The Arkansas School Safety Commission heard belatedly last week about ideas to make schools safer that don’t put more guns at the top of the list of solutions.
The meeting coincided with relevant national news. Betsy DeVos’ federal Department of Education is promoting false information about gun violence in schools.
The school safety commission, loaded by Governor Hutchinson to produce his desired more-guns approach to safety, has already formally declared that the aim of the state should be to have armed officers in every school. Failing that, the idea is to put guns in the hands of “trained” staff members, notwithstanding research that shows even trained, full-time law enforcement officers aren’t wholly reliable in armed conflicts.
To this state forum, Moms Demand Gun Sense in America brought their message about stronger gun safety laws (safe storage laws would be particularly valuable given the carnage from accidental shootings in homes). A state Department of Health doctor also talked of the need for early help for children from poor and broken homes who are living with mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence and other “toxic” stress.
The messages were politely received, but no more.
That same day I came across reporting from The Washington Post, which noted that NPR has uncovered the Education Department’s exaggeration of, and refusal to correct, numbers on gun incidents in schools.
Bottom line, where DeVos’ department has been talking about 240 schools with at least one “gun incident” in 2015-16 and some with multiple incidents, a rigorous analysis found only 11 reported incidents in the nation’s 96,000 public schools.
Eleven gun incidents in 96,000 schools and Arkansas’s answer is to arm teachers in every school.
The ACLU sees the gun rush as part of a push to “militarize” schools. Meanwhile, we ignore the growing inequality gap in education, coincidentally occurring as the public schools of American have become majority black and brown. Coincidental, too, are cuts in federal school spending, reductions that disproportionately burden already-impoverished and unequal schools.
Does a minority white school population explain why Republicans are talking more about putting more guns in school rather than addressing the disproportionate suspension rate of students of color? About disproportionate punishment of disabled students? About greater spending on cops than on social workers and counselors?
Consider this from the Post:
“Nationally, schools reported more than 27,000 sworn law enforcement officers compared with just 23,000 social workers.
“More than 36 million students were enrolled in 55,000 schools that did not meet the American School Counselors Association’s recommended 250:1 student-to-counselor ratio.
“Nationally, there was a student-to-counselor ratio of 444:1, suggesting that counselors are seriously overworked with a student caseload that is 78 percent greater than what is recommended by professionals.”
The statistics show that serious behavioral incidents in schools rarely involve weapons. A bloody fistfight is no small thing. But they are not a new feature of adolescent behavior. Might it be that they seem more serious depending on the color of the combatants?
Guns or counselors? Guns or early childhood intervention? Taking bets on which the Arkansas legislature will prefer.