Attack on principal underscores need for holistic response to safety
We can hold juveniles accountable for actions -- and get them the help they need
BOSTON MAYOR Michelle Wu is right: We need a different approach to assuring safety in our schools—one that prioritizes student and staff safety but also prioritizes transformation of the way young people view themselves and their place in the world. Prevention is better than crisis interventions.
There is no conflict between DA Rachael Rollins’s earlier statement that she will prosecute and also get treatment for the young woman who is charged with attacking in November the principal of the Henderson Inclusion School, Patricia Lampron, and a staff member, and a position that young people in schools should not be militarized and criminalized. There are broader social issues at play here and the question is what will be most effective—both in making schools safer and in providing the learning lessons to youth about impacts of violence and how to find other means of channeling fear, anger, and uncertainty.
Multiple studies and on-the-ground practices have shown that punitive responses are not ultimately effective in stemming violence in schools, keeping staff safe, or helping youth to heal and learn new ways of reacting to challenges. Consequences for actions are important and can be multi-layered. Punishment is neither effective nor deterrent. Finally, if we remember that many of our public school students have experienced trauma and adverse childhood experiences that change the way they process and understand feelings and situations, we will more easily understand why punitive measures are most often ineffective and, in fact, harmful.
Here are suggestions for more effective solutions to potential violence in schools, though they will require a monetary investment and a change in the culture of schools. With the influx of federal money this year:
• greatly increase skilled licensed counselors in each school
• greatly increase social workers in each school
• make sure counselors, social workers and other school staff learn to work as a team
• model trauma-informed principles and behaviors among staff as well as toward students. These include:: listening, showing respect and unconditional care, building and maintaining trust, deescalation skills, affirming each youth, understanding their context, avoiding trauma-triggering behaviors
• train select staff in safety interventions, how to manage a disruption, restorative practices.We need, and can have, more effective and de-criminalized ways to keep our children and our schools safe.
Nikki Flionis is co-founder and executive director of MissionSAFE: A New Beginning Inc. a multi-racial organization working with poverty and violence-involved young people in Boston. Anne Carrabino, a co-founder of MissionSAFE, is founder of InVision Institute and directs its Trauma Transformation Project in Oakland, California.