School Climate & Safety Opinion

After Parkland, Where Do We Go From Here?

Protecting students and teachers must be a priority
March 01, 2018 9 min read
deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
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This is the question on the minds of most Americans following the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on February 14. The groundswell of response after 17 students and educators were killed in the Parkland high school has been news breaking. Students, parents, educators, and policymakers have kept the issue of gun control and how to move forward the focus of public debate.

Education Week has also rarely seen an event that has stirred readers quite like this one has. Commentary received more than two dozen submissions from educators across the country, including those involved in previous school shootings. All of them express concern about school safety—measures to improve it and how to protect their students and themselves. Rather than select one or two, the editors thought it would be valuable to share what a number of these individuals had to say.

—The Editors

We Must Take Responsibility

The national conversation, regardless of our political affiliations, should be: Why are students picking up guns in the first place? Those who balk and say that school shootings are rare and that our schools are safe are missing the point entirely. They demonstrate a complete disregard for human life. The blame game can go on ad infinitum. It is time for all of us in education to take responsibility for what is happening in our schools.

Until the freedom to own guns and the pro-gun lobbying machine are dismantled, it will be up to our mental health and emotional sanity to determine how guns will be used in the future. Undoubtedly, Nikolas Cruz’s behavior was inexcusable, but so is ours—and until we make supporting students’ physical, emotional, and psychological needs in schools a priority in this country, school shootings will become the norm rather than the exception.

Kristine E. Larson is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

‘We Are Not Special Forces’

Arming teachers as a response to gun violence is morally unsound: We are educators, not special forces. We are not trained for combat, nor did we choose it as a career. Despite this, we regularly prepare ourselves and our students for the potential of catastrophic violence. We die for them. But to take this on as a function of our job reveals a deep misunderstanding of the role of educator. Teachers are thinkers, inspirers, mentors, and advocates.

The fetishization of weapons has turned our classrooms into battlegrounds, and, as a result, there is the expectation that we take on the dual role of soldier. If the moment came, would I take a bullet for my students? Of course; some teachers have already. But I refuse to offer my body as a shield for the NRA.

Victoria Henry is a high school teacher in New York City public schools.

Schools Need Support

As a principal for more than 17 years in urban school settings across northeast Ohio, it still hurts my heart to see how quickly a gun in schools can change the lives of friends, family members, and a community. Schools are being called on to address many of society’s problems, in addition to teaching students to read, write, speak, and think critically. Schools can’t do this alone.

Sandy D. Womack Jr. is the director of principal leadership and development for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City school district in Ohio.

It’s Expensive to Arm Teachers

The president and his supporters need to realize that arming teachers changes the entire purpose and climate of what happens in a school. This is not an atmosphere in which education flourishes. The president has also promoted the idea that 20 to 40 percent of the nation’s teachers could be recruited and trained to be defenders in schools. With a total of 3.2 million teachers staffing the nation’s public schools, a 20 percent target would equate to recruiting and training more than half-a-million teachers. This is highly unrealistic, even when bonuses are offered.

Additionally, there will be significant costs involved for recruiting teachers to carry guns, including buying the guns and ammunition and providing critical training. Teachers who engage in these extensive and ongoing training exercises may very well be taking valuable time away from preparing for their major responsibility—teaching children.

Gerald Tirozzi was the former assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton Administration, from 1996 to 1999.

What About the Liability?

Although statistically only one in a million students in this country is a victim of a school shooting, this call to arms for teachers is an immediate, knee-jerk response to school invasions. One of the problems with arming teachers that is not openly discussed is the issue of liability. There should be concern for a teacher’s attempt to diffuse attacks over possible gun thefts, accidental discharges, and student injuries as a result of crossfire. Who will carry the responsibility for weapons’ maintenance, safety, storage, and usage? My suspicion is if something goes terribly wrong with one of the school-sanctioned guns, the responsibility and financial liability would fall squarely on the shoulders of the weapon’s assigned teacher.

Collen Rogers is a retired middle and high school teacher from Chicago.

Teachers Are Not to Blame

My continued frustration is that the national conversation around school violence centers on the work of teachers. It is hard to imagine how teachers might better police the learning space when such mechanizations will not make a school safe. Rather, this thinking keeps the brutality inside of schools.

With so many imperatives mounting up, teachers are under too much strain to urgently resist in protest. Public policy has misappropriated issues of guns and violence with a logic that has cost lives. I am saddened and conflicted when considering what this recent activism represents, and I fear the way our profession is devolving.

Jennifer Dauphinais is a faculty member at Quinnipiac University’s school of education and a doctoral candidateat Teachers College, Columbia University.

Throw the Doors Open

There have been renewed calls to arm teachers, to install metal detectors in schools, to hire private security firms, and even to outfit children with bullet-proof backpacks. Such arguments are understandable after these horrific incidents when we might be more willing to trade freedoms for the feeling of security. Instead of simply rejecting such radical responsive measures—or getting caught in what seems to be an endless back and forth about their effectiveness—we want to suggest a potentially more preventative measure: Unlock the schools. Throw them open to the communities they serve.

Rather than trying to turn schools into impenetrable fortresses, let’s work, especially in the aftermath of such tragedy, to transform them into civic centers, places where citizens can come together—to heal, to reclaim their public spaces, and to take action to address the complexity of school shootings and other social problems.

Lyndsay Cowles is the district curriculum and professional development specialist in the Jennings, Mo. Tony DeCesare is an assistant professor of educational studies at Saint Louis University.

Students Shouldn’t Become Child Soldiers

Many would argue that the Junior Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or JROTC, prepares leaders and instills discipline in our students. However, its primary purpose is military recruitment. With the United States involved in endless wars, there needs to be an endless supply of recruits. Where else to get them but from public schools, especially in poverty districts where the false promises of a great future await them if they join. But children, even teenagers, have not developed the full cognitive abilities to make “adult” decisions.

Minors are protected by law from harm, whether it be restrictions in the workplace, behind a wheel, or for owning a firearm. Being part of a paramilitary organization that trains in drills and rifle actions is indoctrination, potentially turning young adults into child soldiers.

Myles Hoenig is a veteran high school teacher in Prince George’s County, Md.

Connections Matter

As we move forward, the hope is that we replace the often inauthentic “thoughts and prayers” with concrete solutions that not only debate policy issues but also address the role of the school, as it contributes to the livelihoods of our young people. Are schools viewed through a corporate, quantifiable lens that places their successes and failures on student test scores and robotic teaching of a top-down curriculum? Or are schools viewed through a more accurate lens that acknowledges the relational elements that come into play when defining any type of community, such as connection, communication, and trust? There is no greater example than the epidemic of school shootings in America to justify giving the latter view far more serious attention.

Nat Damon has been a teacher and administrator for 25 years in Boston and Los Angeles. Robert Loe is the founding director of the Relational Schools Foundation.

Listen to Parents

If schools are going to start promoting “see something, say something” campaigns, then schools have to be prepared to show that it matters when parents speak up. Parents have concerns. Parents are, in many cases, being ignored. Schools cannot ignore parents’ daily concerns and then expect them to believe they would honor concerns after a school shooting. The inaction is contributing to a culture of apathy among parents and is protecting mediocrity in our schools.

Alyssa Gallagher is an educator, administrator, and educational consultant in Santa Monica, Calif.

Long-Term Damage

What does it do to the collective psyche of a cohort of students to receive instruction on how to protect themselves from danger from their earliest days in school? What does it do to a generation of children who have never known a time when boarding an airplane was not first an exercise in a stop-and-frisk, in search and seizure, an inborn fear of liquids in excess of three ounces? What do we create when we, out of necessity and love and desperation and a scrabbling, throat-closing fear that some unknown enemy lies in wait, teach our children to seek safety and succor in the tiny nooks and crannies of their classrooms? What happens to their psyches when we teach children, after grammar and formulas and compounds, that their lives might one day depend on their assenting silence and stillness in the face of an attack?

Jessica Kirkland is a high school English teacher in Leesburg, Va.

One More Reason Not To Become a Teacher

I couldn’t help but think that teachers are being asked to do one more thing while simultaneously giving young people one more reason to reject teaching as a career. As the dean of a school of education, I am constantly reminded of the looming teacher shortage and the reasons (low teacher salaries and low public support, for starters) why bright undergraduate students decide against an education career. This news has added one more reason to reject education as a career. Most of our teacher candidates want to be teachers because they love learning and want to share their love of learning with others. I can’t imagine shifting our discussion of teaching to include the possibility of being killed or adding gun licenses as part of our credentialing packets. The teacher candidate pool will ultimately change—and not for the better.

Rather than decreasing the number of effective teachers by asking them to utilize guns in classrooms, let’s provide schools the necessary resources to be safe, healthy environments where students and teachers can thrive.

Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy is the dean of American University’s school of education.

You can read a full version of Holcomb-McCoy’s essay on Salon.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 2018 edition of Education Week as After Parkland, Where Do We Go From Here?


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