Focus on community not guns to protect students, says national education expert

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    A third of students nationwide say they were bullied last school year, according to a recent report from the non-profit group YouthTruth. It surveyed more than 160,000 secondary students. The results were higher than two years ago, when the group says just over a fourth of students were bullied.

    Meanwhile, research published in the journal Pediatrics says victims of bullying are twice as likely to bring a weapon to school as other students.

    Andre Perry, a former education professor and fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, D.C., says hardening schools and arming staff members is not the way to keep kids safer.

    Campuses throughout the country are seeing an increasing number of deadly attacks. Researchers at Clemson University say more Americans were killed or hurt in school shootings over the past 18 years than in the entire 20th century.

    "Overwhelmingly, they are adolescent shooters who are doing these crimes," Perry told a KATU reporter.

    He said he once managed four charter schools in New Orleans.

    "I've encountered violent children as an educator," he explained.

    Perry said the problem isn’t that schools aren’t safe enough, but that adolescent students don’t feel secure enough in school communities.

    "There are telltale signs of when students are going to harm themselves or others," Perry said. "It's reflected oftentimes in their homework and their behaviors in school."

    Perry said school districts need to train staff members to detect those situations so they can prevent them from happening.

    "When students do feel insecure, when they have mental health issues, that's when you see many different problems where students can harm themselves and/or others," he explained.

    Perry said even many schools that are high-achieving don't prioritize creating an environment where students feel safe and can talk about their problems with adults and each other.

    And he said that's a big mistake.

    "You do everything to make students feel warm and secure," Perry said. "School connectedness is what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) described as an attachment to a school, a healthy attachment to a school and when students feel secure, when they feel a sense of belonging, they don't tear through a school with guns."

    A 2003 study found 40 to 60 percent of all students are “chronically disengaged” from school, meaning they don't see themselves as having a strong support system within their educational environment.

    Meanwhile, Safe Oregon offers a confidential tip line students are encouraged to keep on hand. They can use it to report violence, threats or suspicious behavior or to talk about any general feelings they have about safety. The number is 844-472-3367. It accepts phone calls or text messages.

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