Experts fear misunderstanding of student mental health issues in aftermath of Parkland shooting
- Some experts in the field of special education worry that the intense focus on the mental health issues of the Parkland school shooter may add to the stigma facing students with an “emotional disturbance,” even though these students are not more likely than their peers to commit mass acts of violence, Education Week reports.
- More than 335,000 students nationwide, about 6% of students with disabilities, are classified with an emotional disturbance, usually between the ages of 13 to 17, when these issues are more likely to manifest themselves.
- Students with emotional disturbance are less likely than other special education students to spend time in a regular classroom and are more likely than other special needs students to be suspended or expelled, with 13% of such students eventually being placed in separate schools.
School administrators have the hard task of providing equitable education services to all students while balancing the need to protect all students as well. In the case of students with emotional disturbance, this issue becomes more complicated. Students with emotional disabilities do not often turn into school shooters. They are more likely to bully or be bullied and face higher rates of self-harm. The current debate over gun control and mental health has also added to the stigma and is making some experts fear that this perception will add to the complexity of treating and teaching such students.
Discipline also becomes more complex in these cases. While suspension is not always the answer to these issues, it is sometimes necessary to protect other students and to help emotionally disturbed students understand that their actions have consequences. In some cases, moving students to an alternative setting may be best solution. There are ways to help, but the help sometimes requires flexibility on the part of parents and school officials.
School leaders often call for more mental health professionals to deal with these issues, though these resources are often scarce. School districts also may need to work with these professionals to craft better protocols about how to serve these students in a way that will lessen the stigma of the label and help them become more successful in an academic setting. Though fear of the label may make some students and parents reluctant to seek solutions, they cannot find adequate resources without the label. Solutions regarding this vulnerable population of students are not easy to find.