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Editorial: Our hysteria over school shootings affects children

Staff Report • May 29, 2013 at 7:53 AM

• A six-year-old South Carolina girl is expelled from kindergarten after bringing a plastic toy gun to class.

• A five-year-old Pennsylvania girl is suspended for making a “terroristic threat” by bringing her bubble gun to school.• A Virginia first-grader is suspended for pointing a finger and saying, “Pow.”

• Among “dangerous weapons” banned at some schools are nail clippers and among banned substances, Alka-Seltzer.

• Locally, reports of an armed robbery in Gray prompt the lockdown of three county schools.

• Carters Valley Elementary in Church Hill is locked down, and four squad cars respond when two persons attending a kindergarten graduation are thought to be suspicious.• In Sullivan County, a photo of a person near a school taken by officers even though he posed no threat is nonetheless distributed to a principal, then to teachers, and then all over Facebook.We remain on edge over school shootings, but are we more frightened than we should be? Are we overreacting to the point some innocent person could get hurt or worse by walking by a school in dark clothing?Tough questions. But with out-of-control zero-tolerance policies turning innocent children into objects of fear and ridicule and nervous law enforcement officers unaware of what they’re really responding to, these questions need to be examined.Violence in schools remains a very rare occurrence — 99.99 percent of the nation’s some 125,000 schools have never had a homicide, and the odds of a shooting in an elementary or middle school are about 1 in 142,000 while every day on average, eight children are killed with firearms outside schools and 32 die in accidents.Decades ago during the Cold War, children went through “air raid drills” where they were instructed to hide under their desks or hug the walls in the event of a nuclear strike. They were too young to realize the absurdity of these drills, but since they never saw or heard about nuclear bombs falling anywhere in the U.S. thought little of them.Today kids know what happened at Sandy Hook.

And while we want schools always to be safe and our children never to be fearful while attending them, what’s the impact of lockdowns every time someone sees something suspicious when teachers lock doors, close blinds, and usher children into a corner telling them to be very quiet?What are we doing to innocent children caught up in adult hysteria who are sent home for absolutely innocent behavior like pointing a finger? We may be more frightened than we need to be.That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t focus on school safety in every respect and take measures to ensure it. But neither should our schools be turned into fortresses, and neither should we dispense with common sense over ridiculous policies that harm children because, for instance, they forgot to leave the nail clippers at home.

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