Education Week - January 9, 2013 - (Page 18)

18 EDUCATION WEEK n JANUARY 9, 2013 n AFTER NEWTOWN Advocates Worry Shootings Will Deepen Autism’s Stigma Adam Lanza reported to have Asperger’s syndrome By Nirvi Shah As news trickled out about the school shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., the immediate reaction of many observers was: There must have been something wrong with Adam Lanza. “Something” had to be behind the shootings, in which police say Mr. Lanza first killed his mother at her home and then drove to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 20 1st graders, six staff members, and then himself, last month. But advocates for people with disabilities were dismayed that the something was, at least at first, identified in the national media as Asperger’s syndrome. Any connection between that syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum, and the deadliest K-12 school shooting in American history is unfounded, advocates and experts say. They worry that any perceived link between the shootings and Asperger’s may unfairly stigmatize those who have the condition. “The main message to get out to the community is that all kids with disabilities, even kids who are prone to demonstrate violent behavior, are not likely to demonstrate the level that was demonstrated” in Newtown, said Kristine Melloy, the president of the Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders, who also works in the St. Paul, Minn., public schools. “That’s a rare kind of behavior.” Even if Mr. Lanza, who was 20, had ever been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, it is a developmental disorder present at birth, not a mental-health condition, which may emerge any time in life. Connecticut authorities have not confirmed that Mr. Lanza had Asperger’s, although his brother and others close to the family have done so to a variety of news outlets. The state’s chief medical examiner has asked researchers at the University of Connecticut, in Storrs, to study Mr. Lanza’s dna for any genetic clues about his actions. “First and foremost, we know autism didn’t cause this,” said Lisa Goring, the vice president of family services for Autism Speaks, a New York City-based advocacy group. “People with autism have difficulty with communication skills. In no way are they inclined to commit acts of violence.” Children and adults with autism may be disruptive or belligerent in some scenarios, but there’s no evidence that they are more likely than others to engage in the kind of planned violence that Mr. Lanza perpetrated, experts on the condition have said. Autism Speaks’ leaders appeared on television news programs after the shootings to try to educate people about the disorder, which affects about one in 88 people in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta. The advocacy group also distributed resources to schools that define Asperger’s syndrome and autism and suggest ways to support such students. Despite the attempts at clearing up misconceptions, Ms. Melloy and others who work with people with disabilities say they worry that new stereotypes will form about autism as a result of the killings. National Registry? They also fear the emergence of calls to isolate people with mental-health needs from the rest of society. “The way to get to mental health is to be with other healthy people,” Ms. Melloy said. Inclusive school environments, she said, help foster better mental health. While some people with certain types of mental-health conditions may have violent tendencies, she added, “that doesn’t mean they’re going to pick up guns and start shooting people.” A week after the shootings, however, the National Rifle Association’s executive vice president and chief executive officer, Wayne R. LaPierre, suggested a national registry for people with mental-health problems. “How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave, while provoking others to try to make their mark?” Mr. LaPierre said at a press conference in Washington. “A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?” But advocates for people with disabilities argue that such a plan is impractical and could dissuade the ill from getting treatment, and that the stigma associated with it would be deeply harmful to those identified. Keeping such a database would be a “herculean” task, since it would require daily updates to be accurate, given people’s movement on the mental-health spectrum, said Frederick Streeck, the executive director of the School Social Work Association of America, based in Sumner, Wash. He also raised concerns about the privacy of people listed. “The labeling that’s involved could be very unfortunate for kids and for families,” he said. “It’s just not something that we need to list on a national database.” Staff Writer Andrew Ujifusa contributed to this article. Caution Urged On Bolstering School Security CONTINUED FROM PAGE 17 dle school renamed to match their former campus, declared it the safest school in the country. Every car entering campus was being stopped and drivers questioned, but police would not disclose details about other security measures in place. And once the investigation into the Newtown shootings is complete, school safety practices around the country may be revised again, said Steve Zipperman, the chief of the police force for the 660,000-student Los Angeles school system. “Whatever we can learn from once the investigation is over in Connecticut will help ensure we have best practices in place,” he said. But school security experts say that even in hindsight, the security measures at the nearly 500-student Sandy Hook Elementary weren’t lacking. A school security system kept the intruder, at least for a few seconds, from just walking through the front door. A secretary switched on the public-address system as shots rang out, alerting the entire school that something was amiss without saying a word. Teachers and other school employees, who had practiced how to handle a variety of emergencies, quickly herded students into closets, kept them quiet, and locked their doors, while the principal and the school psychologist tried to confront the A child peers through firefighters standing as a procession heads to the cemetery after the funeral for Sandy Hook pupil Daniel Barden in Newtown, Conn. shooter. Teachers tried to distract the gunman to save children’s lives. “At Sandy Hook, a number of things went very well,” said Ronald Stephens, the executive director of the National School Safety Center, an advocacy group in Westlake Village, Calif. But when someone is intent upon committing an act of violence, “we have to realize that even on the best of days, schools have certain limitations,” he said. Nevertheless, one Connecticut lawyer sought to sue the state for $100 million on behalf of a 6-yearold Sandy Hook student who was not injured in the shootings, claiming that the state, the state education department, and the state edu- cation commissioner failed to protect students from foreseeable harm. The Connecticut attorney general said, however, that he was “aware of no facts or legal theory under which the state of Connecticut should be liable for causing the harms inflicted at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” and the suit has been withdrawn, at least for now. Looking at the Statistics Major episodes of school violence remain rare. The most recent data from the National Indicators of School Crime and Safety show that during the 2009-10 school year, there were 33 school-associated violent deaths. Of those, 25 were homicides, five were suicides, and three were “legal interventions,” meaning the deaths were caused by police or security personnel. Those numbers include 17 homicides and one sui- cide of school-age children. But past incidents sometimes set a macabre bar for future episodes of violence, Mr. Stephens said. “Our school crises that we experience today, we expect a certain amount of one-upmanship,” he said, with some shooters making plans to make their attacks bigger and more devastating. In Newtown, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fired at least 100 rounds, and Connecticut’s chief medical examiner said everyone killed suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Mr. Lanza carried two handguns, several hundred rounds of ammunition, and a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle when he entered the school. In some violence plots thwarted by educators or law enforcement, Mr. Stephens said, the would-be perpetrators have declared that “we’re going to make Columbine look like kindergarten stuff,” referring to the 1999 shooting deaths of 14 students, including the two student gunmen, and one teacher at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo. Promoting ways to increase security-related intelligence—such as providing avenues for students to report rumors or other concerns and ensuring that students trust and feel connected to adults at their schools—may be a worthwhile endeavor, said Dennis McCarthy, a former U.S. Secret Service agent in Blue Valley, Kan., who consults on school safety and security issues. But he also cautioned against rushing to introduce additional security measures. Schools have been boosting security for years. From the 1999-2000 to the 2009-10 school years, federal data show that there was an increase in the percentage of public schools reporting the institution of measures such as controlling access to their buildings and grounds during school hours, using security cameras, equipping individual classrooms with telephones, or requiring faculty members to wear badges or photo identification. Overdoing security measures and overusing emergency drills can be counterproductive, especially with younger children, said Richard W. Fry, the superintendent of the 3,000-student Big Spring district in Pennsylvania. “If you do more than [necessary], they’re going to internalize it,” Mr. Fry said. “Making them love school—how can you do that if you’re scared?” Staff Writers Lesli A. Maxwell, Sarah D. Sparks, Andrew Ujifusa, and Jaclyn Zubrzycki contributed to this article. Charles Krupa/AP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 9, 2013

Education Week - January 9, 2013
State Lawmakers Gear for Action On Broad K-12 Issues Menu
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Teachers Seek Specialized Peer Networks
Shootings Revive Debates on Security
Student-Press Ruling Resonates From 1988
News in Brief
Report Roundup
FOCUS ON: INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE: IB Supporters Tout Program’s Links With Common Core
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Federal Effort Aims to Bridge Ed. Tech., Learning Sciences
U.S. Students Exceed International Average, But Lag Some Asian Nations in Math, Science
New Global Results Spark Questions On Finland’s Standing
Head Start Gains Found to Fade By 3rd Grade in Latest Study
Testing Group Selects Exam to Gauge ‘College Readiness’
State Chiefs Pledge Teacher Prep, Licensing Upgrades
Blogs of the Week
Post-Tragedy, Difficult Choices Loom
At Sandy Hook, Grim Day Unfolds
Legal, Logistical Concerns Seen In Call to Arm Adults
Tragedy Sets Off Fresh Debate Over Federal Gun-Policy Role
Advocates Worry Shootings Will Deepen Autism’s Stigma
K-12 Aid Outlook Murky, Despite ‘Cliff’ Deal
District Race to Top Winners Split $400 Million Pot
Policy Brief
Top State Ed. Positions Turn Over as Year Ends
CAROLYN LUNSFORD MEARS: After the Tragedy, What Next?
DAVID YOUNG & J.B. BUXTON: Language Education We Can Use
W. JAMES POPHAM: Formative Assessment’s ‘Advocatable Moment’
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
JEFFREY R. HENIG: Reading the Future of Education Policy

Education Week - January 9, 2013