My Comment to the Utah Safe Schools Commission
By Ken K. Gourdin
In light of school shootings and other instances of school violence in recent months and years, the state of Utah established a Safe Schools Commission to promote school safety and to identify and implement solutions to school violence. Formerly, I was the Vice-Chair of the Protection and Advocacy Council for Individuals with Mental Illness (“PAIMI Council”), and I now serve as its Chair.
The Disability Law Center (“DLC”) is Utah’s Protection and Advocacy Agency, the agency the federal government specifically charges with the mission of protecting the disabled in the state of Utah. The PAIMI Council is federally mandated to provide guidance to the DLC specifically with respect to protecting the rights of those with psychiatric diagnoses. Before the Safe Schools Commission issued its report, the DLC’s Legislative Advocate, Andrew Riggle, encouraged PAIMI Council members to remind the Coalition that any solutions it might propose should be mindful of the rights of those with psychiatric diagnoses. To that end, I wrote the following letter to the Commission via Governor Gary Herbert:
April 4, 2018
Utah Safe Schools Commission
C/O The Honorable Governor Gary Herbert
350 North State Street
Salt Lake City UT 84114
Dear Governor Herbert:
Subject: Public Comment, Utah Safe Schools Commission
I am the vice-chair of the Protection and Advocacy Council for Individuals With Mental Illness (“PAIMI Council”), a federally-mandated body charged with providing guidance to Utah’s Disability Law Center (“DLC”), Utah’s Protection and Advocacy agency, the organization charged with protecting the rights of Utahns with behavioral health challenges and other disabilities. Notwithstanding my service in this capacity, I write on my own behalf and do not speak for the DLC, for the PAIMI Council, or for any other organization or individual. I am challenged both by a physical disability and by a behavioral health diagnosis.
I cannot imagine the pain and anguish the victims of mass shootings have had to endure in the wake of such horrific events. I recognize the needs both to feel safe and to actually be safe in schools and elsewhere, and that not feeling safe prevents effective learning. I support effective measures to increase safety and security in schools and to prevent violence and mass casualty events in schools and elsewhere.
Even if the majority of mass shooters and others who commit violence are found to have behavioral health challenges, it should be remembered that a correlation is not a cause, and, while behavioral health diagnoses may play a role in many such incidents, such diagnoses are just one factor in a complex combination of contributing factors. Reliable statistics show that overwhelmingly, those who struggle with behavioral health challenges are the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators of it.
Whatever measures the Commission decides upon to address the problem of school violence, it should bear in mind that those with behavioral health challenges already face overwhelming stigma, isolation, discrimination, and other barriers to full societal integration. The Commission should exercise great care in ensuring that measures chosen to combat school violence do not, even unwittingly, add to these problems.
Thank you for your attention and for your consideration.
Ken K. Gourdin