Education And Mental Health: Will Assessments Stop School Shootings?
Acton Institute Powerblog

Education And Mental Health: Will Assessments Stop School Shootings?

that would require homeschooled and public school students to undergo mandatory mental health assessments.

The bill aims to “provide behavioral health assessments to children” and states the following:

“That section 10-206 of the general statutes be amended to require (1) each pupil enrolled in public school at grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 and each home-schooled child at ages 12, 14 and 17 to have a confidential behavioral health assessment, the results of which shall be disclosed only to the child’s parent or guardian, and (2) each health care provider performing a child’s behavioral health assessment to complete the appropriate form supplied by the State Board of Education verifying that the child has received the assessment.”

Private school students would not be affected by this law, should it be passed.

This legislation is primarily in response to the school shooting at Newtown, Conn., where 26 children and adults were killed by Adam Lanza, who then took his own life. Lanza also killed his mother, Nancy, that day. In a lengthy interview with The New Yorker, Lanza’s father Peter recalls his son as “weird.” A teacher from Adam’s early years said of him “intelligent but not normal, with anti-social issues.” Adam was eventually diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, and his mother eventually decided to homeschool him.

In the aftermath of any tragedy, those closest to the situation ask, “Was there something we could have done to prevent this?” In airplane disasters, the black box is sought out and experts sift through data. After 9/11, the CIA and FBI (along with local government agencies) all wanted to know how they could have missed this massive terrorist attack. The question with school shootings is, can we predict who will be violent? Is there a test we can give to children that will show us who could be the next school shooter?

Unfortunately, we can’t.

Warning signs “only become crystal clear in the aftermath, said James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University criminology professor who has studied and written about mass killings.

“They’re yellow flags. They only become red flags once the blood is spilled,” he said.

It’s estimated that about 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. have a diagnosed mental disorder. Of course, most mental illness does not lead to violence. Even when it does, we have no way of predicting who will become violent and who is merely troubled. The FBI, which has produced a comprehensive guide to specific school threats, admits:

This model is not a “profile” of the school shooter or a checklist of danger signs pointing to the next adolescent who will bring lethal violence to a school. Those things do not exist.

State-mandated mental health testing will not stop school shootings. Further, such testing supersedes parental rights and authority over their children. It requires testing of children who show no signs of illness, and allows social services “free rein” to investigate a family. Dee Black, of the Home School Legal Defense Association, has this to say regarding Connecticut’s proposed legislation:

According to the Connecticut Behavioral Health Partnership, a state organization made up of the Department of Children and Families, Department of Social Services, Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and others, a behavioral health assessment is quite comprehensive and invasive. It includes ‘a review of physical and mental health, intelligence, school performance, employment, level of function in different domains including family situation, and behavior in the community.'”

“Bill 374 would essentially authorize the state to conduct regular social services investigations of homeschooling families without any basis to do so. It’s an unnecessary invasion of privacy and an intrusion into the life of a family.

Parents and their chosen health-care providers are still the best authorities on their children’s health and medical needs. Over-reaching legislation will not prevent tragedies, but will certainly erode parental rights.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.