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!"