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The Cost of Coping

May 03, 2016

How the report is being used in preparing prospective principals

The report about the shootings at Arapahoe High School can be both cautionary and helpful for prospective school principals, says Spencer Weiler, UNC associate professor of educational leadership who teaches school law and school finance.

“This obviously was a shooting that could have been prevented, but the culpability is much bigger than just the administration at Arapahoe High School,” he says, asserting that the report points to issues that involve funding, which need to be addressed at the state level. These include recommendations in the report to have a uniform threat assessment procedure for all schools and helping schools deal practically with students’ mental health issues.

One recommendation is for schools to partner with other organizations in their communities, such as mental health agencies, to help kids. In some places, school districts have partnerships that enable parents to obtain free counseling for students who have mental health issues.

The training school administrators receive about school safety has changed drastically since the Columbine shootings 16 years ago. Some of the newest training for principals involves dealing with active shooter situations.

“Typically it’s just been lockdown and pray the shooter doesn’t come into a classroom,” Weiler says. “But we’re training differently now. We have to train people to see themselves as potential opposition to an armed intruder, not just innocent bystanders.”

This can mean throwing objects like laptops or shoving tables at a shooter.

The hardest piece for educators to navigate, however, is the changing role of teachers and administrators.

“These are educators, not law enforcement, not mental health professionals,” Weiler says. “We expect our teachers and administrators to do so much more with fewer resources than ever before.”

Despite those challenges, Weiler says he will use the report on the shootings in his classroom.

“I think it creates a forum for helping aspiring leaders to think about situations where mental illness and student safety is in question,” he says. “The report helps us realize that public schools are not islands, but we can connect with other entities to best support students.”