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Should parents worry about students on safety plans?
The Denver school shooting exposes cause for concern.
Originally published in the Moultrie News.
The Denver student who shot two administrators was reportedly on a “safety plan” to be searched for weapons every day. How common are these plans? Should I be worried about my kids’ safety from kids who are on a “safety plan”?
At any given middle or high school, it isn’t uncommon for one or more students to be on a plan requiring a daily search. Sometimes it’s related to the threat of weapons. Sometimes it’s about ensuring the child doesn’t bring drugs or other contraband into the school.
These safety plans, it must be remembered, aren’t for the safety of the perpetrators. They are for the safety of the school. They are meant to protect students from dangerous classmates. You should not be as worried about the existence of the plans as about the growing need to implement them.
That’s not to say the plans are foolproof. The Denver tragedy — where 17-year-old Austin Lyle opened fire on two school administrators as they prepared to search him — shows us that.
One possible reason for the failure in that case was the lack of police presence on campus. Denver eliminated school police officers in the politically-charged atmosphere of 2020. In the aftermath of this month’s shooting, they have re-reversed course, at least temporarily. If an armed officer had been monitoring the search with the unarmed administrators, things might have gone differently.
Administrators aren’t the best choices for such tasks. I’ve seen a number of safety plans, and they all seem to fall apart at some point when an administrator is required to perform a regular search. That’s not a knock on the administrators; it’s just a reality of the high-responsibility work that they do. When principals have a dozen other urgent needs at hand (and they always do), it’s easy to forget the one or two students that require searching.
That’s not good whether they’re searching for weapons or drugs. Weapons kill, yes, but drugs do too, albeit much more slowly. Neither belongs in schools. In the end, safety searches would be better performed by school police officers than educators, but laws generally make this impossible.
Safety searches may turn up guns, knives, or illicit substances, but they will not ferret out the underlying cause of the child’s criminal tendencies. When I first started researching the Denver shooting, I had a strong idea of what may have helped spur it on. I soon found corroboration in paragraph eight of an article on Denverite describing Lyle’s problems with violent weapons at a previous school: “[Lyle] refused to allow officers to search him, though he acknowledged having marijuana in his backpack.”
Science and my own eyes show the damage cannabis can do to the adolescent mind. Increases in both the use and potency of cannabis are helping students develop violent and even psychotic inclinations. As one of many examples, a 2022 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law concluded that “frequent cannabis use is a potential risk factor for violence and aggression.”
I know this is true. I have seen it. At times, the paranoia and violent impulses even turn students against themselves, resulting in suicidal thoughts and actions. Since widespread legalization has made highly-potent cannabis easily available in a variety of forms, teen suicide and acts of school violence have increased. This and my own experiences with students challenged by drug abuse lead me to believe that Lyle’s erratic actions may have been influenced by the use of cannabis.
The best place for violent students is out of school or in an alternative educational setting. If we insist on keeping them with the peaceful student population, safety plans are necessary to keep students secure.
But safety plans don’t have to stop with individuals. Schoolwide plans should include educating all students about the dangers of drugs like cannabis that can inspire them to behave impulsively and irrationally. We can certainly help a lot of people by disarming violent students of dangerous weapons. We can help even more by disarming them of the dark forces that induce their violent and dangerous thoughts to begin with.
Read the original column here.
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