School shootings have become part of our culture. There is much debate over how to prevent such horrific events from occurring, and most center around politics and gun control laws. While my personal view is that no civilian citizen needs an assault rifle, or any other weapon of mass destruction for that matter, the focus on gun control detracts from the underlying cause of the problem. The root cause of school shootings is emotional disturbance. There is talk about mental illness, but there is no talk about addressing emotional disturbance through special education and related services.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) includes a “Child Find” obligation, which requires all school districts to identify, locate and evaluate all children with disabilities so that they may receive appropriate special education services. By all accounts everyone in the Parkland Florida community knew the 19 year old shooter was emotionally disturbed. The school expelled him rather than place him in a program for emotionally disturbed children and provide appropriate instruction so he might live as an independent functioning member of our society.
All too often, schools take the position that it’s not their problem because it’s a “medical problem” (never mind that emotional disturbance is one of the IDEA’s disability classification categories). Child study teams must recognize that it most certainly is their problem, and if they don’t, they run the risk of kids like this returning to their former schools armed with assault rifles and mass murdering people.
Some have suggested in Facebook posts that we arm the teachers. The only weapon the teachers need is a referral form. Child study teams need to be receptive and less concerned with protecting their coffers than they are with getting these kids the help they need, the help we all need them to have. The Parkland shooter wasn’t the first, and likely won’t be the last. The question is, will the schools live up to their responsibility to educate these kids appropriately so they might not become mass murderers.