But it's not only students that teachers should be talking to more; they also ought to be talking to each other more frequently. In middle schools, for example, there's often little opportunity for teachers to compare notes about individual students in a way that would allow them to identify troubling patterns. Many teachers have a professional bias against what they consider gossiping about students, yet just as team teaching can improve students' academic performance when science and math teachers or English and history teachers work together, encouraging teachers to share their knowledge of individual students' behavior can make schools safer as well.
Nothing, of course, can guarantee that a gun will never turn up at school or that no injuries or deaths will result. Law enforcement has an important role in making schools safer, but to be effective it needs to be combined with a broader recognition of the warning signs of violence among both students and staff, coupled with better channels of communication between them.
Most schools have a zero tolerance policy for weapons on school grounds, which is fine as far as it goes. But zero tolerance for talk about students who are giving off dangerous vibes only inhibits the free flow of information educators need to respond proactively, and it also makes kids clam up so fast they won't talk at all. That should be the last thing schools want because it just moves the problems out of sight where no one can see them coming until it's too late.
Baltimore County officials are in the process of purchasing more hand-held metal detectors, but to their credit, they have resisted the kind of knee-jerk responses that make it look like they're taking the problem seriously but don't actually solve the problem. While Mr. Dance says all options remain on the table, he has been focused on setting up structures for students to share their concerns, beefing up counseling and student support services and revising plans for how schools handle catastrophes if they occur. Those steps may not be the ones all parents want to see, but they are the ones most likely to keep their children safe.