I just re-read an excellent article that was published in the Washington Post, called School shootings are extraordinarily rare. Why is fear of them driving policy? The author is David Ropeik, an instructor at Harvard and author of “How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts.”
The article was written shortly after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and is full of statistics about the risks we fear, and how that fear drives behavior. You might remember when I wrote about the little girl who moved in across the street from us after relocating from Austin, Texas to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She told my daughter that in Austin she had a 1 in 900 chance of being shot at school every day. Obviously that’s not true, but unfortunately that is the perception of a lot of kids and maybe even their parents.
The author of the article states that the statistical likelihood of a public school student being killed in a school shooting on any given day since 1999 was 1 in 614,000,000. Here’s more on that:
The Education Department reports that roughly 50 million children attend public schools for roughly 180 days per year. Since Columbine, approximately 200 public school students have been shot to death while school was in session, including the recent slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (and a shooting in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday that police called accidental that left one student dead). That means the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly 1 in 614,000,000. And since the 1990s, shootings at schools have been getting less common.
The chance of a child being shot and killed in a public school is extraordinarily low. Not zero — no risk is. But it’s far lower than many people assume, especially in the glare of heart-wrenching news coverage after an event like Parkland. And it’s far lower than almost any other mortality risk a kid faces, including traveling to and from school, catching a potentially deadly disease while in school or suffering a life-threatening injury playing interscholastic sports.
We sometimes seek protection from our fears in ways that put us in greater peril. In responding to the Parkland shooting, we may be doing just that to our kids.
I am not in any way minimizing the concerns about school shootings or the importance of planning for the security of our schools. The point is that when fears start to drive decisions – or legislation – other important factors may be overlooked. There are many tools available to help school administrators evaluate their security and make necessary changes, including the guildelines from the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS).