Unfortunately, the body of research keeps growing along with the body count. A database of 160 mass school shootings in the U.S. since 1966 gives those studying school shootings plenty of information to examine and form a new approach to handling school violence.

A method that focuses less on what to do in case of a school shooting and more on how to help prevent one was introduced to some educators and law enforcement last week in St. Paul. This big-picture way of thinking that zeroes in on prevention and less on reaction is worthy of serious consideration for every school. Telling instructors to arm themselves and students to hide or run falls far short of tackling the problem of mass shootings.

A Minnesota Public Radio News report outlined how a Hamline University criminology professor and a criminal justice professor at Metropolitan State University developed an approach that focuses on crisis intervention, de-escalation and suicide prevention. The idea is straightforward: Instead of just focusing on beefing up security or perfecting evacuation techniques, they suggest making a plan to provide students with mental health aid.

Of course, schools already provide some of that help, but many are short on counselors and other mental health experts. The researchers point to creating more of an environment of mutual trust and respect throughout every school. It’s a huge task, but one of the benefits is that this cultural shift would also be preventing low-level violence, such as bullying and fights.

Schools have spent lots of money on improving building security, and those are worthwhile measures. Every school visitor should be screened before gaining access to students and staff. But expanding measures that would shape a school environment where those in crisis are identified and efficiently are offered help is key. In Blue Earth County, the Yellow Line Project is successfully helping people with mental health or chemical issues get help before problems escalate and they end up in court or jail.

The recently introduced school safety program is a pilot project, but the introductory session was instantly filled, making clear that people are eager for better ways to protect our students. Here’s hoping that this program is successful and can be implemented statewide and beyond.

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