Nikolas Cruz Mug Shot

Eyes of a killer: Nikolas Cruz, the Florida school shooter, had mental health issues that were poorly addressed by his school, social services and police. (Photo: Mug Shot)

A friend of mine is an elementary school teacher in northern New Jersey Her specialty is teaching learning impaired kids between the ages of 7-10. This year, she’s been saddled with teaching one of the worst cases of disobedience she’s come across in over twenty-five years.

He’s caused so much havoc in her class she’s actually scared to turn her back on him, for fear of what he may do next. Keep in mind, this kid is nine.

Nikolas Cruz, who shot up Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. with an assault rifle, killing 17 and wounding 50 others, sounds a lot like this kid.

Cruz was constantly in trouble early in life and was eventually expelled from school. The questions being asked now are why wasn’t something done earlier to address his mental health issues.

In times past, schools were better equipped to deal with students like Cruz and the student terrorizing my friend in New Jersey. But round-after-round of federal budget cuts to health and education programs, including those that address mental health, have left schools helpless to deal with problem children.

It’s supremely ironic–not to mention despicable– for President Trump to deflect what happened in Florida by blaming Cruz’s mental health problems, instead of the ease with which minors and the mentally ill can buy assault weapons.

In February, Trump signed a bill into law rolling back an Obama regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun.

But that’s not the worst of it.

President Trump’s full budget proposal for fiscal year 2018, calls for a $9.2 billion, or 13.5 percent, cut in spending on education. The cuts would be spread across K-12 and aid to higher education, according to NPR.

Trump’s budget also calls for major cuts to Medicaid, which impacts special-needs students directly, as well as millions of poor students. Public schools provide all sorts of public health services, from vision screening to speech therapy and mental health counseling, paid for by Medicaid.

Yet, kids’ health programs would face the largest dollar cuts ($140 billion or 10 percent), according to the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.

A $2.3 billion program for teacher training and class-size reduction, and a $1.2 billion after-school program, which serves nearly 2 million children, many of them poor, is also facing huge cuts.

In all, hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under the Trump administration budget, according to The Washington Post.

Instead, the Trump administration is pouring nearly $1 billion into a programs to create vouchers for private schools and fund charter schools, including conservative religious schools, a pet project of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

That tragedy is that more students like Cruz and my friend’s student will fall through the cracks. Some will invariably end up with a gun in their hands.

My elementary school teacher friend has already spent dozens of sleepless nights trying to figure out how to deal with this child because the lack of support she’s received from her superiors is stunning.

Not surprisingly, the parents are virtually non-existent. They drop him off and pick him up each day, but never attend meetings, even when specifically asked.

Add to that, the principal is way out of her depth handling problem children.

She apparently kowtows to the child (possibly out of fear, possibly wanting to just shut him up) to the point she’s moved entire classes around and reworked multiple teacher’s schedules/curriculum just to accommodate this one boy.

One recent day after school, the boy was caught threatening another child with a broom handle and the boy’s mother called police.

Everyone in the school district knows this boy – the teachers, the Board, the union, the police, yet no one seems to be willing to do what my friend – with her years of experience – has recommended. He needs to be transferred to a special program for children with learning disabilities and behavior issues.

She says the likelihood of this happening is slim, simply due to the fact most parents refuse to accept their child has a learning problem.

Instead, they will sacrifice their own son/daughter’s most crucially developmental years rather than swallow their pride and admit it and get their child the help he/she needs.

Sadly, the most probable outcome of this situation, is he will most likely be placated and treated with kid gloves by faculty, staff, and counselors for the next few years By the time he reaches middle school, he’ll start causing real trouble.

Like Cruz, he most likely will end up dropping out or being expelled, at which point his disabilities and behavior issues will have, no doubt, multiplied times ten.

Obviously, there’s no crystal ball to see which “troubled” kid, which “loner,” which “outcast” will turn out to be a psychopathic killer But, as my friend said when hearing the news of the Parkland shooting, “That’s gonna be ‘Robert’ in ten years.”

At that point, the authorities and the media will be quick to blame the gun store owner, the neo nazi group he trained with, and the mother who wasn’t there.

But will anyone address the real problem–our public education system is incapable of helping students when it matters most.

The administration will talk about mental health to deflect scrutiny on the need for gun control, and slash education funding at the same time.

It’s just another cynical ploy to protect the National Rifle Association (NRA) at the expense of school children. How does this make America safer?