Editor's Note: Jim Mesko is an 11-year writer with the Suburbanite. He is Vietnam War veteran, was a teacher in Green Local Schools for 35 years and served as a volunteer in the former Summit County Sheriff's Office Dive and Rescue Unit.
Mass school shootings at elementary and high schools are horrific events. After the recent one in Parkland, Fla., there has been a huge outcry and concern over school safety. While this is quite understandable, and merits close attention, it is important to take a realistic looks at facts and not let emotions rule the debate.
The news that came out after the Parkland tragedy paints a picture of schools being war zones with students being afraid for their lives. Fortunately, schools are still one of the safest places for children when comparing the number of students versus the number of days and number of hours students spend in school. In fact, according to FBI statistics, the actual number of mass school shootings has decreased since the 1990s. The recent report by CNN that there have been 17 school shootings so far this year includes seven that took place on college campuses. Of the remaining 10, only the one in Parkland was considered a mass shooting. Of the remaining nine, two involved multiple fatalities (two deaths) while the rest don't fall under the "mass shooting" criteria. While any shooting on a school campus is completely unacceptable, sensational stories like this distorts facts and creates an atmosphere of danger.
Children today face a whole host of activities that are far more dangerous to their well being than the dangers of being the victim of a mass school shooting. The most dangerous activity that teens engage in is driving. In 2016, 2,820 young adults died in car related crashes. The number for 2015 was 2,747; for 2014, 2,630; and for 2013, 2,541. Traffic accidents account for roughly a third of all teen fatalities in this country. Drivers, ages 16 and 17 are three times as likely to have fatal accident than drivers age 18 or 19. Many factors contribute to this including lack of experience, multiple passengers in a car, speed, alcohol and texting. While there are laws on the books that deal with teen drivers, there is no move to raise the driving age to 18 or even 21, which would save the vast majority of the close to 3,000 teens who lose their life each year in auto accidents.
Other dangers to children include drug use, homicides, suicide, cancer and heart disease. The current opioid crisis also falls under this category. Each of these categories take many more lives than school shootings. The deaths from flu have also taken a toll of young people. So far this school year, 133 pediatric deaths have been reported by the Center for Diseases Control (CDC). For 2016-17 it was 110; for 2015-16, it was 93; and for 2014-15, it was 148.
School safety should be a key issue across this country. There are many ideas being suggested to increase the safety of school children. These include more police officers, metal detectors, stricter gun laws, more mental health counselors and arming trained teachers. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Many involve a large increase in funding and changing existing laws.
But in some respects, Parkland also highlighted failures in government oversight that could very well have stopped or lessened the effects of the shooter. The warning signs were there. According to many news reports, the FBI missed two warning signs related to his activities, and depending on the numbers cited, the Broward Country Sheriff's Department responded to between 15 to 30 times on calls related to the shooter. And the failure of the school resource officer and police inactivity to intervene and confront the shooter while the carnage was going on inside the school has raised many questions. These serious failures contributed to what occurred and serve as a lesson that unless government and law enforcement officials do their job to their fullest potential the chances of such an event happening again is sure to occur. The Florida shooting should serve as a wake up call for constant vigilance by all parties concerned with school safety. No amount of laws and security precautions will work when proper procedures are not followed by those in charge
There is no magical answer to the problem. While some people advocate turning schools into fortresses, the money and disruption to the educational system would be astronomical. Obviously, schools need to constantly evaluate their security and do what is reasonable and within their capacity to insure the safety of their students. But even if nothing more were done, statistically speaking, schools today are still one of the safest places for students to come and go. And hopefully, with heightened vigilance and reasonable security measures, this will make them even safer. Will they ever be 100 percent safe? There is no way to guarantee that, but schools and government officials should work to their utmost to get as close as possible to achieving that goal.
Our students deserve that and if we as a society fails to do this, then the responsibility rests squarely on our shoulders.