Teaching students alternatives to violence and improving their access to mental health services are among the best ideas officials say they have for preventing the kind of bloodshed that has struck a long list of schools, including Franklin Regional High School, the scene of a mass stabbing this week, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. They say progress on arresting school violence nationwide has been hamstrung by a lack of funding, deployment of school-safety programs that haven’t worked and a failure to properly train school staff and students. “We’re 15 years after Columbine, and you’d have thought we would have solved that problem,” said John Matthews of the Texas-based Community Safety Institute. A new Vanderbilt University study suggests that teaching younger students conflict-resolution skills — to think before they act — could be more effective than other techniques. The study reviewed 27 school-safety programs nationwide and talked Nashville youths who were victims of violence.
Manny Sethi, an orthopedic trauma surgeon and a Vanderbilt assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation, said it may be necessary to teach those problem-solving skills before the high school years. “At that point, it’s very hard to kind of change behavior,” he said. Mental-health professionals in Pennsylvania schools say funding cuts in recent years have prompted across-the-board reductions in school counselors, social workers and psychologists. Steven Berkowitz, who co-chairs the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s Disaster and Trauma Committee, said politicians often follow school tragedies with speeches about dealing with mental health issues but don’t follow up with legislation or financial commitments. “Politicians often aren’t specific about these plans because it sounds good, but they are not willing to pay for it,” said Dr. Berkowitz, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.