Mental Health Requires Same Commitment As School Security

Twenty years ago, it was pretty easy to walk into many school districts.

It was possible, in most schools, to have multiple ways into the school building in the morning. The front doors to many schools were often unlocked; visits to the nurse’s office or to a teacher’s classroom required only a visit to the office for a visitor’s pass.

Then, on April 20, 1999, two students murdered 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School and injured 21 more people before committing suicide. That very day, the safety and security of school buildings throughout the country took on a renewed importance.

It is no longer as easy to walk into most schools thanks to a wave of Columbine-inspired capital building projects. Thank goodness schools took those necessary steps so many years ago to make schools more physically secure and to develop procedures to keep children safe. School shootings are still shocking nearly 20 years after the Columbine High School shooting, but they happen with a numbing regularity.

The latest shooting — 18 days ago at a high school in Parkland, Fla. — has refocused our national attention again on gun rights and gun control, on whether or not teachers should be armed and on ways to get more police officers into schools. Those debates won’t end anytime soon.

To their credit, local officials aren’t holding their breath for state and national solutions. County Executive George Borrello spoke Wednesday of Sheriff Joe Gerace’s desire to find grant funding to supply school resource officers to all county school districts, or at least to help districts without the means to pay for an officer on their own. School officials have told The Post-Journal over the past 18 days of their plans to continue tweaking school security plans and security systems.

All of these actions are necessary, yet they only deal with half of the problem. As a society, we have youth who find themselves in a position where they feel the best thing for them to do is lash out. Bret Apthorpe, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, recently described talked with The Post-Journal’s Jordan Patterson about adverse childhood experiences, a bland term that encompasses the very real and far too prevalent instances of neglect, physical or verbal abuse, including being raised in a home that included substance misuse, mental illness, parental discord or crime, witnessing domestic violence or the absence of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Apthorpe’s conversation took place on Feb. 15, one day after the nation’s latest school shooting. Apthorpe told Patterson the shooting reinforced the superintendent’s idea that the nation has a mental health crisis.

Making sure schools are equipped with proper security equipment, procedures and possibly deputies is important, but so is making sure there are enough counselors, social workers and personal attention to help children who find themselves increasingly pushed to the edge by a society that has changed an awful lot over the decades.