Considering the numerous shootings that have occurred at schools, shopping districts, and what are supposed to be other mundane locations, one would assume that discussions about mass shootings would warrant care and earnestness. However, one teacher has already violated this basic expectation. On August 16th, 2019, an instructor at Lakeland Senior High School was put on administrative leave after joking that he would be an amazing school shooter, explaining in detail how he would commit the act. As a teacher and role model to young, impressionable students, he should be ashamed of his actions and punished with dismissal.
Information on The Case
The man, identified as Keith Cook by Fox News, had claimed that he would “be the best school shooter” and have a “1,000 person body count” during a lockdown drill. Cook did not stop there, as he went further into gruesome detail, explaining that he would plant bombs around the school and then “fire a couple rounds and wait for everyone to hide” before detonating them. He also specified that “he would put a bomb in the corner and put nails in it for shrapnel.” To ensure public safety, Detective Justin Conatser placed a risk protection order against Keith Cook to temporarily restrict his access to firearms and ammunition.
When an officer interrogated him, Cook attempted to justify himself by stating that he was a former Marine and was simply making a joke. However, the police treated this situation sensibly and investigated his home and vehicle, though no weapons were found. Nevertheless, it was noted that Keith Cook “may be seriously mentally ill or may have recurring mental health issues.”
Keith Cook’s court hearing for a final risk protection order will take place on August 30th, 2019. Until then, the outcome of his case is unknown.
Trivializing Genuine Concerns
While Cook claimed to be only joking, he should be ashamed for mocking such a serious topic because mass shootings are a very real phenomenon in the United States. According to CBS, which analyzed data from the Gun Violence Archive, “There have been more mass shootings than days this year” of 2019 in the U.S. The statistics showed that by August 5th (the 217th day of the year), 255 mass shootings had taken place, resulting in “an average of more than one mass shooting a day”.
Students and parents are also aware of the threat of gun violence at least emotionally. A 2018 Pew Research Center poll revealed that 32% of the surveyed students are “somewhat worried” about the possibility of a school shooting while 25% are “very worried,” contributing to a total of 57% conveying worry. A majority of parents express similar fears, with 39% “somewhat worried” and 24% “very worried,” totaling to 63% that indicates a level of worry. Therefore, not only was Keith Cook trivializing a disturbingly real trend of mass shootings, but he was also belittling the fears of the students he taught, as well as their parents.
The question that remains is whether or not Cook should receive a penalty for his actions. As previously established, no physical evidence was found, so his offense only amounts to words. Because Cook did not necessarily aim to threaten or cause harm with his statements, freedom of speech could protect him from incarceration. However, that does not permit him freedom from consequence, as Lakeland Senior High School will also be judging him.
Keith Cook should lose his job because he potentially violated core teacher values. For example, his actions could become grounds for dismissal if they are interpreted as immoral conduct, incompetence, or neglect of duty. Cook’s joke about school shootings could be perceived as immoral because he had been contemplating how to harm the students he should be protecting. It could also be considered as incompetence or neglect of duty since he was joking during a lockdown drill rather than taking the matter seriously and teaching students how to act appropriately in a dangerous situation.
Even if the arguments above are not sufficient reasonings, the school should take into account the students Keith Cook will influence. He failed to be a positive role model and source of solace for students. Teachers shape young minds, and Keith Cook just showed that it is okay to ponder out mass shootings by example (when, in fact, it is not). Also, after hearing his intricate and lethal plan, students may never feel safe again in Cook’s presence, which will interfere with their ability to learn. Therefore, Cook should be fired for his inappropriate joke and to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of his pupils.
While a tasteless joke may not be enough for imprisonment, Keith Cook should at least be dismissed from Lakeland Senior High for his comments about school shootings. His actions were unbecoming of a teacher, setting a dangerous precedent, and horrifying students that he was supposed to nurture and grow. His past Marine status and mental state may serve as an explanation, but never an excuse. For the betterment of this school and the safety of its students, Keith Cook must go.
This post was written by one of U4SC’s Courses 4SC Teaching Assistants, Tara.[Image Attribute: Fibonacci Blue]