Guest opinion: School safety needs wider attention

My Mom would be horrified by the rash of violence in our schools today. The most recent tragedy at Covenant School in Nashville where three students and three adults were shot to death is devastating. It was unimaginable 40 years ago.

Mom was an elementary school secretary for 20 years. She wanted us, her four children, to become teachers. A key reason was schools were safe places for kids, teachers, and staff — places where students learned the fundamental skills required in life.

Little did our parents know that schools today are fraught with danger. They would not have understood the mass killings since the Columbine tragedy in 1999. They would not believe the once coveted teacher jobs are now vacant; or, the lack of respect some parents and students show teachers or administrators. Likewise, they would have imagined citizens’ views being wantonly cast aside by school boards.

Today, we have family members who are students, teachers, coaches, administrators and school psychologists. As parents and grandparents, we worry about their safety, health and emotional well-being.

Approximately one-third of teachers report that they experienced at least one incident of verbal harassment or threat of violence from students during the pandemic. Even today, almost half expressed a plan or desire to quit or transfer jobs, according to Psychology Today.

PT states the most recent national indicators of school crime and safety reveals that of 3.8 million teachers, 10 percent (373,900) of teachers recounted that a student had threatened them with injury.

Another 6 percent (220,300) of teachers affirmed a student had physically attacked them.

In 2021, there were 1.4 million assaults in the United States where personal weapons, such as hands, fists, or feet, were used. There were more than 1,000 murders attributed to stabbings. Additionally, there were 69,423 aggravated assaults where handguns were used, Statista Research reported last October.

Bullying was identified as a primary reason for violence in schools. Today, it is rampant.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) found one in five high school students reported being bullied on school property. More than one in six high school students reported being bullied electronically in the last year.

Gun violence is a huge problem in America today. According to The Washington Post, no less than 348,000 children have experienced gun violence at school in the USA in the last 24 years, meaning they were in school at the time of a shooting incident.

The 2023 trend is not good. To date there have been 130 mass shootings in our country thus far this year, which works out at just shy of 1.5 mass shootings per day.

There were 51 school shootings in 2022 that resulted in injuries or deaths, the most in a single year since Education Week began tracking such incidents in 2018. In 2021, the number was 35.

Even if there is a ban on assault weapons, as President Biden proposes, America still has a systemic problem with violence in schools. It goes to the people pulling the trigger. We need greater support and respect for law enforcement. The response by Nashville police at Covenant School proves well-trained and equipped law enforcement officers saved lives. Training, experience and leadership count.

Soft-on-crime policies are not working. Too many hardened criminals are released early or given minimal sentences. Recidivism is high. According to the National Institute of Justice, almost 44 percent of the recently released return before the end of their first year out of jail. That must change.

Finally, cracking down on drugs is key. FOX News reports more adults between 18 and 45 died of fentanyl overdoses in 2020 than by COVID-19, motor vehicle accidents, cancer and suicide.

School safety demands immediate action. It is beyond finger pointing and political bickering. Our kids and school cannot wait.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver, Wa. He can be contacted at