Our very own Dean, Dr. Don Cardinal, had an Op Ed piece published in the OC Register this week titled, “Don Cardinal: Stopping the next school shooting”  on February 1. In the article Dr. Cardinal talks about his reaction as an educator to the Newtown, Connecticut shooting as well as what he sees as a way to bring meaningful change to our schools through greater access to mental health professionals. Below is the article from the OC Register. 

By DON CARDINAL / For the Register

The tragedy in Newtown, Conn., left us shocked and numbed. As an educator, dedicated to protecting children, I felt I let down those children. As if somehow, I should have done more to protect them. After all, this is our job as educators, as parents, and as adults – we should be protecting our children. Something must be done and now.

In the aftermath, we are simultaneously engaged in deep anger and sadness. But we must do something. So, we act, or at least we talk about action. We’ve focused on guns and gun control because that was the tool used to perpetrate the crime. We talk about increasing the number of guns, decreasing the number of guns, arming teachers, administrators and janitors, adding more armed guards, even adding more rules in schools. We argue with each other and, in turn, we fail, again, to deal with what is in front of us, something much bigger than gun control, something much more taboo than tampering with the Second Amendment.ADVERTISEMENT

Maybe now is the time to raise this off-limits topic we seem to be dancing around. Yes, we must face the sensitive topic of the mental health of our society, including our children in schools.

President Obama recently proposed roughly 35 congressional actions and executive orders, yet one can barely detect any serious consideration of restoring school budgets in the area of certified school counselors – the very professionals trained to respond to early detection of troubled youngsters on campus.

Over the past decade we have continued to defund mental health programs in this country. California is responsible for the greatest cuts in the nation, including more than $587 million in 2011. This includes cuts to crisis intervention as well as for acute (emergency) treatments, psychiatric medicine and other supports.

These massive cuts put even more stress on our public schools since more parents and their children in need of support go undiagnosed, untreated or undertreated.

The problem is exacerbated by additional serious cuts to the front-line mental health professionals in schools. Funding for school counselors has eroded to such a degree that, even during times of crises, schools are unable to launch the necessary programs to meet the current needs of their students, not to mention new programs.

We have cut mental health programs at every level, turned-out mental health patients on the streets and have cut access to acute and crises care.

Many school children are only one bully away from doing something rash, hurting themselves or others. On-the-ground professionals can identify such children and offer them the support they need. But first, they must be in our schools in the numbers needed to provide quality service.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are roughly 150,000 schools in the United States. We may pass new laws about gun control or arm teachers or hire more armed guards in schools, but we cannot arm them all. To emphasize the point, in the recent shooting at a high school in Taft in central California, the campus had employed a full-time armed guard, but he was unable to report to work that particular day.

Armed guards, armed teachers and armed janitors will not solve the problem. Let’s turn our attention to the mental health of our communities, beginning with our children. Instead of talking about arming teachers, let’s arm our children with the mental health support they need.

Don Cardinal is dean of the College of Educational Studies at Chapman University.