Commentary: How to spot red flags in troubled students like Ethan Crumbley

December 07, 2021, 1:47 PM

This guest column by a retired Milwaukee Public Schools teacher and principal is adapted with permission from a blog post a day after the Oxford shootings. The author, who's from Berrien County, Mich., graduated from Eastern Michigan University.

By Eldon Lee

Whenever something such as the Oxford High tragedy is going to happen, someone beside the potential perpetrator knows about it. In most school shootings, someone knew it could happen before it happened.

Red flags may come from comments on the internet or the actions of an individual. It's impossible to read minds, but it's possible to read body language, listen carefully to spoken words and understand the actions of a child in trouble.

Using the school psychologist, the social worker and a consulting psychiatrist from a local hospital, parents and educators can be taught how to look for red flags. Often these alarm signals will be subtle and difficult to discern. Here are some recognizable warning signs:

Isolation: It's the nature of children to belong to a group. If they avoid groups and even friends, it's a notable signal worth attention.

Violent fantasies or acts: This is difficult because many video games use violence regularly. When observing any violent acts or talk, it would be valuable to see if they're connected to a specific game. If that is problematic, simply ask the student what game they are emulating. If they don’t respond, pass that information on to the school psychologist or social worker. 

♦ Animal cruelty: Violence toward pets or other animals usually indicates more problems to come.

♦ Academic performance changes: A lack of focus on schoolwork and projects may foreshadow a potential crisis.

Eldon Lee: "There are always signs of potential violence."

Fights or other aggresion: This must be monitored and dealt with in a way that will bring forth deep-seated information.

Psychologists and social workers are qualified, as therapists, to counsel troubled students. It is essential for the school to team with a local hospital that will provide the services of a consulting psychiatrist to meet monthly with an administrator and the staff therapists. This allows for discussions about students in need, as well as general issues facing the school.

It is essential to bring in mental health professionals to present information to school staff and parents.

There are always signs of potential violence and these might show up anywhere. Once they are recognized, action must follow.

These warning signs don't always lead to violence, but more observation followed by therapy is essential to curbing school violence.  Therapists must be prepared to recognize severe problems and take action.

There is a point where the school action isn't sufficient. Police then must be immediately involved and the student kept out of school.

These are jumping-off points to slow or stop violence in schools. Others include securing the building, developing sensible gun laws and requiring safety training for all gun owners.

The author, a former administrator at an alternative public school for students with behavior and psychiatric problems, posts at WholeChildReform.com.

Related today:

Michigan AG Nessel Swipes at Oxford Schools After District Declines Shooting Inquiry Offer

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