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"I think there is a way to predict who the next school shooter is."

-- Dr. Alan Mease,

What’s the point?

The idea to screen all public school students for “adverse experiences” that might one day lead to a school shooting is going too far in the name of school safety.

Arkansas Department of Health medical director for child and adolescent health, in interview with a Little Rock TV station KARK

They're as predictable as the time and place of the next mass shooting are unpredictable. The comments in the wake of a school shooting will largely lean toward (1) guns and how to control them or (2) the need for mental health counseling and other services.

After we witness such unimaginable (to most of us) violence, it's reasonable to raise concerns about mental illness and its impact on the actions of those willing to commit such acts. How, the notion suggests, could anyone in his right mind commit such cruel acts?

Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to clear the desks of school counselors of paper work, or at least significantly reduce it, so they can concentrate on direct counseling of students. What a concept! Helping students by speaking with them rather than filling out forms, in triplicate. How radical.

But what of Dr. Alan Mease's notion of predicting the next shooter? Is that a reality or just another Tom Cruise movie in which people can be dealt with before they have a chance to commit their crimes?

Speaking recently to the Hutchinson-created Arkansas School Safety Commission, Mease said the solution for school violence is the early identification and treatment of students who have had "adverse experiences" affecting brain development dating back to their conception, infancy and toddler years.

Such experiences, he said, might include the jailing of parents, divorces, economic hardships, or living in a home with mental illness, substance abuse or domestic violence.

So Mease proposes school children be screened for adverse experiences and emotional health, just as they are screened for immunizations. Families with issues identified as adverse can be provided therapy or medications or counseling support. Key to that, according to Mease, is good communication about the student among school, family and medical personnel.

"It's a big ask for schools," Mease acknowledged.

And for families, too, we'd add.

From a medical perspective, who can really fault Mease's idea? Schools are the place where each community sends its kids. They're also the place behavioral and emotional issues can create problems, for both the individual students and for the schools' operations. What better place to identify kids in need of intervention?

But it's challenging to comprehend what this screening for adverse experiences would look like. Would every student be forced to fill out questionnaires that get deeply into each family's personal lives? How far would this questioning in the name of public safety go? Doesn't that seem invasive? How much privacy should 100 percent of students' families be willing to give up so that the state can go through its predictive exercises to find Mease's predicted next shooter?

Questions of such an intensive nature is undoubtedly uncomfortable. Such questions from government can be even more worrisome. Just how far will people be comfortable letting government get inside their lives? Then there's another reality: If a family has concerns their answers might mark a child for "intervention," are they going to answer honestly?

Naturally, there will be those who take the if-it-saves-just-one-life approach, but that's the kind of argument that can be made about banning people from certain foreign countries that lean toward a particular religion. If it stops just one terrorist attack, right?

No, thanks.

Let's not start treating every child enrolled in public schools as potential shooters, because they're not. School shootings are rare still. So is Arkansas going to start screening its 479,000 K-12 students in the hopes of finding the needle in the haystack, assuming that needle is even there?

We support the goal of making higher-quality, school-based counseling available for students and of training educators to spot students who would benefit from intervention. But screening all kids for adverse experiences will create a system of school-based invasiveness far too broad and lead to treating too many kids as potential killers.

Commentary on 09/12/2018

Print Headline: Who will kill?

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