SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — School safety and violence is thrown back into a roiling national debate this week after three children and three adults were shot to death at a Christian school in Nashville. The suspect, Audrey Hale, was a former student of The Covenant School.

“School violence” is a broad term, according to the National Association of School Psychologists. “Sadly, it includes rare, tragic, devastating school shootings. In addition, school violence includes more covert behaviors that increase fear and diminish school safety, such as threats of injury at school, weapons possession, and harassment,” NASP wrote.

Teachers said school violence has more than doubled nationwide since the pandemic began, according to a new survey conducted by EAB researchers. Nearly 85 percent of teachers said students’ ability to self-regulate, socialize, and build relationships with peers plummeted compared to pre-pandemic.

Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9, was one of six victims fatally shot at school in Nashville Monday, March 27, 2023. (Image via Nexstar Media)

“Students who exhibit disruptive behaviors are often dealing with underlying mental or social health issues,” said Ben Court, EAB Senior Director of K-12 Research.

Educators said staffing shortages are the biggest problem for schools trying to address students’ mental health and behavioral issues, the survey found.

Homicides At School

San Francisco Bay Area schools had one mass shooting since students transitioned from distance learning to in-person learning. Students ran for their lives as gunmen shot six people inside Rudsdale Newcomer High School on Sept. 28, 2022. The shooters stormed into the school looking for a specific student, Oakland Police Department investigators said. Students, a counselor, a security guard, and a carpenter were shot. One victim, Kazuhiro David Sakurai, died.

In 2023, a freshman fatally stabbed a junior, Jayden Pienta, inside a classroom at Montgomery High School, according to Santa Rosa police.

Jayden Pienta
Jayden Pienta, 16, was a student at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa.

Police Chief John Cregan said two juniors had entered the class to instigate a fight with the freshman. Teachers tried in vain to break up the fight before Pienta was stabbed three times in the chest. Pienta died in a hospital March 1.

Sonoma County District Attorney Carla Rodriguez said, “Many have expressed concerns about the safety of our schools. All students deserve to learn in a safe and supportive environment.”

Youth Wielding Knives

Earlier this month in San Francisco, a student was stabbed at Francisco Middle School. That same week, a 12-year-old boy stabbed a juvenile on a Muni bus traveling through Union Square, according to investigators. The 15-year-old victim suffered life-threatening injuries.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said city leaders and school district officials are working to address violence between students, “including expanding violence prevention programs, increasing access to mental health resources, and … investing in early intervention to address the root causes of violence among youth.”

Weapons On Campus

There have been several incidents of students bringing weapons to Bay Area schools this year, predominately in Santa Rosa.

Ten days after the homicide at Montgomery High School, two MHS students brought knives on campus. The Santa Rosa Police Department was not alerted until a parent called police to report it. Police said Montgomery high had sent the students home, instead of calling police. The school’s principal and assistant principal were placed on administrative leave.

On the same day as the Montgomery homicide, Maria Carrillo High School administrators called the Santa Rosa Police Department reporting rumors that a 16-year-old student had a gun. While being questioned by police, the boy suddenly bolted and fled from the school. Police said the boy hid the gun in a storm drain while running.

An Amarosa Academy student in Santa Rosa hid this hunting knife in his school binder. (Image courtesy SRPD)

On March 7, an Amarosa Academy student in Santa Rosa brought a 14-inch-long hunting knife to school in his backpack. Amarosa administrators routinely search all students’ backpacks when they arrive on campus as a safety precaution. The student was arrested.

What Can Schools Do?

In the wake of the Nashville mass shooting, Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey wrote a message to the community. Mackey wrote, “I want to extend my deepest sympathies to the Covenant School community in Nashville. I am tired of sending these messages, but it is important to realize that incidents of gun violence and death can affect students, families and staff at the schools in Contra Costa County, no matter how far away the incident may seem.”

The National Association of School Psychologists said, “No single strategy or program will create a safe school and effective efforts require collaboration among administrators, teachers, school psychologists, other school mental health professionals, school resource officers, parents, students, and community agencies.”

NASP listed the following strategies for creating safe schools:

  • Create school–community safety partnerships.
  • Conduct a needs assessment for planning and selecting programs and interventions. School
    safety measures should be geared to the specific needs and culture of the school community.
  • Establish comprehensive school crisis response plans. Balance measures to ensure both physical and psychological safety. Intruder-based, armed violence is not only extremely rare but also extremely difficult to prevent. Solutions that may seem obvious and simple, such as metal detectors and armed security officers may not be the most effective means of prevention. Schools cannot be barricaded against all possible harm.
  • Enhance efforts to create and maintain a positive school climate that promotes learning, psychological health, and student success.
  • Respond systematically to all threats made by students. Schools can and must respond to all threats that students (and others) make on school campuses. Use a threat assessment approach for evaluating and intervening with students’ potential violent behavior.
  • Promote antiviolence initiatives that include prevention programs for all students. General interventions include school-wide violence prevention programs.
  • Provide adequate access to mental health services and supports.
  • Intervene with students who experience significant school behavioral adjustment problems.