Our office received a letter from a high school freshman spurred by her research project on school violence. As former teachers, we were most happy to see a student inspired to take further action on a real-world issue. In my response to this student about the ways many of your programs and our state regulations do prepare teachers for these events, I promised that I would forward their letter on to program directors in Vermont to spread this student’s message. Due to their age, the identity of this student will remain anonymous, but please send me any additional responses or commentary to be forwarded to them at email@example.com.
Dear Governor Shumlin,
I am a freshman at Hartford High School, currently enrolled in the Global Issues class. In replacement of a final, we have been asked to complete a project on a topic of our choice. For my project, I have decided to research school shootings and their effects throughout the U.S. My research consisted of multiple school shootings, dating back tot he very first shooting in 1764. Since that time, there have been over 500 accounts of school shootings in the United States alone, ranging from kindergarten through college.
During my research, I found that there are many things that we can do to help prevent school shootings. We can arm schools, improve security, decrease the violence in media, or not even mention the shooter at all, just the shooter’s family and victims. These are all valid options, but there is one thing that we are missing. Almost every shooter, school and otherwise, is found to have had either an emotional or mental illness that is unknown or untreated. So it seems to me that the simplest solution would be to decrease our rate of the undiagnosed mentally ill.
These citizens and students are, for the most part, not being treated for their illness. Most don’t even know that they have an illness! But other people might. The United States Secret Service states that “almost every attacker had engaged in behavior before the shooting that seriously concerned at least one adult – and for many had concerned three or more different adults.” So why didn’t these adults say something?
In an article entitled “Address Mental Health to Prevent School Violence”, author Cynthia Canton mentions this issue. She says many teachers don’t have the proper knowledge to notice the signs of mental or emotional illness, or help the situation. She says that “although it is true that teachers are there to teach, not to play the role of mental health personnel, it is important to consider the significant amount of time that children spend with these faculty at school.” Some of these students spend more time with their teachers than with their parents. This means that teachers have the best opportunity of noticing the first signs of a mental disorder or illness, and to prevent a possible future conflict.
I propose that, in order to become a teacher, adults need to be trained in the basics of mental illness, how to tell the signs of a student or staff member with a possible mental or emotional illness, and what to do when these signs have been identified. Thus the purpose of this letter is to ask for your support in requiring that higher education makes mandatory a course in diagnosing mental illness.
If you deem this suggestion as a possible solution, I am in hopes that you will continue this discussion with the [Department of Health and Human Services] and the Agency of Education. Perhaps if they work together, they might come up with a viable solution to put an end to school shootings.
VT High School Student