How did we get here on school violence?

For the past few months conversations have been heated in reaction to a portion of a sweeping education bill signed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz last May.

Police officers, school resource officers and others in charge of maintaining security in the state’s schools objected to the portion of the law restricting what is termed “reasonable force” in restraining what are termed dangerous students, those who may cause harm to others or themselves in school. In addition, they felt the lack of clarity in spelling out exactly what they could do — other than prohibiting placing a student in a face-down prone position — opened them to criminal charges and lawsuits.

While the issue has been resolved after days of conversation between police officials, lawmakers and the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, and school resource officials now say they will return to those schools using them, the real questions remain unanswered.

Why are schools so violent they require police officers to keep students from killing each other and how did this situation get to this point?

There has always been some degree of bullying and violence, from gang violence to sexual harassment to racial bullying. But in the last few decades this violence has ramped up to students carrying guns, including automatic weapons, and shooting classmates and staff in a rash of school shootings. The fear of a school shooting has led to active shooter drills and parents seeking bulletproof vests for their children, as well as equipping everyone with a cell phone for instant communication.

Parents, school officials and law enforcement officials all have theories about what’s driving all the violence. Some blame social media influencing students, nearly all of whom have a cell phone on which they may follow sites that encourage mayhem and violence. Some cite less stable home environments and more single parent households that make it harder to maintain discipline. Many blame the pandemic for its enforced isolation, lack of camaraderie and decreased discipline making it harder for students to deal with in-person learning.

But fueled by fears of a school shooting in their own community, schools are trying a variety of preventative measures. One of the most common approaches is hiring a school resource officer, usually a police officer who visits the school daily or a few times a week. Their role is threefold — to build relationships with students before a violent incident happens, to deal with such incidents and to provide a resource person with whom to talk about what’s troubling them.

About 40 percent of Minnesota’s public schools and 19 percent of the state’s charter schools have a school resource officer, according to the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Feb. 21, 2021, PDF file on the subject. A district is not required to hire one, and they may choose instead to hire a security firm or train one of their own staff for this role. The decision of whether to have a school resource officer is up to the school district.

Schools have tackled school violence in other ways as well. Some have installed metal detectors to detect weapons by anyone entering the school and some have limited both smart phone and backpacks to lockers. A Twin Cities school has created a time-out room in which stressed students can calm down and also have the opportunity to talk to a mental health counselor.

Schools also try to cope with mental health issues, behavior problems and special needs students by busing them to facilities and programs geared to these needs in an effort to prevent a student’s unmet needs or issues blowing up into school violence. If even one hurting student is prevented from resorting to violence, it all will be worth it.

This is the opinion of Times Writers Group member Lois Thielen, a dairy farmer who lives near Grey Eagle. Her column is published the first Sunday of the month.

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Schools have tackled school violence in many ways.

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