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There’s Blood in the Classroom

By: EJ Kammerer, Contributor

Originally Published February 6, 2024

Three fifteen-year-old students exchanged stolen guns on the bus on the way to school and in a bathroom on school grounds. When Hempfield Area High School administration was notified of this occurring, a school lockdown went underway. As police arrived on the scene, they searched two of the students’ backpacks and found two firearms fully loaded. There was no indication, according to the police, if there was intent to cause an attack on campus. However, one of the students “allegedly threatened another student while they were in class” without making the firearm visible. This incident in the classroom resulted in the perpetrator being charged with “terroristic threats.” (CBS News)

Violence is an epidemic in our world. One cannot turn on their local or national news channel, look up current events on their phone, or even talk to someone about the current state of the world without a form of such evil being displayed or discussed. This topic can and usually is intense, terrifying, and even overwhelming as people are constantly reminded of how one person or a group of people take physical force to get what they desire or send some sort of message. One place that helps children and adults get away from this destructive force is in the classroom.

Schools, ideally, should be a safe space for students to learn and feel secure, away from the insecurities of their environment at home or outside of the classroom in general. For some students, school is the only safe place in their lives to be fed, learn, and have positive social interactions. According to the National Center for Education Statistics in 2016, students who live in poor households in first through twelfth grade made up 19 percent of the school-age population. This statistic indicates that there is an unfortunate number of students who do not feel safe or comfortable and have unmet necessities in their homes, making their school environment a safe place to have their unmet needs met. However, school shootings, an issue plaguing our schools, takes away this sanctity and safety for students who crave comfort. For students at Hempfield, on October 3, 2023, this nightmare could have become a tragic reality.

As evidenced by the incident at Hempfield Area High School, violence and weapons being brought into school is not a “boogeyman” to scare children and faculty; this is an issue that has been and may continue to be present in our local community. In fact, violence in nearby school districts occurred before this incident at Franklin Regional Senior High School. However, in this case, blood was shed.

On April 9, 2014, a sixteen-year-old sophomore brought a knife to school with the intention to attack. The incident was reported to authorities by a security guard on campus at 7:13 a.m., just minutes before the start of school. In the hallways of the school, 24 people were injured in the stabbing; 21 students and one security guard were stabbed, and two other people were injured. At least five students were critically wounded, “including a boy who was on a ventilator after a knife pierced his liver, missing his heart and aorta by only millimeters,” according to doctors. (CBS News) Even though he was a juvenile, Alex Hribal was charged with four counts of attempted homicide and 21 other counts.

There was a counselor on campus when tragedy struck the classroom: John Easton. “I was in my office on my phone with another track coach when the first screams were heard,” he recalled, assuming there was a fight occurring in the school. When he took off to break up this “fight,” a student ran up to Easton who was hiding in the nurse’s office and told him what actually happened. The two ran back into the nurse’s office “and found a grisly scene with two severely injured young people,” as he put it. The nurse instructed Easton to call 911 and proceeded to apply pressure to an abdominal wound. Paramedics arrived 15 to 20 minutes later, causing the counselor to help students evacuate and attempt post-crisis management.

Violence occurring in schools has a severe lasting effect on the atmosphere in the classroom. According to John, such a tragic scene worsened through media coverage “which was only loosely based in fact,” the following three years were quite frankly awful for the school’s atmosphere. Even to this day, the effects still resonate. “Every fire drill is announced in advance because the alarms trigger people,” lamented Easton.

I am an early childhood education major and have begun my pre-student teaching journey as of writing this piece. When my future students enter the classroom, I want them to feel safe in my care and comfortable enough to learn, let alone stay in the school building for upwards of seven hours. How can I reasonably provide this care with the looming thought of a student, faculty member, or stranger bringing a weapon to the school building?

First and foremost, students need to have trust that the faculty at school will protect them from potential threats. However, preventing violence in schools is not that easy. As John Easton put it, “I think it is like trying to get toothpaste back in the tube.” This problem is deeply rooted in our society. He continues, “The perpetrator in [the stabbing at Franklin Regional] had a psychotic break. He perseverated on the Columbine assailants and wanted that same ‘glory’ that they got. He was neither bullied nor a bully.”

To protect students from threats at school, there are a few solutions that I can think of. A resource officer being present on campus during school hours can help keep children safe in the classrooms. In addition, metal detectors could be placed at the entrance of buildings in nationwide school districts. This implementation has long been a hot topic of discussion. Retractors could ask, don’t you think a metal detector in front of an elementary school is overkill? Absolutely not. Safety does not have an age requirement, and, unfortunately, anyone can enter even an elementary school with a weapon. After all, I would prefer teaching and going to a school that takes even excessive measures to ensure no innocent lives are lost and no blood is shed. Learning and peer-and-teacher interaction should be the only things that students should focus on in school, not whether they will live another day.

Education about mental health being readily available with credible mental health services could also help combat potential psychotic breaks. But Easton and I have our doubts that these services will become readily available soon. As the counselor put it, “intelligent people with people skills often do not want to work for 19 dollars an hour with a master’s degree.” Instead, I believe that current teachers can include socioemotional teaching techniques and encourage students to be aware of their own mental health. Some socioemotional techniques that can be applied include teaching daily habits (getting enough sleep, regular exercise, etc.), how to build a support network with friends and family you can trust, and how to show compassion for yourself. This implementation allows students to discover solutions and methods to combat the stress and worries of their lives with help from their educators.

Editor Note: The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely the author’s. Publishing of any opinion piece does not represent endorsement of the piece by The Review staff or Saint Vincent College.

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