On Valentine’s Day, another shooting occurred in Parkland, Florida, where a former, disturbed student entered the school with a semiautomatic rifle used it to kill seventeen people and wound fourteen others. Just three weeks earlier on January 23, Bailey Nicole Holt and Preston Ryan Cope joined the list of names of students killed in school shootings. The shooting at Marshall County High School in Kentucky was the eleventh shooting of 2018 and the 255th shooting since 2013. The shooting in Florida was the 18th school shooting of 2018.
Much has changed since Columbine, when the 1999 shooting dominated the news for weeks, inspired a multitude of books and documentaries, and imprinted itself on the mind of nearly every American. Now, the rate of school shootings averages once a week, and it is on the rise.
Not much has changed, however, on a federal level. Even though 210 gun laws have been passed to strengthen gun safety, over half of Americans still live in a state without expanded background check laws.
Wellesley does have safeguards in place to protect students from gun violence. Ms. Melissa Gray, school psychologist, works with students at the high school who have expressed interest in hurting themselves or others.
“Any student who there were concerns about, whether it was a student or a faculty member who expressed those concerns, would go through a safety evaluation… and if there was a threat, further action is then taken in terms of outside supports,” said Gray.
The shooting in Parkland, Florida, was carried out by a disturbed individual. He “had problems controlling his temper”, enjoyed being provicational, and even left a YouTube comment saying he was “going to be a professional school shooter” in the fall of 2017. Even those this post was flagged and sent to the F.B.I., little came of the incident, and Nikolas Cruz went on to fulfill that prophecy. The support system that the high school has in place, however, hopes to catch students who might otherwise fall through the cracks.
Unfortunately, despite the support systems here, the current climate is such that an incident of gun violence could happen at Wellesley – simply because they can now happen anywhere. In fact, the governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin, called the tragedy on January 23 “unbelievable.” Florida Governor Rick Scott made a statement asking the public to take the copycat threats to other schools seriously. Unfortunately, tragedies like this are no longer unbelievable because we cannot even grieve as a nation before the new threats come pouring in against communities of innocent students.
Gray echoes this sentiment, but she is trying to make a change. “It is always a shock and is devastating… I also understand that it is the reality of the place that we live in today,” said Gray. “I always come back to what does this mean for us and do we have appropriate things in place to respond to something like this.”
This past fall, the high school conducted an active-shooter drill for teachers only. Similar to a practice held by two thirds of schools in Massachusetts, the drill simulated an active shooter entering the building. Students were excluded from the drill this time, but that may not be true in the future.
“I think [we are working towards conversations] more directly addressing school shootings and violence in schools,” said Gray. “We have a crisis team who would respond to [issues in the past]. I think the question that we are wrestling with is to how to properly address this with students that both conveys how serious it is but also does not scare people.”