Educators Say Mental Health Awareness Key to Preventing Gun Violence

In January, the nation has marked the second anniversary of the mass shooting in Tucson, listened to the emotional testimony at the court hearing for the Aurora movie theater gunman, and watched brave elementary school students return to their classrooms after the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary last month in Newtown, Connecticut. And then on Friday, January 11, yet another shooting took place at a high school in California, underscoring the urgent need for national action on gun safety.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, President Obama promised to take concrete steps to reduce gun violence and on Wednesday he announced expansive new policies, including background checks for all firearms buyers and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. He also announced more federal funding for mental health and school safety initiatives, reflecting recommendations NEA submitted to the White House.

“We believe the common-sense recommendations put forth by President Obama are an important first step toward keeping children safe, providing more support for students and educators, and keeping military-style weapons out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said on Wednesday. “To solve the problem, we must have not only meaningful action on preventing gun violence but also bullying prevention and much greater access to mental health services, so that educators and families can identify problems and intervene before it’s too late.”

A recent NEA poll confirmed that a majority of educators support strong laws to prevent gun violence and oppose a proposal to allow teachers and school employees to receive firearms training and carry firearms in schools.  Educators are also advocating for a more comprehensive approach to curbing violence.

“We must dramatically expand our investment in mental health services,” Van Roekel says. “Proper diagnosis can and often starts in our schools, yet we continue to cut funding for school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists.”

In fact, states have cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, with schools taking a particularly hard hit – counselors are often the first on the chopping block during education budget cuts.

“It is well past time to reverse this trend and ensure that these services are available and accessible to those who need our support,” says Van Roekel. “We must also continue to do more to prevent bullying in our schools, an epidemic that can often precede violence.”

Educators in our nation’s classrooms agree. As pundits and politicians debate gun legislation and how to keep our schools safe from violence, those who work in our schools every day are making their voices heard on NEA Today’s Facebook page.

Diane Collins agrees that we need full time psychologists at every school, but adds that the country needs a national campaign “that promotes mental health services as being good for people of all ages.”

Mental health services at our schools is crucial, says Karen Gagnon McMahon, as well as partnering with parents at the earliest stages. “Early intervention is so important, she says. “Families, schools and mental health providers working together as a team is key.”

Parental awareness and involvement in helping kids cope with mental health issues is an obvious part of the solution, as is being involved in a more visible, day-to-day basis at our schools, say many educators.

“If parents are at the school, during the day, volunteering, visiting, connecting, teachers and students will be supported, secure, and ‘undesirables will be less likely to consider approaching schools,” says DMarie Fekete.

Bob Williams agrees. “Nothing was as comforting as the small neighborhood school. The centralized, big schools may be cheaper, but at what cost?”

A lot of educators are also concerned about our students’ exposure to violence depicted in the media. “I know there are lots of kids out there with access to serious violent video games, for example,” says Jamie Nodell. “That is one area that really needs to be addressed.”

A long-term, and sustainable solution is one that addresses how we educate the whole child, including interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. This approach won’t work, however, until we model the right behavior for our children and start a national conversation about how to resolve conflicts without violence.

“School is a place to learn how to solve problems,” says Sharon McCreary. “When will we, as a nation, start talking about conflict resolution that does not include hurting other human beings?”

  • Tim

    I think all school districts should follow the example of the Texas district that allows its teachers to conceal carry. There is no better way to protect students than to have armed and trained teachers and administrators.

  • Dave

    I agree with Tim. After a training course/refresher course, allow teachers who are licensed and trained to carry an opportunity to do so. Both Texas & Ohio have had to add training courses for teachers who want to take advantage of this type of education. Unfortunately, we live in an evil world, and limiting guns will only make the good people even more defenseless in these situations. We need to see the world for what it is, not what it was, or what we would like it to be.

  • Richard Belena

    Arm the staff and start classifying the mentally disturbed!

  • Richard Long

    The school where Obama’s kids go has 11 armed guards. This is an alternate way of protecting our kids. We also need some good moral training along the way and much less political correctness.

  • JoeF

    The need to OUTLAW guns is A #1!!! The schools then have to be sure that outside entrance is ONLY allowed from one door with a guard (not armed) having direct radio contact w/police & EMT personnel. Furthermore, the ‘special ed’ folks need to be housed elsewhere. Yes, there has been the push for ‘inclusion’ all around and attempts to equalize all. However those with problems either mental/social/intelligence wise need to be placed outside the realm of the normal. SpEd sites need to be separated as that is the only real way it works for both sets of kids. This former Ed Admin guy surely knows all about it and the phony pushes used to incorporate those in greater need to the normal classes. That only serves to lower things and generates violence. Afterall, how many bullies are SpEd and go after the nice kids because they are ‘weaker’ as well as get physically violent because they cannot work with and adjust to the normal situation of learning rather than playing? Separate those SpEd folks and things will be much calmer and safer for all

  • Courtney Osborne

    First step is for EVERYONE to stop feeling sorry about that “other school” and understand it could be theirs next and to therefore be proactive rather than complacent and simply sympathetic.

    Basic first step – be able to secure classroom doors. Our classroom doors are only lockable by key and from the OUTSIDE. This means in an emergency, every teacher must OPEN their door, and lock it. But what about substitute teachers who do not have keys? Or floating teachers? How do they secure their doors?

    Next, secure our entrance doors. There should be only 1 viable entrance to the buildings during school hours – and a security officer checking each person in. Our school has DOZENS of entrances used throughout the school day because it is “convienient” – and an annoucement that says “please don’t use other entrances” with no enfocement does not work.

    Though I am not sure I’d like all of our staff to be armed – I do beleive at minimum, SECURITY should be. Our secuity staff does not even carry pepper spray!!

    My story: The day before winter break (Dec 21, 2012), while walking items out to my car during my planning period, it was 2 minutes into our 7th class of the day. As I went to round the corner, a man – from the outside entrance to the side parking lot entrance rounded the corner with a canister covered in tinfoil pulling on a military grade gas mask. I immediately confronted the subject – demanding they remove their mask and identify themself. I asked 2 teachers to call for security. Security arrived 7 minutes later. Thank goodness this was just a “2012” end of the world “joke” – but needless to say I was NOT laughing. The school brushed it off and apologized that I was affraid of a “hat”. I later learned from police, I did NOTHING to help the situation – I was simply the first dead. I didn’t scream to everyone to “lockdown”, but instead got in the middle of it all.

    When administration starts taking safety seriously – we will be able to seriously discuss keeping ourselves and our students safe.

  • It is heartwarming to see so many people trying to support the families in Newtown. But,I must say that most of the gifts,candles,flowers and wreaths are all simply- “symbolism over substance”.

    The tragedy has happened. It was horrific! Now look for and deal with the reasons!
    Evil is out roaming all around us. Much of it is found in the culture of- “Do your own thing”, “If it feels good do it”or “There are no absolutes”

    The movies of Hollywood,violent video games,criminal entertainment TV,and yes,rap music- available for the youngest to watch and experience-all contribute mightily to the culture of immorality and acceptance of criminal acts! Then we have those in the shadows that slink around on their own,un-noticed,or at least they are endured in their odd sick mentalities!

    Finally we try to blame the weapon (of which there are millions) and rarely take a hard look at the person’s behavior and attitudes about right and wrong and good and evil!

    There are ABSOLUTES and good and right morals! They are based on a loving God who created this universe and set down the laws for proper living in a civilized society! When people know that there is punishment for evil and immoral acts- they make the effort to resist those acts. If they have no standard values and beliefs in a God who will punish those acts-we have horrific criminal tragedies!

    The first actions that families,members of the community, and the general public engendered were to seek God’s comfort and solace with their prayers. Would that more of them had been asking for God’s support,guidance and direction and lived His values in their everyday lives.

  • Chuck white

    We have so many people killed by drunk drivers. If we ban cars, would that solve the problem? We don’t have a gun problem, we have a people problem. We need competent teachers and staff in our schools, armed, to protect our children. How many guns and guards protect the President? If you took them away and put him behind a door with an alarm, would he be safe?

  • 416Rigby

    Gun control ONLY affects, by definition, law abiding people. This discussion is a total waste of time. I am a police officer and I don’t care if a law abiding person has 100 guns. It’s the dirtbag with a baseball bat or knife that I worry about.

    I highly suggest arming screened and trained VOLUNTEER school employees, whether they are administrators, teachers or custodians. Obviously, more SROs and DARE officers would also be a deterrent.

    There are many changes that can be built into school buildings, using the concept of CPTED; Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. However, even the most secure school, heck, even prisons, are not inpregnable.

    Since there will always be people with morality or mental issues, the only reasonable solution is toallow people to defend themselves. Currently, school zones are defenseless victim zones.

  • Mike

    Been debating this on Facebook for some time. My conclusions: Do NOT arm teachers. (I once had a college I simply would not trust with a firearm, he was that strange.) Principals and assistant principals (after full training)should be armed with the latest pistols that can ONLY be operated by their owner- have a built-in fingerprint recognition system, etc. built into them. Wear the pistol hidden in back with a jacket worn to cover the gun’s presence.
    Also hire retired military veterans with full-automatic rifles for guard duty at all school entrances. They need the job, and we need their high quality of training. Have them undergo once a year mental testing/evaluations, though these can be circumvented, but are better than nothing. This step is important and should be done right now!!

  • Maria

    I live in Texas, a border city, and I am an educator that does not want any of my coworkers armed- at all. No one here is offering to train us- must be in East Texas? We do need armed guards at every school, not just the high schools where they have several. Spend money training these individuals and invest in highly qualified trained men and women to protect our schools. Let the Teachers do their jobs in the classrooms.

  • Why isn’t NEA taking a leadership role in this debate? What in hell are you afraid of? We as educators get blamed for all the ills in this country anyway.Why would anyone want teachers armed is a mystery to me we have students in High School who would be more dangerous than outsiders who would be looking for the opportunity to disarm us. Besides that you would have to be concerned constantly about a live firearm. That’s not our job we”re teachers not cops.Besides many people I worked with I wouldn’t trust with a gun to begin with. Why does everybody want to go back to the old west when everybody wore guns and settled arguments by killing one another? The more guns there are the more violence there is. You can’t kill or wound with a gun if you have none to start with. Also people should know the only reason we have the second amendment was to keep down slave revolts by allowing Slave Militia to exist not for individual gun ownership. Jay Harter

  • Kathy H.

    Since guns need to be locked up in the vicinity of students, and most likely could not be unlocked in time, I believe that it is a false sense of security for teachers to be armed. Rather I think the teachers & staff must be thoroughly trained both to recognize sincere threats and to deal with confrontation in a non-violent manner. I also believe schools should have “panic buttons” like banks do, that either teachers, front-office staff, and/or principals can activate that will bring an immediate police response to the school.

  • Margo Williams

    I think we should poll a broad range of students to get their input – all grades, all ages, those involved in the tragedies, those not. They may have some insights that haven’t been considered.

  • ed mccarthy

    i think its in all good intensions to arm somebody at school. wheather it be a teacher or staff take them out and train them,but when they are face to face with a killer and know their going to kill me how would they react? i’m not sure the magarity would pull that trigger, think about that.

  • B. Holl

    More guns do NOT mean more violence! If that were the case, beware of gun shows, where hundreds of guns are available. BUT the GUNS ARE NOT THE PROBLEM! It is the person behind the gun. The horrible recent event where children were killed has been turned into a political rampage. The shooter had tried to get a gun permit weeks before and was denied because of his instability. (Did you know that?) The laws that were in place worked just fine. He, instead, STOLE weapons from his mother, who HAD acquired them legally. It is most often the case that the weapon in this kind of event is illegal. Law abiding citizens are not our problem.

    By the way, this man took pistols into the school. He LEFT the A-R 15 in his car. Probably realized he couldn’t conceal it!! (Really!) The media and the U.S. administration have focused mainly on the A-R. It wasn’t even used! UNBELIEVABLE! Not many even understand the difference between those weapons.

    I would have no problem with having armed guards at every school. If school districts could have a few TRAINED armed staff, that would be all the better.

  • Monica

    I work in a school where almost every classroom has an emergency exit door. This might be a great way to escape in an emergency, however, on the contrary a gunman could easily shoot out the door window to gain access. I think all school doors should be refitted with bullet proof glass in the immediate future. The next step is to address mental health issues.

  • Sharon Gunrud

    Sad to say, there is no perfect solution for protecting children and staff from the crazies that populate our planet. If someone with an assault rifle wants to enter a school, they will. Likewise, identifying those who have the potential to become mass murderers is like stepping on quicksand.

  • Lois

    JoeF, Please think about this, if banning guns was effective why was Washington,D.C. not the safest city in the country instead of the most dangerouse when guns were carried only by police there? The answer is plain, when criminals can count on citizens being unarmed….. Gun control is only successful if you are a criminal and then it’s a good thing.

  • JaneDoe

    I would not trust a principal, assistant principal, a coach or a teacher to carry a gun at school. Students can overtaket that person and take the gun away. I am a teacher. I have seen many things in high school that you can’t fathom: real school fires, assaults with other “weapons”, gang beatings, fights, bullets left on my desk, and stampedes were teachers were hurt.

    A teacher’s job is to “educate”. A principals job is to support. How many students could accidently get shot as an innocent by stander??

    Stop broadcasting the names of the shooters and their families on TV. WE all know their names, but do you know the name of just one person that helped during a crisis.

    America needs to wake up and INVEST in education and the learning environment. We have programs, but funds are cut and staff/ faculty are let go. Have smaller class sizes to help prevent bullying and allow the teachers to get to know every student.

    We do not need more guns in school. This is just a false sense of security and I prefer not to get shot by a coworker or have a child shot by a coworker.

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  • Linda

    Sandy Hook touched me in a profound way, because I teach some kids who are in tough circumstances and are emotionally disturbed. They could grow up to do the same thing, unless we give them adequate behavioral, academic, emotional and therapeutic support. The most important thing we can do as educators is to build positive relationships with kids and parents. I personally don’t want a gun–and they don’t belong in a school because kids’ behavior is so unpredictable. If all we do is focus on the guns, we won’t solve a thing. We have to focus on helping kids and making the entertainment they watch less violent. We have to get to the point where we believe all life is precious–no matter what circumstances we find people in–to really make things change.

  • Nikan

    In my classroom, I’m lucky that the concrete walls are 6″ thick and should stop anything up to a .50 caliber round, and my doors are pretty sturdy. The same cannot be said for most classrooms, unfortunately. For a real lockdown, kids should be moved away from concrete walls because of the ricochet paths that tend to accumulate there, keep a low vertical profile, and be trained in maintaining a disciplined absolute silence. That’s just about the best I can plan for at this point to preserve the lives in my care.

  • Nikan

    In my classroom, I’m lucky that the concrete walls are 6″ thick and should stop anything less than a .50 caliber round, and my doors are pretty sturdy. The same cannot be said for most classrooms, unfortunately. For a real lockdown, kids should be moved away from concrete walls because of the ricochet paths that tend to accumulate there, keep a low vertical profile, and be trained in maintaining a disciplined absolute silence. That’s just about the best I can plan for at this point to preserve the lives in my care.

  • Jill Dybus

    I think that faculty who wish to receive training should be allowed to carry a concealed carry firearm. I would gladly sign up to do this.

  • rvKelso

    I would like to thank BHoll for bringing up a often over looked bit of info about the recent school shooting:

    “The shooter stole the gun from his mother…Law abiding citizens are not our problem. By the way, this man took pistols into the school. He LEFT the A-R 15 in his car. Probably realized he couldn’t conceal it!! (Really!) The media and the U.S. administration have focused mainly on the A-R. It wasn’t even used! UNBELIEVABLE!”

    Assault weapons, and guns in general are not the problem it is people who are dangerous. Passing more legislation will not stop those who do not abide by the law. Laws, and their correlative punishments do not have any measure of an affect on those who intend to die from their actions.

    We need planning, preparation, and self-defense training at the very least. You can blind, incapacitate, and/or kill someone with a sharpened pencil. Pretending that the potential for danger does not exist n our schools today is unwise.

  • Transporter

    People do not want to admit it, but there needs to be metal detectors place at each entrance of every school. It is better for a machine to detect something on a person that could be harmful to everyone before they are able to get close to students and staff. Yes I know it may be an inconvenience to all the IMPORTANT people, but i’m sure the little people wouldn’t mind if it could save the lives of our young people, who are our future and those who teach them. Every door should be locked were access can only be gained from the inside, and the one door everyone must come through when visiting during school hours, that is were securities desk should be placed. And since people feel teachers should be able to have a gun at school, then why not just have some locked up in the office, so if something should happen to security there is a backup available..

  • Christopher F. Vota

    Te school where I work tightened its security after Sandy Hook by allowing only two points of entry for people without keys. This is pretty good but a little more could be done. I just happened to check the website and stumbled across a message about a threat made against the school earlier in the day nd that while police determined it wasn’t credible, staff was asked to increase its vigilance. The students, parents and anyone else who went to the main page got that message, but guess who didn’t need to know? The night crew! Had I called in sick, we still might not have known about it!
    School may be over for many at the last bell, but not for all! There are activities after school and the trash does’t get to the dumpster via levitation. Each custodian must remove trash/recycles from the building and as the evening progresses becomes a more vulnerable target. If any school district truly believes in maintaining security, I think we-who-start-at-3 deserve to know what’s up rather than learn for ourselves too late to make a positive difference.

  • Lisa

    I am 100% in favor of arming teaching staff in schools. Of course, they would need intensive training by professionals, background checks, and frequent refresher courses. As a concealed carrier, I will be the first teacher to volunteer for this training should my district decide to follow this course of action. Will this fix the problem of school violence? Absolutely not. It will take parents being in control of their children and not allowing them to watch violent movies and play hours upon hours of violent video games. It will take parents teaching children personal responsibility and about the sanctity of human life. It will take parents, communities, and administrators putting into place stricter and more severe consequences for harmful behavior. It will take increased help and monitoring of the mentally ill in our country. It is not a quick fix. But one thing I am certain of, taking guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens will not work!
    Also, I am seriously considering dropping my membership in the teachers union (both OEA and NEA). After I learned that the money I work so hard for and send as union dues was used as campaign contributions for Obama, I was outraged. So, I believe I will take that money and use it to join the NRA.

  • B. Holl

    I want to thank Lisa for noting that our teachers’ unions send our political donations where they want it to go. If we had a choice, perhaps our elections would have turned out differently! Her comments about protecting our schools is notable also.

    She says, “It will take parents teaching children personal responsibility and about the sanctity of human life. It will take parents, communities, and administrators putting into place stricter and more severe consequences for harmful behavior. It will take increased help and monitoring of the mentally ill in our country. It is not a quick fix. But one thing I am certain of, taking guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens will not work!”
    Thank you Lisa!

    Sadly, some of our colleagues have compaigned against the NRA. It is perhaps the only organization that teaches gun safety and will defend our right to the 2nd ammendment. Remember, if the law abiding citizen can, for example, have only 6 bullets, we can be sure that the criminal will have 30. The NRA should be thanked not ridiculed.

    Again…thank you Lisa for your thoughts!

  • Transporter

    Lisa don’t be outrage over information that is possibly not as true as someone wants you to believe. Have you spoken to the NEA about what someone told you? I will be checking into the matter on Monday, but if your dues had gone to Romney would you have not been outraged at all and continued to pay your union dues? We are all entitled to our free will to voice our thoughts about what goes on in our country, but for the sake of peace and harmony in our world, do not get all unravelled over issues that have not been proven to be the truth. This country has been built on the backs of “LIES” and to this day, that’s what most people want to believe even when someone tries to give us the “TRUTH”. So check your resources and keep paying your dues, you’ll be glad you did.

  • Lisa

    Transporter, Yes, I am certain that the NEA did contribute an enormous amount of money to the Obama campaign (and gave him their endorsement). I have done my research, and this is not information that “someone told me”. And I am not unravelled about the issues. I work hard, I pay my union dues, I support my local teachers’ union, but yet I do not feel that I, or my conservative associates are represented by the NEA. Would I be outraged if the NEA had sent this money to support Romney? Hell YES! I’m sure if NEA had sent this amount of money to the Romney campaign, the Democratic members would have felt the same way. I think that the membership should be polled as to which candidate should be endorsed. If this was done, and the majority chose the candidate from either party, I would be fine with that. Do I think that NEA should be sending money to political candidates of either party…NO!!!! I realize that the argument will be that NEA MUST sent money to lobby for their members, but again, I don’t think they are truly representing the entire membership. I know that there are “LIES” promoted by leaders on both sides of the aisle, and we must always do our research before coming to a conclusion. I have done my research, and I am sure that I, as a conservative, am not being represented by the current stance of the NEA. I AM thankful that we live in a country where we can debate these issues and have open discussions.

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