Policy

Recommendations for Education Policy and Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Divisions of the Minnesota House of Representatives

School Safety

Since the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999, education and public safety policy has emphasized situational crime prevention and law enforcement response in an effort to prevent shooting casualties. In the 20 years since Columbine, however, school shootings have not decreased in frequency, and have, in fact, gotten deadlier. Rather than focusing on preparing for when a shooting occurs, we need a shift in framework to focus on true prevention. Our mass violence research study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, lays the groundwork for evidence-based school shooting prevention. Here are our initial recommendations based on this research:

1. Little to no lockdown drills for children in schools. All adults (teachers, staff, administrators) should be trained and prepared for a potential shooting, but children and young people should avoid these rehearsals because

a. Research shows that these lock down drills are traumatic for students and increase anxiety.

b. Almost all school shooters are current or previous students at the school. Lockdown drills show potential perpetrators the school’s exact response, which can be used to increase casualties.

c. Running at least five lockdown drills per year (per the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act) means that by age 18, the average Minnesota student has gone through 70 lockdown drills. This normalizes school shootings starting at a young age, and hands children a script for this type of violence. In vulnerable students, it could even trigger a fascination, contributing to a contagion effect.

2. Our study found that the majority of school shooters have numerous risk factors for violence, are suicidal prior to the shooting, and leak their plans ahead of time. For these reasons, we advocate for reframing threats of school violence as clear sign of a student crisis.

a. Threats of school violence should not be unduly punished or criminally charged. This only increases the likelihood of future violence by adding stress and exacerbating grievances with the school.

b. Threats of school violence are the key moment for intervention. Threats should be seen as a cry for help and potentially as a sign of suicidality because most school shooters expect or intend to die in the act. Any threat is a critical moment for a student to be connected with needed resources.

3. All school personnel (teacher, administrator, staff member etc.) must be trained regularly in crisis intervention, de-escalation, and suicide prevention. Preferably, this should be high-quality, in person training. History shows us that many school shootings are stopped by adults who have a relationship with a student in crisis. For this reason, all adults in the school should be able to recognize signs of a crisis, feel comfortable intervening, and know exactly how to connect students to resources.