Although a School Safety Report commissioned by Gov. Wolf was prompted by the mass shootings at a Parkland, Fla., high school, it's worth noting that the report's release on Monday coincided with the opening day of school in Philadelphia during a heat wave so bad that schools had to close early on Tuesday and Wednesday due to lack of air-conditioning.
We take note of that to underscore that "school safety" is a very broad subject, one that can easily be colored by current events. In the aftermath of a school shooting, the physical and emotional safety of students is critical. We're not faulting the report for focusing solely on school violence, but it's important to remember how many facets of our children's safety need addressing.
The School Safety Report follows the creation of a task force by the governor and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, and is the result of six months of meetings and hearings. It was long overdue. School shootings have numbered in the hundreds since the 2013 shootings in Newtown, Conn., that killed 28.
Fortunately, the findings and recommendations of the report do not include the distribution of guns to teachers; apparently, that's the job of the U.S. secretary of education. In fact, the report is light on sweeping pronouncements. Rather, the recommendations recognize that creating truly safe schools requires systemic change in communication, coordination, and training.
Which is not to say there are no red flags in the report. The biggest alarms concern the emotional state of Pennsylvania's students. Nearly a third say they were bullied in the previous year; that's up from 16.9 percent in 2015. Further, one in five students say they were threatened with violent behavior in school, and 8.3 percent were actually attacked. No wonder only 41 percent of students statewide report they enjoy being in school.
Most troubling, nearly 40 percent of students say they felt sad or depressed most days in the last 12 months, and 16.5 percent seriously considered suicide.
That data may serve as one of the key values of the safety report: the acknowledgement that students' state of mind contributes greatly to the overall safety of school. The tragic school shootings aren't always done by an outside stranger; too often they are the acts of disturbed students. A safe school is not just one where gunmen never cross the door. Violence comes in many forms, and pervasive everyday violence demands a serious focus on mental health.