As we enter this new school year, everyone is having those usual first-day jitters. People are excited to start the year off like we did before the pandemic, students are excited to see their friends and share what they did over the summer, and teachers are excited to greet their new students and welcome back those they had before.
At the same time, all staff in many districts across the country are participating in their required Alert, Lockdown, Inform Counter, Evacuate (ALICE) active shooter response training.
Teachers are then expected to be able to talk to their students about these protocols — whether those students are 18 or 5 years old.
On April 20, 1999, 12 students and one teacher were killed and 24 others were wounded by two gunmen at Columbine High School in Colorado. That fall, roughly 1200 miles away at Forest Elementary in Farmington Hills, I started kindergarten.
Because of this, I never got the chance to experience school without the threat of gun violence hanging over my head.
At the time, I did not comprehend my parents’ anxiety over dropping their first child off to school less than five months after this tragedy — that has since changed.
The slew of mass shootings in schools across our country continued as I grew up. Virginia Tech when I was in middle school. Sandy Hook when I was in undergrad and Parkland when I was in grad school.
Less than a year ago, we had the terrible tragedy at Oxford High School about 30 miles away from where I currently serve on the Farmington Public Schools Board of Education.
Board members are community volunteers who might be paid an average of $25-$30 a meeting and are typically parents, retired teachers, activists or concerned citizens.
Instead of focusing on the policies that allow the district to provide a great education for their students and a supportive workplace for their employees, school boards are forced to think about the policies that are needed to combat the threat of gun violence.
Do they require all people entering their buildings to go through metal detectors? How does that change a student’s mindset when walking into school? Do districts institute a clear backpack policy? Who is overseeing these processes at each building? Will the district allow concealed handgun license holders to open carry non-concealed firearms in weapons-free zones as allowed by state law?
What do you do when a mass shooting happens at a school nearby? In one of your own?
These decisions are far different from approving teacher contracts, approving bids for building improvements or purchasing buses that many board members thought they were going to be making when running for office. Yet, we have to make them just the same — usually accompanied by a sleepless night of reflection.
I am not going to pretend that I have the perfect answer on how to discuss this with your children and other family members, but you need to make sure you have that conversation.
Be sure to lock up your firearms — gun locks are available at no-cost at many police departments and fire stations. The best way to deal with a potentially hostile person is to stop them before anything bad happens, so if you see or hear something, say something.
It is important for children to know that they will be taken seriously if they report an overheard strange conversation or see a post online or note somewhere. You can reach out to your school district to see if they have any additional resources for these kinds of conversations.
School is a place for learning. School is a place for our children to feel safe. It is on all of us to keep it that way.
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