A resurgence in constructive goal-oriented student activism must be counted as one of the few positive aftereffects of the tragic shooting deaths of 14 students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., 76 days ago.
In Parkland, students quickly mobilized an international NeverAgain campaign, organized gun-control demonstrations including one of the largest in American history, persuaded scores of major corporations to sever ties with the National Rifle Association and staged aggressive lobbying campaigns that led to passage of the first major firearms restrictions in the Sunshine State in decades.
Similarly, in Minnesota, students from high schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul successfully channeled their demonstrations and appeals for sensible gun reform into a bill in the state Legislature calling for much more stringent background checks for gun purchases in the North Star State.
Here in the Mahoning Valley, several students from Canfield High School similarly are leading the charge to work within the system to effect positive social change for all. We commend their conscientious and responsible efforts.
Those students led by Vincent Patierno and Melissa Dahman have drafted a bill for consideration in the Ohio General Assembly to make mental health a stronger priority in the state’s educational system.
“Our intent with drafting this proposal stemmed from the massacre in Parkland,” Patierno said.
But unlike many other proposals that grew out of the mass school shooting that seek tougher gun controls, the Canfield students’ legislation aims to highlight the impact of mental illness on violence in schools and elsewhere.
We concur with the students that the role of unstable mental health in triggering killing sprees too often has gotten short shrift in the larger debate over gun violence.
BILL’S NOTEWORTHY OBJECTIVES
Their bill, now in the hands of the Ohio Legislative Service Commission to be drafted into a formal bill, contains several promising objectives. They include:
Increasing strategies and learning techniques within the early stages of education in Ohio’s public schools to enable children to begin to understand their feelings and why they feel certain emotions.
Requiring mental-health screenings in all Ohio schools.
Increasing funding for mental-health services to ensure at least one mental-health professional is available for every 1,000 students in a school district.
Those clearly defined objectives are reasonable and address concrete needs. After all, research has shown that children who report high levels of exposure to violence whether as a witness or as a victim report high levels of depression, anxiety and anger. Sometimes those emotions, if left unchecked, can trigger anti-social and violent behaviors.
In addition, children can also become desensitized to violence to the point where they view it as an acceptable means to solve problems or settle scores. Others have suffered post traumatic stress disorder that brings with it a greater risk of suicide.
Clearly, the value of the primary mission of the bill – keeping students’ emotions in check – cannot be easily disputed.
Fortunately for the students, state lawmakers from the Mahoning Valley have taken notice of their efforts and plan to shepherd their bill through both the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House of Representatives enthusiastically.
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, said the bill “makes sense in so many different ways.” He also lauded the students for their dedication to this important public-health cause.
“They really impressed me, and they’re so passionate about what they’re doing,” Schiavoni, a Democratic candidate for Ohio governor, added.
State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, who plans to introduce the measure in the House, also was moved by the Valley students’ activism.
“It’s coming from our youth and the constituents saying we need this. It’s super inspiring that theirs will be the voices being heard from the halls of the Legislature.”
We join Lepore-Hagan and Schiavoni in commending the students’ front-lines civic leadership. They and their peers in the Never Again movement join the ranks of other student-led movements in history that have woven lasting and positive changes into the fabric of our democracy.