Since the slaughter of first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut almost six years ago, school shootings have killed about 150 people in this country and injured hundreds more.
Many more young lives have been lost to suicide. In 2016 alone, 2,553 U.S. youngsters, age 10-19, were reported to have died by suicide, a 56 percent increase over a decade, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On July 18, the Fayette County Board of Education will consider a $13.5 million plan that would help shelter Lexington’s children from both of those forms of violence and the associated traumas.
The plan would require a 5-cent increase in property taxes or $88 a year on a median-valued home. No one loves paying taxes, but that’s a reasonable price for the gains in physical and emotional security.
The process that produced the 10-point plan should inspire confidence that it has been thoughtfully considered and includes best practices being advocated and adopted by schools around the country.
Always horrifying, school shootings, thankfully, are rare. Their frequency, and the loss of life, have increased, however. So has the frequency of guns being discovered in Fayette County schools.
Superintendent Manny Caulk convened a 28-member District Safety Advisory Council in February, less than a week after police took an AR-15 rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition from a high school senior in Lexington who had talked of shooting up his school, eight days after 17 people were killed at a high school in Florida, and about a month after two teens were shot to death by a fellow student at Marshall County High School in Kentucky. Another high school student in Lexington accidentally shot himself during school while the safety council was working.
The school board on Wednesday will receive a detailed breakdown of how the $13.5 million from the tax increase would be allocated. The board also should demand a plan for measuring its effectiveness over time.
A chunk of the dedicated revenue would go to beef up security and harden school buildings after security needs are surveyed. It’s already known that 1,700 exterior doors lack alarms and that unsecured vestibules lead directly to student areas in 24 schools.
The plan also would put a law enforcement officer in every elementary and middle school; each high school already has a team of five officers.
The added physical security is critical, but the plan’s greatest value may well lie in the increased access to care for students. More mental health professionals would be working in schools, and a partnership with University of Kentucky Adolescent Medicine would provide middle and high school students with an unprecedented level of individual attention, aimed at reducing behaviors and circumstances that put youngsters at risk.
The rise in adolescent suicide is a reminder that young people’s lives have never been as uncomplicated as we pretend; they face a range of traumas, from parental addiction to violence in their families and neighborhoods. Funding local programs to help them not just survive but also grow up healthy and secure is an investment in Lexington’s future, which is why the business community already has embraced the proposed tax increase.
As politicians in Washington and Frankfort resist taking action against gun violence, Lexington can seize this moment to do something important for its young people and itself.
Both the school board and public should support this investment in Lexington’s future.