This latest school shooting in Texas comes less than six months after Michigan was shaken by violence in the Oxford School shooting.
Many of us are in a state of disbelief, or shock, or just feeling numb.
School shootings tend to bring up lots of difficult conversations: about school safety, mental health, and gun control, to name a few. Traverse City Police Chief Jeff O’Brien says, “The police are non-political. And we’re in a good position to go in and help that school. That’s one common denominator I hope we can agree on.”
Chief O’Brien says studies of school shootings have shown there are usually warning signs and a plan to take action. “It’s a planned attack. And generally they say it on social media. But there’s people that witness that. It’s important that when we witness that, we call law enforcement.
“There’s a manifestation. The individual has said they’re going to do this,” O’Brien continues. “And they project that out. And we need quicker response on that. Not to violate people’s rights. Just to rule out and make sure that we’re getting them the mental health they need.”
Kingsley Elementary Counselor Emily Ruby knows that sometimes parents are at a loss for words – or just don’t know how to put into words what we’re feeling. “It’s hard to not feel numb, to these events I think. I’m a parent of three elementary students in addition to being an elementary counselor. I don’t know how to articulate my thoughts and feelings, and I’m an adult whose job it is to articulate thoughts and feelings. So if that’s hard for me, how much harder is it for a child to process that? So it might take them longer to get there? You might not see a response here and now. But it might come up later. Or it could bring up stuff that’s happened in the past, that doesn’t seem connected. But those feelings are the same, even if the situation is not the same.”
Ruby says talking about school violence is a tough conversation, but an important one. “Unfortunately it’s uncomfortable on our end. We don’t have good answers. We don’t know the right things to say. So we have to live in that discomfort.”
She says kids should get info from their parents – not from social media or on the playground. “Asking your kid, checking in on them. And checking in on their friends too. Asking about what their friends are saying. Again it’s not a comfortable conversation. You don’t want to feel like big brother, watching out. But at the same time that’s how information is shared.”
There are lots of online resources and child psychologists who share free tips on these having tough conversations. “It doesn’t make it easy as a parent to know what to say. So it’s important to just be there and validate their feelings. We don’t have to make those feelings go away…. We can’t. We can’t make those feelings go away. But what we can do for our kids is make them feel less alone,” Ruby says. “You want to meet them where they’re at. But also you don’t want to gloss over things too. It’s one of those things where using appropriate terms is important.
Over in Traverse City, the TCAPS Superintendent says he has to legislators in Lansing. And along with the support from the Police Chief and the County Sheriff, they are calling on lawmakers to fund School Resource Officers in Michigan schools. Dr. John VanWagoner says, “I think that’s a first start in all our secondary buildings. It’s a debate that needs to happen as well even for our elementary buildings
The superintendent says it’s important that the funding is long-term – and not just a temporary fix. “It’s really important that we look at sustained structures for funding to be in place that last a long time, so that we can put these safety measures in that parents and educators and law enforcement officials don’t have to worry about just being erased with a grant or something the next year.”
Chief O’Brien agrees it would be a good first step. “Just an officer presence. And I think that’s important too. That there’s a face with the police department, with the school kids.”
Dr. VanWagoner says we have made some progress in 25 years (23 since the Columbine High School shootings), but not enough. “We have made progress with having drills and preparedness and those things. But the reality is more resources need to be put into the situation, in multiple fronts. And polices looked at I think as well, that need to be debated – and have their time for debate, not just avoided.”