Sunday, December 16, 2012

School violence

Here`s a video clip of Robbie Parker, father of one of the little girls killed in the Connecticut school shootings.  You can just feel his searing pain as he talks about his beautiful daugher. I admire his courage for even speaking publicly about this and defy any caring person to watch this without tearing up. 

Canadians sometimes think that these school shootings are an American problem but we've had several incidents over the years including one thirteen years ago in Alberta and six years ago at Dawson College in Quebec.   The massacre at École Polytechnique  in Montreal in 1989 was unique in the world because the fourteen who died were targeted because they were women studying the non-traditional field of engineering.

We cannot imagine the horror experienced by the students in Connecticut, both those who survived and those who were killed, and the anguish of their parents.  But my thoughts also go out to those courageous teachers who put their lives on the line to protect their students .... as most teachers would do, I think.  

I constantly witness this commitment to the well-being of students amongst the teachers at my school but on a much smaller scale.   They are galvanized into action to help our at-risk students who have challenges such as suicidal thoughts or other mental health issues, illness, injury or parental neglect or abuse.

In my province, all schools must practice lockdown drills at least four times per year to prepare for such violence.  But I still find a too-relaxed attitude among my school administrators about the increasing numbers of potentially violent students with emotional or mental health issues.

Presently, I have one extremely challenging "all-boys" grade nine remedial-level class.   Of the twenty students, the majority are "high risk" and over half have been identified with conditions such as Asperger's, ADHD and learning disabilities.

Last month, one of my students from this class had what I could only describe as a psychiatric episode in class.  VERY disturbing!  The head of our special ed. department was summoned and she too was unable to dislodge him from his state.  I should add that this student also had a safety plan which was created after earlier incidents of violence at school.

I send this email to our school principal and vice-principals:  "Student X needs an immediate referral to a mental health professional.  Medicating him and forcing him to go to school in a traditional classroom setting is not working.  His behaviour is becoming more and more erratic and worriesome.  If this continues to escalate, one day Student X will come to school one day and start killing people."

I am most certainly not 'the little boy who cried wolf'  as this was only the second time in my twenty-year career than I wrote such a message. 

One of my administrators told me that they laughed at my "overly-dramatic" email.  "Student X isn't going to kill anyone!!"  I said:  "Not now!  But just give him three or four years and then we'll see!"   The vice principal spoke to the student but no other action was taken.

Three weeks later, the same administrator called me into her office.  She said:  "Student X has been suspended for a week.  He came into school today with a knife .... he said he was going to use it on some boys who he claimed were bullying him." 

I said, "Really?!!   REALLY?"  Not one word was said directly about my earlier e-mail but just the fact that I was summed to the office for this news was an acknowledgement that I had been right.   Graciously, I resisted the urge to say: "I told you so!"


  1. your poster is all too true. we suck at gun control. and mental health medical care.

    1. anne marie: Thanks for commenting, sweetie! Canada does an excellent job with gun control but the number of handguns on our streets continues to increase. These guns are from the USA, smuggled across the border by criminal gangs.

      I am fairly sure that the treatment of the mentally ill in Canada is every bit as bad as it is in the USA. My wife's sister and father have psychiatric problems and their families quickly discovered how lacking our mental health system really is.

  2. When I learned that the shooter had Asperger's, my heart sank. Already on the fringe of society, socially awkward and many times shy, it is hard for sufferers to interact with others in a 'normal' way, and because of this tend to be shunned and bullied. I suspect we will find out in the coming weeks that this most recent mass murderer was bullied at school and/or home.

    I was shocked to learn of the knife incident at your school. I'm really curious what happened to the bullies. Were they disciplined? If they are permitted to keep bullying that boy tragedy will surely result.

    1. We have so many Aspergers' students now! It seems to be the "disability-du-jour" ... I'm wondering it is over-diagnosed.

      It's a complicated story. The boy in question is deeply damaged. His father committed suicide and it was this boy (age 6) who discovered his father hanging there. His mother was recently diagnosed with some terrible disease (Lou Gehrig's, I think)and cannot work or look after him. He is being raised by his grandmother whom I've spoken to many times.

      At to "the incident" itself, this boy in question is mouthy, entirely lacking in social skills and is constantly provoking others and interfering in their business. Then, when anything at all happens (such as if someone throws an eraser at him in class), he plays the "victim card" in an attempt to get the other boy in trouble.

      Yes, the other two boys were suspended from school for a while. But I don't think this was a case of bullying in the strict definition of the word.

  3. While a conversation on gun control is certainly in order, I can pretty much assure you that if this poor, sad, mentally ill young man could not have obtained guns, a sack of ammonium nitrate and some diesel fuel would have sufficed.

    The thrust of this post is exactly on target: We have a terrible system to deal with mentally ill people in this country (and apparently in Canada, too). Please read this blgopost, then let's revisit the whole gun control thing:

    Peace <3

    1. The problems here really started a couple of decades ago. To save costs, psychiatric institutions were shut down with the reasoning that the mentally ill would be better off living in the community. But the main motivation of governments was to save money.

      But the assisted living supports, group homes and the like hadn't even been set up. Many of the de-institutionalized people with a mental illness ended up in homeless shelters and on the streets, sick and without their meds.

      Compounding the problem is the stigma that still hangs over mental illness. Even families who have the resources to seek help often won't admit that mental illness is the problem, particularly when their children are involved.

      And when a person is suffering from a mental illness (such as my wife's depression), they are usually not thinking rationally enough to seek help or to recognize they have a treatable problem on their own.

  4. Bravo to you for reporting what you knew to be true and doing it at once. In some of these cases where warnings have been given, they haven't been acted upon and the results have been bad. The fact that you were proven correct confirms that you have very good instincts.

    1. Thanks, Will! I occasionally find that some of my colleagues are afraid to rock the boat or to say what they really feel. Sometimes, it takes a bit of courage to do the right thing and I have a great deal of it!

  5. Everyone thinks it can't happen in THEIR small town! But the truth as you have eloquently shown, is that mental illness is everywhere. Too many of us do look the other way, not having the courage you showed to stand up and point out the truth. We must realize that it is everyone's responsibility to report such suspect behavior to the proper authorities, and INSIST that those authorities act before another tragedy occurs. I wish you could put the above post on YouTube or somewhere that it could go viral. The poster in your post is quite an indictment of the lack of gun control in the USA. Second amendment aside, no one (except law enforcement) should be able to get access to assault weapons.

  6. I live 50 minutes away from where the shooting occured. I am devestated.

    1. Yes, it's a terrible tragedy but especially if it happened 'in your backyard.' Everyone at my school was deeply affected by it as well, even many thousands of mile away.


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