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‘Students Never Forget': Principals Call for Help After School Shootings

By Olina Banerji & Sam Mallon — June 18, 2024 2 min read
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On a bright and sunny day in mid-June, a group of 16 school leaders arrived at the U.S. Capitol with a sole objective: to garner more funds and resources to support schools that have experienced a school shooting.

This group, the Principal Recovery Network, is uniquely poised to make these demands to legislators—each of them have experienced a school shooting, or the aftermath, on their campus. Several of the principals in this group have lost colleagues and students to such violent incidents.

Although school shootings remain statistically rare, there were 38 incidents in 2023 that resulted in injuries or deaths—the second-highest for any year since Education Week began tracking them in 2018. Six months into 2024, there have been 20 school shootings resulting in deaths or injuries.

A shooting can emotionally paralyze a school community. Students and teachers need immediate counseling; buildings need repair and reconstruction. More than anything, schools need to feel like safe spaces that students and staff can come back to, members of the network told Education Week in the above video.

And the principal is one of the key people who needs to pick up the pieces after a school shooting.

“The challenge is we ourselves don’t know what support we need after a tragedy occurs,” said Greg Johnson, the principal of West-Liberty Salem High School in Champaign County, Ohio.

In 2017, Johnson, his assistant principal Andy McGill, and former student Logan Cole confronted an armed student in the school’s restroom, who was planning to open fire on campus. Cole was shot, sustaining severe injuries, but the trio talked the shooter down from doing more damage.

Being part of the Principal Recovery Network has helped leaders like Johnson stitch together a checklist for how to handle the immediate aftermath—like how to reopen schools, how to provide mental health support to those in the school community, and how to run active shooter drills without retraumatizing students and staff. But the group, which meets several times a year under the aegis of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, is also seeking more sustained financial support from U.S. legislators.

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The network wants a “substantial” increase in funding for Project SERV, a short-term grant provided to schools after they experience a traumatic incident. SERV, which stands for School Emergency Response to Violence, provides both money and crisis-response experts to schools after an incident of violence on campus.

Schools can use the SERV grant to hire additional counselors and mental health service providers, as well as increase the presence of law enforcement on campus in the immediate aftermath of a violent incident. The SERV grant, though, is time-limited.

“Expanding Project SERV is another ask we have for Capitol Hill,” Johnson said.

Beyond SERV, the school leaders want legislators to provide more funding under Title II and Title IX, which, they said, could help with more security measures on campus, as well as expand mental health services for students. In the video above, members of the Principal Recovery Network spoke about how these additional resources can help schools recover and heal after a violent incident.

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