile justice and mental health systems in recent decades. Schools are clearly not equipped to serve the modern variants of violent or disturbed children, but schools are often legally required to keep violent and disturbed children in school with everyone else.
We recognize the right of all students to attend school free of harmful adults. The same right should apply regarding a school free of violent or disturbed children. We know that the earlier we identify and serve them appropriately, the better chance we have of helping them, and this cannot always happen in school. I don’t know if the Uvalde shooter had such services available, but they are almost non-existent in Oklahoma. We desperately need a robust juvenile justice and mental health system for kids who pose a threat to other children, so they can get the help they need at early ages.
Thankfully, few children turn evil, but those who are struggling deserve the appropriate mental health services, and often that means long-term, in-patient mental health care, especially for the violent or disturbed. School shootings are extremely rare, but the numbers of violent and disturbed children are growing, and they should not attend school with everyone else until they have received the services they need. Such children are suffering greatly, and they also have a disproportionate impact on the schools they attend – even if they do not turn into shooters. No one wishes to institutionalize any child, but without that option, we are institutionalizing whole schools.
We need a system to serve disturbed or violent children before they turn evil for their sake and for the sake of schools struggling to deal with them. This is a very difficult discussion, and not very politically correct for a superintendent, but we clearly need to adopt new strategies for this growing segment of students. They deserve to be helped, and our schools deserve to be safe, but we do not currently have the system to serve them. While this wound is fresh, let’s commit to create that system. And although our prayers seem inadequate, keep praying for our brothers and sisters in Uvalde.