or fantasies. The Wursts are not trained clinicians, and so it is not surprising that they never thought Andrew was mentally ill or even depressed. The fact is that lots of parents see their kids having problems with the awkwardness and pain of growing up without ever thinking they need psychiatric help or might commit a horrible crime. The Wursts were no different.
Every middle school has procedures in place for teachers to refer students who require intervention, but that system appears to have broken down in Andrew Wurst’s case. Following the shooting, the General McLane School District launched a high-visibility character education program. The program got mixed reviews, but few people doubted that it was a step in the right direction. In addition, school officials took reasonable steps to tighten security while avoiding a mindless overreaction that would have compromised the quality of life at the schools. In our view, however, school officials so far have avoided many of the harder issues:
How might the Parker Middle School be operated differently so that there is a stronger sense of community among students?
What steps can be taken so that every student feels valued and cared about as a member of the school community?
What can be done to ensure that students do not merely tolerate diversity, but respect and even embrace it?
How might the inherent divisiveness of cliques be minimized?
How can the school protect every student from bullying?
How might the school be reorganized so that every student is well known by several teachers?
What can be done to make students feel it is safe to notify teachers, counselors, or other adults when another student says or does something they find disturbing or threatening?
Does a greater investment need to be made in after-school programs so that fewer middle school students are home alone?
How can the student support program be reinvigorated so that teachers and other school officials will better recognize when students are showing signs of distress, alcohol and other drug problems, or mental illness, and then advocate for their being referred and receiving appropriate help?
In laying out these questions, we do not mean to imply that Parker school officials should be blamed for what Andrew Wurst did. In ordinary times and by normal standards, Parker Middle School would be considered a well-run and progressive school. Times have changed, however, and the standards by which schools are now judged must change with them.