I-TEAM | School violence, shootings on the rise in COVID era
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Educators are seeing more fighting, more violence and more gun violence in schools across the country.
The Center for Homeland Defense and Security documented 249 shootings in schools in 2021 alone — nine of those were active shooters. Our I-TEAM found experts are calling the violence a ripple effect from the pandemic. Violence Nikki Martin has witnessed in her daughter’s school.
“Kinda makes me feel helpless,” Martin said.
Martin’s daughter goes to Hephzibah Middle School, and over the past several months, she’s noticed a shift in violence. Last month, out of options for help, she posted a video of students beating her daughter in the school gym, hoping it would create a conversation to spark change.
“I have noticed since the pandemic, there have been more issues in general with people. Agitated.”
Several months ago during virtual learning, she noticed a change in her daughter’s behavior and tried to find out what was wrong.
“She decided to show me messages that four or five kids had been sending her. They all ended with ‘you should jump off a bridge or ‘you should die.’”
The bullying and violence escalated from there. She says her daughter has been hospitalized for mental health four times since then.
“Making threats, calling her names, making her feel low, telling her she should die, and it just weighed so heavy on her and she couldn’t cope,” Martin said.
Dale Peeples is a child and adolescent psychologist at Augusta University Medical Center. He has seen the effects of this.
“It has created a lot of challenges, and I think it has made for a rocky return for many kids,” Peeples said.
Our I-TEAM requested data and found in Columbia County, they documented an average of about 23 fights a month in the 2018-2019 school year before the pandemic. In the following two years, the numbers dropped, which is expected with so many learning from home and quarantine days. This school year, the district is averaging about 32 fights a month which is nearly a 40 percent increase from pre-pandemic rates.
In Aiken County, the district is averaging about 42 fights a month this school year—nearly an eight percent increase from pre-pandemic rates.
In Richmond County, the data is a little different. We know the number of students disciplined, but we aren’t exactly sure how many fights that translate to. But an average of 155 students are being disciplined for fighting each month this school year. Pre-pandemic it was about 169 per month.
School resource officers like Mo Canady, the Executive Director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, are seeing the effects firsthand and are sounding the alarm.
“We started seeing this uptick in guns in schools around 2021 when school was reopened in the fall,” he explained.
Just before that, in May the Department of Homeland Security issued this public awareness bulletin---warning about the potential for ‘school violence—as the U.S. returns to normal from the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.’
Compared to pre-pandemic rates, Canady says gun violence in school is off the charts. “Between August 1st and October 1st, there was about a 300 percent increase from that data in gun-related events on or around school campuses,” he said.
At least one of those shootings hit very close to home when three students were injured in a shooting on the campus of Orangeburg-Wilkinson high school in August.
Since the Fall of 2020, our I-team found one case involving a gun on campus in Columbia county. In Aiken County, we found six. In Richmond county, we found seven, four of which were pellet guns. But, one case this past semester involved a rifle or a shotgun, which is why law enforcement stresses the importance now more than ever: if you see something, say something.
The GBI has an online tip line for school threats here: GBI Hotline.
Experts say it all starts with checking in on our kids’ mental health.
“The toll of the pandemic has taken a toll on all of us, not just my daughter,” Martin points out. And it’s not just the pandemic weighing heavily on students.
“The social unrest, the war that’s having a very real impact on all of us. It’s almost as if all of those situations prolong us getting out of this, whatever getting out of this looks like,” Canady said.
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