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Safe schools and communities: basic needs of our children | Columnists

Once again, we mourn the student and teacher victims of a school shooting. As educators, youth workers, families and concerned citizens, we are filled with dread by scenes of children fleeing their schools and parents frantically searching for their children.

Unfortunately, the horrifying attack at Robb Elementary School is not a unique event. These school shootings occurring across our nation, including six in Indiana in the last 23 years, have forever altered scores of lives and communities. We can honor the 19 students and two teachers killed in Uvalde, as well as the victims and survivors of all school shootings, by turning our horror, fear and outrage into action.

The Washington Post maintains a database of school shootings, tracking incidents and the number of children and adults who have been killed or injured. This database gathers information from law enforcement, news articles, and school reports, counting incidents that have happened on K-12 school campuses dating from the 1999 Columbine shooting. They have found at least 185 children, educators and others have been killed, and more than 350 others wounded, in these attacks. In addition, this database has calculated how many children have witnessed and been present at the schools during acts of gun violence: over 300,000.

The Post database (linked to this article online at kpcnews.com) can be sorted by state. Indiana’s listing includes six events where a total of 4,070 students were present. The two most recent Indiana school shootings were at Dennis Intermediate School in Richmond (2018) and Noblesville West Middle School (2018).

Children who are directly impacted can be profoundly traumatized, with the effects being felt for years. Furthermore, the fear and uncertainty caused by these shootings ripple far beyond the directly involved school communities. Research shows that any instance of crime or violence at school can also negatively impact bystanders, the larger school environment, and the instinct community, as students and families will worry about their own safety. Students who feel unsafe at school are more likely to miss days of class. Students who witness school violence are more likely to experience health problems, social and emotional difficulties and poor academic performance.

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, 76.6% of Indiana parents say they “definitely agree” that their child is safe at school. While this is higher than the national reported rate of 71.6%, both reported indicators are far lower than the Healthy People 2020 initiative’s goal that 95% of parents consider their children to be safe at school. We all have a role to play in creating and sustaining a climate of safety in our schools.

Indiana has proactively taken steps to ensure our schools have updated safety plans in place. Every public school corporation in Indiana is required to have a certified school safety specialist; 88% of districts have two or more specialists. Each specialist completes annual training and is responsible for updating and implementing the district’s plan. And yet, even the best plans are not guaranteed.

Many families and individuals are asking for more to be done. While there are clearly no easy solutions, there are many possible avenues for action. Indiana Youth Institute exists to understand and support the priorities of youth-serving organizations and youth workers themselves. We are launching a two-part initiative to directly gather feedback from those working most closely with our kids. Throughout the summer and early fall, we will be asking youth workers and teachers about their biggest safety concerns and what actions they believe should be taken. If your organization would like to participate, let us know at data@iyi.org. Our goal is to ensure that everyone who dedicates their professional lives to supporting our children and youth has an opportunity to share their perspectives. We will be sharing what we hear and learn.

Each day, we send our children to school, summer programs, sports practices, and other activities, eager for them to learn and play with their peers. The horrific mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo have once again heightened our concerns for school and community safety. Students and families are understandably and admirably stepping up to not only regain their sense of safety but also to call for increased action. As community leaders, parents, and citizens, it is our shared responsibility to provide safe environments for all of our educators, youth workers, and, most importantly, our kids.

Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI.

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