Superintendent's Notebook: Act Now

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Senseless acts of violence are difficult for everyone to understand. Our schools in the United States have experienced shootings for far too long.

I remember the University of Texas tower shooting on Aug. 1, 1966, that resulted in the deaths of 17 people. Now another 17 lives have been lost in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018. These 17 individuals were taken from their family and friends who loved them deeply. My heart goes out to the families, students and staff at Stoneman Douglas High School as they try to cope with this horrendous act.

Even in this tragic aftermath, and even as we respectfully debate what steps should be taken to keep our schools safer, we must meet this latest challenge by coming together and doing more than just debating in order to protect our students from future tragedies. I agree with the students who say, “No more waiting.” The time is now for all sides to act.

As with other complex policy issues, there is not a singular cause or solution. There is action to be taken on many fronts.

More needs to be done to increase mental health services. According to the National Institute of Mental Health’s website, in 2016, there were 44.7 million adults diagnosed with any mental illness. Of these individuals, there were an estimated 10.4 million adults aged 18 or older with severe mental illness. This number represented 4.2 percent of all U.S. adults. Among the 10.4 million adults with some mental illness, 6.7 million (64.8 percent) received mental health treatment in the past year.

This leaves many people with mental illness being left untreated every year. Our nation needs to make the investments necessary to provide effective prevention, treatment, and recovery services for mental illness so that individuals with mental illness can lead safe, productive lives.

Additionally, more needs to be done with gun reform. According to a recent CNN poll, seven in 10 people favor tighter gun laws since the Parkland shooting. This includes “87 percent who back laws to prevent convicted felons and those with mental health problems from owning guns; 71 percent who support preventing people under age 21 from buying any type of gun; 63 percent who support a ban on the sale and possession of high-capacity or extended ammunition; and 57 percent who back a ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of rifles capable of semi-automatic fire, such as the AR-15.”

It seems that a middle ground can be found for hunters and gun owners to be able to follow their passions, and yet still keep our country safe from those wanting to do harm to others.

Lastly, schools can do more to teach students social/emotional skills and to try to prevent bullying. More than one out of every five students (20.8 percent) last year reported being bullied, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Tragedies such as the Parkland shooting underscore the importance to all of us to stay connected with students and remain ever attentive to our children. RSU 5 has invested heavily in “Responsive Classroom,” an approach that emphasizes social and emotional growth in a strong and safe school community. School policies regarding bullying are heavily enforced. Everyone plays an important role in maintaining a safe school environment.

What is critical in this time of tragedy is that we act now to prevent future occurrences. As a mother, I can imagine no greater devastation than the loss of a child or grandchild. I know we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Florida. And I know that after so many school shootings, many Americans are asking how many more lives must be lost before solutions are found to these senseless acts.

Let’s do something. Changing nothing leads to yet another tragedy just waiting to happen. And let us never forget what makes RSU 5 and other schools exceptional places to grow and learn, and that our schools are overall, very safe places. Working together and acting now will only create stronger and safer schools.

Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). She can be reached at