How School Violence ‘Madness’ Robs Students of Help

Many school districts are spending money on fortifying school buildings at the expense of hiring counselors and psychologists, University of Virginia Prof. Dewey Cornell tells criminologists. He urges more emphasis on prevention.

Schools in the U.S. are much “safer than the public perceives,” says Dewey Cornell, forensic clinical psychologist and professor of education at the University of Virginia.

Speaking on Thursday at the American Society of Criminology convention in Atlanta, Cornell argued that a national “madness” surrounding mass school shootings has prompted many policymakers to spend money on fortifying school buildings at the expense of providing needed services to troubled students.

Cornell readily conceded that 301 people have been shot at schools, many of them fatally, since the Newtown, Ct., massacre in 2012.

Yet 500,000 people have been shot in non-school settings nationwide during the same period.

“You’re safer in schools than outside,” he said.

In Cornell’s view, the fear of school violence has prompted many educators to adopt a zero-tolerance policy that is “not effective,” expelling many students and making them worse in the process.

What school districts should do, he says, is adopt a thorough threat assessment procedure that “prevents school shootings before a gunman is at your door.”

Many Virginia schools have done that successfully, Cornell said.

He said threats by students and others should be investigated, but 99 percent of them will not be carried out. While many schools are pouring money into metal detectors, stronger doors, and locks, some counselors and psychologists are vastly underfunded, each responsible for 1,000 to 2,000 students, making it impossible to deal with all disturbed students.

Details of the University of Virginia’s prevention recommendations can be found at this site. Cornell spoke at a program on “Understanding, Preventing and Responding to Violence in the United States,” sponsored by the National Institute of Justice.

This report was prepared by Ted Gest, president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau chief of The Crime Report.