School Violence: Who Should We Blame? ~In Memory of Innocence Lost

The horrible tragedy at Howard HS, in Wilmington, DE this past week hit my professional and personal communities hard.  Just now coming up for air, after many difficult and powerful conversations with children as they attempt to cope and understand many of the issues evoking from the sad, senseless, loss of another child in their presumed safe place, school. Conversations about violence, social media dangers, revenge, mental illness, death, grief, compassion, forgiveness... Howard HS is less than a 15 minute walk from my HS,  we have many varied close personal connections with students in my school to Amy (16 year old Howard HS student who died after allegedly being assaulted by at least two other female students in the school bathroom), her family as well as the other Howard HS students involved and impacted. My work life bleeds into my personal life so this irrational tragedy was even the first topic of conversation at our late dinner that evening Amy died, and every other meal we have eaten together since then.  Our children read my emotional state like a book and therefore, I really have no choice sometimes in choosing whether to share the events of my school day. I am heart broken; heart broken that it takes losing a young life to outrage so many about these issues I, and so many of us, deal with every day. My heartfelt condolences go out to all the families impacted, there are no words to describe the sadness and anger I feel, and the hope I have for their hearts to be healed and comforted over time.

There are countless issues, concerns and what-ifs that we could use to rally behind this tragic event. We could blame parents, schools, video games, the kids, poverty, lack of religion, music lyrics, internet, politicians, drugs, stages of the moon, or you name it. Anything and everything to help us make sense out of a violent attack (at the very least a violent fight), an act of violence that had Amy not lost her life, would have never elicited any attention to the needs, given us the opportunity to blame soo many, let alone nation-wide media attention to young violence and the even more prevalent underlying issues. More than likely, even less than a half mile away, my school would have never heard of the incident had it remained just a fight. Even with our connections to the students involved. Incidents like these happen every day, every where. As a system, as a society, we are completely desensitized to much of what occurs to our youth and families.

Ultimately in my opinion, the reality is our children and families need support. The planned fight by itself at Howard HS, as a means of conflict resolution of any kind (Note: this is not an attempt to explain the events of the day) demonstrates the need for intervention, the need for support, and not just for the children, for the community. Our children and families need supports and services ranging from mental health to financial services and every kind of support in-between. The commonality with any and all of the supports we have available, however, is accessibility. It can be nearly impossible to connect and/or navigate the established systems to complete the process and secure said services.

As educators with over 40 years of experience combined in urban education leadership, with a doctorate in Ed Leadership, masters in Ed Leadership, many certifications and a letter of superintendent eligibility, my wife and I have barely been successful in navigating our way through garnering the support systems available EVEN when we needed them for our personal children. One of our children literally had to wait months before being able to receive the treatment that multiple medical doctors suggest he receive, and then, only after an insurance company mess up, were we able to garner those services by default, through the grievance process.

We are one of the many professionals trained and able to recognize the indicators that initiate student referrals for additional services. But how, when, where do we learn the ins and outs of navigating the systems for the services that we connect families with to meet the social, and emotional  needs of their children. We are one of many who tend to blame parents and families when children are not receiving the services they need, often assuming that the family must not want assistance, they must be negligent. After all, if families wanted the support, they would follow through to get it,  correct?  Many of the services can be on a sliding scale for families or have no direct charge, we gave the parent a name and the contact at an agency, all they had to do was follow up and take the time to secure the service, right? We blame out of ignorance and frustration. We believe the child or family would benefit from the service and that is why we make the referral. Even after we complete our part, the parents may be unable to make their part happen. We begin to assume that the parents must not have tried hard enough, or waited too long. From our perspective we know the student is struggling, supporting the student's needs is not within our capacity, yet "we," as a support system, do not fully appreciate the entire process. We haven't a clue about how to guide families in navigating through the system once they leave our schools. It is messy and far more complicated than it needs to be so we must do better. Get better at understanding it, navigating it or fixing it!

I am ashamed to say that there have been occasions, as a parent, I have failed to get one of my children all the support they deserve, unable to complete the process of navigating this system or that system. I am ashamed to say that there have been far more times, when I have laid my head in my hands in frustration, unable to connect a family with the services they needed or to convince them that long process they were knee deep in was worth their continued effort. Trust me, by personal experience, each process, each agency for emotional, social, judicial, health, financial, housing support is different, but each requires persistence, time, and patience. Most also require technology (ie. internet, fax, email, word, scanner), documents, conference calls, financial forms, notarized forms,...endless forms to be filled out- and if your documents are not correct, incomplete or missing documentation... the process can not continue.

How many of our school-aged parents have the resources (time and abilities) to persist through a lengthy process? How many of our school leaders know how to support and guide our parents all the way through a grievance process in hopes to get a child and family the much needed resources, the help they so urgently need? How many school leaders understand the process of obtaining and securing resources they recommend for children and families? How many school leaders even know what questions to ask families to discern how they could be of service in the process of connecting supports they are referring for the child?

We MUST do better, we have far more resources then ever available but connecting to services is often complicated, not inclusive, inconsiderate of times, work, school, transportation and support. "I understand you and your son can not read, but I need you to fill out these forms, in triplicate, bring them back, with a10 dollar money order made out to the name on the front of this form with a notarized narrative from you of why you believe he is acting out, and in need of these service. Oh and we also will need another official copy of the referral from his school, mailed directly to us. We will take care of the rest, okay? See you tomorrow, our schedule is on the back along with our contact information.” Are you kidding me?

Personally I should be grateful, finding better ways to support schools, leaders and parents/families in support of ALL of our children and their success has fueled my passion for our business. It is why we work hard in support of leaders and families, it is why I go to work each and every day, but mostly after weeks like this past week, it just makes me sad, tired and frustrated…