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It is without doubt that The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting will go down in history as the deadliest school shooting incident involving minors in America (Blad, 2013), and one which attracted a high number of calls to implement a multiplicity of school safety legislations aimed at protecting schools from gun-related violence (“School safety legislation,” 2013).
In this particular incident which occurred in Newton on December 14, 2012, a mentally-disturbed young man by the name of Adam Lanza forced his way into the elementary school and shot dead 20 school children and 6 adults before taking his own life to avoid arrest (Blad, 2013).
The main objective of this paper is to analyze this incident with the view to interrogating a whole set of issues related to school violence (e.g., gun control policies in schools, incident communication, and incident response) and developing a school safety policy based on the analysis.
School administrators responded to the shooting incident by calling for a change in gun laws and by requesting for the development and implementation of various pieces of legislation aimed at protecting the safety of children and workers within the school environment.
The decision to arm school teachers and workers attracted widespread attention in the wake of Sandy Hook School shootings, as it was felt that the lone gunman could have been easily overpowered if some teachers or workers had been armed (“School safety legislation,” 2013).
Indeed, some administrators and school districts requested for the training and arming of staff members to effectively deal with such shooting incidents in the future, although other educator groups felt that it was wrong for staff members to be allowed to possess guns (Blad, 2013).
Other school administrators and education stakeholders responded to the unfortunate school shooting by advocating for laws and policies that included
- increasing police presence in learning institutions,
- enhancing mental health and counseling services in schools,
- introducing emergency planning measures in schools,
- availing additional money to undertake school security upgrades.
Still, others advocated for loosening of general rules that make it illegal for teachers and workers to bring guns to schools, and a few advocated for proposals to change regulations governing firearms such as magazine size and purchasing limitations on particular guns (“School safety legislation,” 2013).
The Sandy Hook School shooting incident brings into the fore various issues that need to be carefully analyzed to note the weaknesses that could have played a part in providing an enabling environment for the lone gunman to attack and kill so many people.
An assessment of the policies that existed before this shooting incident demonstrates a general prohibition on the possession of guns in school compounds (“School safety legislation,” 2013), implying that no member of staff could have accessed a weapon when Adam Lanza entered the school compound and started to shoot indiscriminately.
Of particular importance here is the United States federal law known as the gun-free school zones act of 1990 and how it proscribes any unauthorized person from intentionally or deliberately possessing a gun at a place or location that may be perceived as a school zone (National Crime Prevention Council, 2014).
Although this and other related policies have acted to secure educational institutions from gun-related violence and crime, they have nevertheless failed to address a situation whereby an attacker may force his or her way into the school compound as happened in the Sandy Hook incident.
Owing to the elementary nature of the school in question, this paper assumes that the young students of Sandy Hook School were not aware of the policies related to this incident prior to its occurrence. However, although students may not have been aware of the existing gun regulation policies, it is evident that the school had implemented several policies related to the creation of a culture of safety.
The two mostly used safety strategies included (1) visible identification and screening of visitors using a security system, and (2) locking the school doors each day after the commencement of classes (“Sandy Hook shooting,” 2014).
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Many policy changes have been proposed since the Sandy Hook shooting incident, with available documentation demonstrating that states such New York, Colorado, and Connecticut have already enacted various legislations aimed at reducing gun violence (Johnson, 2013).
According to this author, the various legislations being enacted by these states “include strengthening background checks on gun sales, bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and other laws that aim to keep firearms out of the hands of violent individuals” (para. 8).
A law passed in Connecticut, which was epicenter of Sandy School shooting, aims to address mental health concerns ostensibly because the alleged shooter was suffering from a mental health illness. It is clear that the many fatalities witnessed in Sandy School shooting could have been avoided if some of the rules had been implemented prior to the attack.
Today, most educational activities include a component of mental health, as education stakeholders come face to face with the reality that many students could be suffering from psychological disorders and hence predisposed to violence and other socially undesirable behaviors.
It is also evident that students are taught how to cope with stress, which has been known to occasion socially unacceptable behavior including the predisposition to become violent.
Lastly, most students today receive educational instructions on how to deal with emergencies that may arise in school environments (“School safety legislation,” 2013). Such educational activities, in my view, will go a long way in ensuring that students develop the capacity to deal with own life stressors and emergency situations with the view to preventing unnecessary loss of life.
The introduction of mental health services and education in most curriculums is of immense importance in assisting students to identify and deal with abusive behavior in school, which may include but not limited to bullying, threatening behavior, intimidation, and abuse (Tsiantis, Beratis, & Syngelaki, 2013).
Other behavioral orientations such as anxiety, introverted nature and depression are known to form the basic building blocks for an abusive predisposition.
Indeed, one particular report covering the Sandy Hook killings demonstrates the Mr. Lanza, the killer of 26 people in the school, “was preoccupied with video games and communicated with his mother only through email, even though they were on the same floor” (Flegenheimer, 2013, para. 13).
Such behavioral orientations should not be tolerated within the school environment as they often lead to negative consequences including loss of life.
As already mentioned, some instructional practices changed due to the shooting incident, as more students became exposed to mental health education and counseling services to assist them deal with stressful life events.
Education stakeholders were also encouraged to involve students in updated safety plans and crisis response protocols, done in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies and community service providers, with the view to preparing students on how to deal with emergencies (Brydolf, 2013).
Most of these programs were offered under an instructional practice setting known as teaching for understanding, whereby students were challenged to think and employ their knowledge in addressing daily problems (e.g., what to do when faced with a difficult life challenge) and connecting ideas (e.g., which family influencers can make a child to turn violent or become abusive).
Consequently, it can be argued that there has been a noted change in instructional practices, from the traditional teacher-centered methodologies to student-centered approaches that necessitate students to use critical thinking skills and apply relevant knowledge to understand and solve challenges (Moore, 2014).
It is evident that the Sandy Hook School shooting incident was communicated to the media by law enforcement officers, who were ill-equipped to correctly explain what transpired due to lack of an effective information flow from school administrators.
Many parents received the news of the shooting incident from mainstream media commentators, who had received incomplete information on what transpired at the school from law enforcement officers.
Due to such inadequacies, it is felt that school administrators should receive training in crisis communication to ensure that information is disseminated to relevant stakeholders in the most effective manner to avoid confusion and anxiety during such incidents (Braud, 2014).
In a news article on The Guardian newspaper, the author commented on how America was reeling from one of the worst school shootings in its history and also how the incident had triggered new countrywide soul-searching about the role firearms play in the American society.
The author acknowledged President Obama’s speech in stressing the importance of gaining greater controls on gun-related violence, and continued to cite police and media sources to demonstrate how the gunman gained entry, the weapons used in the shootings, and the number of people killed in the incident according to their status and area of operation in the school (Pilkington & Harris, 2012).
Police responded to the incident almost immediately after receiving the first emergency call at around 9:30 a.m., although the killer managed to take his life before he could be arrested (“Sandy Hook shooting,” 2014). Although the school principal perished in the incident, other teachers acted with great courage to save as many students as possible.
Education administrators acted professionally in calming emotions and assisting the affected parents to overcome their grief through material and emotional support. Most parents and students reacted with anxiety and confusion immediately after the incident due to lack of information, but this was addressed once information became available.
Lastly, the local community reacted by showing a lot of concern and providing material, emotional and spiritual support to those in need (Flegenheimer, 2013; Pilkington & Harris, 2012).
Arising from this analysis, the best policy is for schools to invest in training some workers in comprehensive disaster responsiveness and management, as it is believed that many lives could have been saved if the incident was managed well.
Some staff members need to be trained on handling such situations and provided with equipment that will provide the necessary capacity to act without having to wait for law enforcement officers. Schools also need to be funded to undertake security upgrades that may include constructing high-perimeter walls, developing video surveillance, and enhancing physical search capabilities at the gate.
Lastly, as a school leader, it would have been plausible to ensure there existed a comprehensive and collaborative communication mechanism in the school to avoid raising anxiety levels due to lack of adequate information. This proposal requires a selected group of teachers or workers to be trained on conflict communication and provided with a fully-equipped communications office within the school setting.
Blad, E. (2013). A year later, Newton tragedy yields little policy change. Education Week. Web.
Braud, G. (2014). A lesson in crisis communication. Web.
Brydolf, C. (2013). Preparing for unthinkable: School safety after Sandy Hook. Web.
Flegenheimer, M. (2013). Final report on Sandy Hook killings shed new light on gunman’s isolation. The New York Times. Web.
Johnson, T. (2013). 23 gun safety victories since Sandy Hook. Web.
Moore, K. D. (2014). Effective instructional strategies: From theory to practice (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
National Crime Prevention Council. (2014). Strategy: Gun-free school zones. Web.
Pilkington, E., & Harris, P. (2012). Sandy Hook classroom shooting: Full horror emerges as victims named. The Guardian. Web
Sandy Hook shooting: What happened? (2014). Cable News Network. Web.
School safety legislation since Newton. (2013). Education Week. Web.
Tsiantis, A. C. J., Beratis, I. N., & Syngelaki, E. M. (2013). The effects of a clinical prevention program on burying, victimization, and attitudes toward school of elementary school students. Behavioral Disorders, 38(4), 243-257.