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Howell. It Could Happen Here
Pink Out game leaves FHSD deep in thought about what school safety really means.
April 30, 2023
As gun laws become less restricted, we hear more cases about students bringing guns to school. A young kid with a gun sounds contradictory but is a common occurrence, even though they represent very different ideals many wish to remain separate. Youth and Violence.
Safety in Numbers
District puts focus on security issues in wake of Feb. 3 incident
There will always be risks in life, even in places where we would expect that we are at our safest, something Dr. Suzanne Leake learned quickly in her duration as an administrator. Though not much can be concretely said about either the appearance of a firearm at the Feb. 2 Pink-out game, or the student responsible, what is known is that our principal, and administration as a whole, have evaluated this unfortunate and nerve-wracking event and plan to take the fullest order of action available.
“I’ve been fortunate in my career that I would say that discipline that involves threats to or I guess weapons or violence have been limited, but unfortunately, they have been there,” Dr. Leake said. “And this sounds crazy, because I obviously would never wish for those circumstances to happen, but each one I feel better prepares me for another. Because after an incident occurs, the team that has been involved, whoever that consists of, we always debrief and reflect … we try to make sure that, moving forward, we think of all the things that we would have done … differently in hindsight.”
Despite the chaos and concern brought on by this matter, the district is determined to do what is necessary when handling the present issue and everything it might entail.
“We all are under the expectations and the rules of what we call the COC, the Code of Conduct. And so … the school district will … follow through with what the Code of Conduct says, and [it] says that [possession of a firearm] is a level four offense, which can go all the way to an expulsion,” Dr. Leake said.
Not only will the district be conducting an investigation, but this will also be handled outside of the school, including a criminal investigation.
“[The student] will be charged…with possession of a firearm on school grounds,” Leake said. “There is currently a criminal case and a school case, as well.”
While there isn’t much to be found about the criminal investigation taking place, FHSD Superintendent, Dr. Kenneth Roumpos, takes pride in the district’s ability to respond to the appearance of these threats.
“We are seeing more ‘hoax threats’ being reported at some schools, whether that’s writing a threat on a bathroom wall, making social media threats, or telling a friend they are going to do something. These things are being reported at a much higher rate than in past years – not just for us but for other districts, too, and we just can’t let our guard down or get numb to these threats,” Dr. Roumpos said. “Every single one so far has been investigated and determined by law enforcement to be unfounded or not credible … Students are saying these things often in jest without understanding the consequences that come with it. And it’s not always just suspension. Many times charges are filed by law enforcement that stay on a student’s permanent record and can prevent them from going to college, getting a job, etc.”
Outside of the district-wide determinations being made to further ensure the safety of students and staff, Francis Howell Central has taken individual action to provide any extra security measures that might be necessary for after-school events.
“We have hired additional police to be at each of our home games, we have moved the visit-student section to the other side of the gym…and that was a decision because, after debriefing, to exit the gym you’re going right in front of the visitor-student section, [and] that is just an opportunity to be taunted,” Leake said. “You can only cross your opponents so many times before somebody is going to say something rude or disrespectful, we felt like it was an opportunity that we can take away.”
Along with these changes, there will also be more supervision from the administrative teams as well as coordinating with the other district schools about safety and organization.
“We have definitely empowered our building administrators to request additional law enforcement officers and security at certain events. Some schools are also adding a verification process (checking IDs, etc.) before allowing students to enter the event. We’ve really allowed each school to work with their teams to determine the specific enhancements that make sense for their buildings,” Dr. Roumpos said.
With all of these moving parts in action, the administration is constantly working to make school and events held on school property to be safe and secure, but according to Dr. Leake, persevering safety starts with the student body.
“The reason that we are safe here is not because of me, and it’s not because of one SRO. The reason we’re safe here is collectively together. We all take a lot of pride in our school and we hold each other accountable. I can’t tell somebody to make good choices and just know that they’re gonna make good choices because I told them to,” Dr. Leake said. “So, we hold each other accountable, and we’re just fortunate here, that we care about each other enough that we’re gonna do what’s right when it comes down to a situation that’s as serious as something like that.”
Coping with Violence
School staff and researchers notice a change in level of teen violence
February 3rd. Hundreds of students came to watch the Central v North basketball game. It was a game day to raise awareness for cancer and raise money, but it turned into a night that will be remembered as bringing awareness to a different issue: teen violence.
Media is portraying acts of teen violence because they are there. Mass shootings such as Columbine and Ulvade, were all caused by shooters eighteen or younger. Besides the easy access of firearms and other deadly weapons, what leads a teenager to commited violence and even mass atrocities is a question with multiple answers.
Covid-19 was no doubt detrimental to the lives of many. Teens suffered mental health problems that they hadn’t before, those struggles still are prevalent today. It is widely known that mental health can be linked to mass shootings with an FBI survey claiming 65 percent of mass shooters between 2000-2013 had mental health stressors (depression, anxiety,etc).
Principal Suzanne Leake has seen the spike of mental health problems within the smaller community around her.
“We also see people struggling with mental health …we see an uptick in that and so you know, no doubt did COVID had an effect,” Dr. Leake said.
It’s not only Dr. Leake that has noticed these issues. Teachers and other staff have noticed the detrimental effects of Covid on student’s mental health. Counselor, Kristopher Miller, has noticed these changes.
“If I had to guess, I would say the increase has a lot to do with the stress our society has been under in the last few years. The pandemic affected everyone significantly in multiple ways,” Miller said. “Specifically for teens, it affected social development as teens had limited social interaction and did not learn how to address their problems and frustrations.”
With this information, it can be known that teens are very susceptible to unhealthy forms of coping(violence) when they experience difficult events in their developing years. Besides Covid affecting mental health, social media has also played a mojor role.
“So we have so many forms of media now. I’d be curious if we ever really know how many incidents similar to that ever did happen when we didn’t have the means to share all of these stories worldwide, like we do now,” Leake said.
Media showcases the many stories of violence across the board and not just teens. But the constant viewing of these violent acts can desensitize the eyes of the viewer, and for teens, create ideas in their heads. But violence doesn’t have to just come in the form of physical violence.
“While we have fights here at FHC, we don’t see much physical violence compared to more verbal or emotional,” Miller said.
We can get lost in the idea that teen violence simply comes down to a kids hitting another or a kid bringing a gun to school While these things happen, there are other forms of violence. Verbal and emotional violence are on the rise in the teenage age group and can come with its own detrimental effects. What the root of this violence is is a complicated subject and often involves many factors.
“Violence is definitely taught as a way to handle problems but there are genetic predispositions toward violence,” Miller said.
There are many factors that lead to violence in adolescents. Yet with the past couple years, as teens experience Covid and many mass shootings, the correlation to increased teen violence cannot be ignored.
Staff inside schools can only provide so much information on how teens can perform acts of violence. There are experts across the nation that have specialized in teenage agression and its roots. Paul Boxer is a Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University; he has studied children and teenagers and their violent behaviors. He has seen first hand these individuals through community centers, clinics, and hospitals.
Boxer has found similar causes to teen violence as those within our school walls. The topics of mental health, media, and genetic disposition are ones that are discussed across state lines.
“violence exposure in homes, schools, and the media; economic strain; family conflict; intensive irritability and impulsivity; and trauma.” Boxer said.
It is known that the media portrays violence in our society because it is a common occurance. People are killed, kidnapped, and oppressed on a daily basis. But how does a kid take this into something of their own?
“There is a lot of research showing that violence in the media leads kids to see the world as a violent place, to learn specific forms of aggressive responding, and to believe that violence is an acceptable form of behavior. When kids develop these beliefs they become more likely to engage in aggression themselves.” Boxer said.
Acceptance is the key. Teenagers see acts of violence occuring and they play the game of if they can do it so can I. Stating that mental health is the cause of teenagers commiting mass shootings is a completly too broad and sets a sterotype that those who are mentally ill area a danger to society. Not all those that experince mental health problems commit acts of violence, but some mental illnesses are more common lead to violence.
“Only one very specific form of mental illness has been linked consistently to violence — paranoid schizophrenia, in which the individual with that condition experiences hallucinations and delusions that provoke them to behave violently.” Boxer said.
Once again environmental factors are not the only thing at play. While mostly all cases have a environment cause linked to them genetic disposition can play a major role.
“Researchers have found that certain genotypes (patterns of DNA) are associated with increased risk for violent behavior. However, most typically, people with those genotypes still require some sort of environmental “trigger” for their violent behavior to become manifest.”
Overall, it is known by school staff and professionals that teenagers are acting more violently because of the media and the mental health crisis. But another major question get raised when the topic of mass shootings is brought up. Does the violence between differ teens in states with differing gun laws?
“Yes. Some of my work has shown that youth are less likely to carry and use firearms in states with more restrictive firearm laws.” Boxer said.
Hidden in the Masses
Pink Out game incident leaves school district reflecting on school safety.
On Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, Francis Howell Central played Francis Howell North in the large gym at 7pm. It was the ‘Coaches vs. Cancer’ game and also the ‘Future Spartan Night,’ in which cheerleaders in third through eighth grade perform during halftime with all of their family and friends watching.
It was an incredibly crowded basketball game and the tensions were running high. Not only are FHC and FHN long time rivals, the game was also bouncing back and forth the whole night, so much so that it ran into overtime and the final tie-breaking basket was made in the last 10 seconds.
There was a bright red clock on the wall, seconds ticking away more rapidly than they should. There were feet stomping, hands clapping, and voices shouting so loud the ground underneath shook. There was the heat of over 1,500 excited bodies on the edge of their seats.
But, while they were watching the game with clenched fists and hope in their eyes in the gym, something much more tense was happening just a short walk away in front of the main office. Principal Suzanne Leake and FHN principal Jeffery Fletcher were among the crowd that night.
“I was informed that there was a student potentially in possession of a firearm after the police were with him already,” Dr. Leake said.
This incident was brought to the attention of school officials within minutes of the end of the game.
“We found out the night of the game, right around the end of regulation/overtime.” Fletcher said.
Since both principals were in the audience, this was just as scary for them as it was for us, but thankfully, school officials were able to keep the issue contained until the appropriate time came for them to announce it.
“Honestly, I felt okay about it because I knew he was with the police. And, you know, being someone who was here that night and in the middle of everything in the gym, I didn’t have any idea that this was happening at the time, I felt like at the time if I’m being honest, not many people knew this was even happening. When the student was taken or stepped to the side with the police, not many people saw that and word had not yet traveled to me via students or parents but then finally it traveled to me through school officials.” Dr. Leake says.
However, upon exiting the game, families were met with a fight that consisted of at least 8 people, being pulled apart and separated by authorities.
“It was definitely not something I was expecting to see. I’ve been going to Central since freshman year and I’ve only seen like a handful of fights, so walking out to such a big one was just really weird.” Says senior Faith Rekosh, who was in attendance that night.