During the last school year, 27 Memphis students were caught with guns at school, says the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “The underlying question is why these children feel like they need to bring guns to school,” said Memphis Council PTA president Zorina Bowen, who transferred her daughter from to a different high school because of bullying. After an accidental shooting at a high school last week, school officials were jarred into action. Deputy Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson ordered more metal detector checks — nine a year were required — after a gun tucked in a 17-year-old boy’s pants went off while he sat in class.
The shootings have raised questions about whether the school system is doing enough to keep students safe. “Doing more metal detector checks is a start, but it’s not enough,” says one mother. School violence experts say the road to safety starts much earlier — in the offices of school counselors, social workers, and psychologists who work with at-risk children to defuse tempers. Tight budgets have meant hiring freezes for social workers. “We’re not coming close to meeting the need for intervention with at-risk students,” said Randy Snell, mental health coordinator for Memphis schools. “We’re spread real thin.” School systems with high special needs, poverty, and minority concentrations like Memphis should allot one social worker for every 500 students, says the National Council of State Consultants for School Social Work Services.