Eight percent of county students report they have stayed home from school due to safety concerns
By Elise Marlett, Current Staff
Students at the West Bend High Schools still feel vulnerable one year after the Parkland, Fla. school shooting.
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey was administered to students across Washington County in April, just two months after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting that killed 17 high school students and staff. The survey results show that 16.1 percent of county students have carried a weapon on their person within 30 days of being surveyed and 8.3 percent have stayed home from school for fear of being unsafe on school grounds.
Last year saw a significantly higher number of school shootings than previous years, leaving students and staff at the West Bend High Schools to reflect on whether there is a relationship between students arming themselves and feeling unsafe at school.
In 2018 alone, 165 individuals were killed or injured in school gun violence, the highest ever according to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. Since last year, East sophomore Grayson Pokrandt has noticed that more West Bend students have been aggressive and believes that the fear of gun violence in school is a contributing factor.
“There have been numerous fights that have happened in the last month and they are still happening even though there have been so many,” Pokrandt said. “The students who bring a weapon probably don’t feel the security is enough to help them if they are in trouble.”
Students have been on edge ever since the Parkland shooting, East sophomore Noelle Mentch says.
“School shootings have been occurring more frequently in the recent years, but Parkland kind of started a spark of realization for students,” Mentch said. “Students are getting murdered, all across the country, and there is no criteria or knowledge of who it will happen to next. They’re terrified of who else will get murdered, if it’s the girl across the country in Southern California, or if it’s their best friend from next door.”
West sophomore Lauren Oppermann also thinks that current events are a major factor in the statistics gathered in the YRBS.
“It’s hard going to school every day without knowing if you will come home again,” Oppermann said. “I think everyone in the United States feels unsafe at this time.”
West sophomore Julia Ramstack thinks the events happening during the time the YRBS was administered affected the responses from students.
“I think some students were worried about all the school shootings that took place in the country during the survey and students just felt that a weapon would keep them safe if our schools were to have a shooting,” Ramstack said.
According to the YRBS, the percentage of students in Washington County that feel unsafe and arm themselves is higher than the state average. However, West junior Noah Doedens thinks that because of the recent school shootings, it can be expected that students nationwide will carry weapons due to feelings of vulnerability.
“I think the recent school shootings around the country have had an enormous effect on students and faculty in high schools across the country,” Doedens said. “I think individuals who carry weapons believe it is best for them to be able to defend themselves, and not necessarily take matters into their own hands, but be able to act how they see fit if the situation were to arise.”
“It’s hard going to school every day without knowing if you will come home again.”
– Lauren Oppermann, West sophomore
East guidance counselor Kara Phillips believes that students are safe in West Bend, but there is always room for improvement.
“I can say that in the past few years I think there is more stability and I do think we are seeing kids feeling safer,” Phillips said. “But do I recognize that we have to be diligent continuing our training and awareness? Well, of course.”
Despite her belief that WBHS is safe and prepared in case of emergency, Phillips still understands the fear that students have and how that may correlate with an increase of students carrying weapons.
“Anytime we have seen school violence, I think that it is a reminder that we all can potentially be vulnerable and that’s why we practice drills and that’s why we have to talk about these things because it is the world we live in,” Phillips said. “I think that if a student does say that they have carried something on them, I’m assuming that it has something to do with them feeling safer.”
Some students believe that until gun laws are stricter, no one is safe at school.
“What frightens me is how kids in high school are gaining access to such weapons,” Doedens said. “In many cases, school shootings could have been prevented if there had been stricter gun rules on who is able to possess such dangerous weapons. Putting more guns in the hands of students, especially students who have said they have experienced mental health issues recently, is a terrible idea and it worries me that the process of acquiring a gun is as easy as it is for young students.”
Phillips hopes that the counseling office can help students form connections with peers and staff members in order to feel safer at WBHS.
“I think when kids feel connected to others that changes their perception of the world around them,” Phillips said. “I think the more that kids feel hopeful, they will feel safer.”
(This article is the last in a five-part series about the 2018 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.)