Earlier this year on February 14, the Parkland High School massacre took the lives of 17 students and faculty, and wounded more than 20, making it one of the deadliest school shootings in history. On April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, tens of thousands of students participated in organized walkouts from all corners of the country, raising their voices and looking for solutions to stop violence in schools, now. NorthBay biz asked local students, parents and leaders in education to share their thoughts.
Superintendent, Petaluma City Schools
Throughout our history as a nation, courageous leadership emanates during times of crisis. We have all watched in horror as our best and brightest youth continue to become victims of gun violence. Accordingly, we have witnessed the power of a student movement, which has spread across the country. In Petaluma, our students stand tall on this issue. They’ve consistently demonstrated that they do play a role in our democratic process and that their voices matter. They have shown the adults in their community that student civic engagement is alive and well. Petaluma youth have also demonstrated a core democratic value that one can stand for something while still respecting the rights of others who hold opposing viewpoints. It’s our hope that students will be provided a seat at the table, allowed to communicate their concerns and be part of the problem-solving process.
Cardinal Newman High School, Santa Rosa
Horror. Stunned silence. A sickening, sinking feeling from within that draws back the dark memories of other school massacres. A sense of being unable to escape the terrible possibility that for all our efforts, we might not be able to protect our students from the evil of violence, whatever its motivation. Names echo with pain, University of Texas, 1966; Columbine, Colorado, 1999; Sandy Hook, Connecticut, 2013; now Parkland, Florida, 2018. We go back over our plans, we pray, we reassure students and staff that the Sheriff's Department will respond quickly, that our greatest protection is knowing each other well enough to share if someone is troubled or threatening.
Unknowns remain beyond our control, but we can choose how to react now. We admire the students speaking out, making their views known, not letting themselves be only victims of tragedy but survivors determined to make change. Congressman Huffman came on March 2, sharing the bills being proposed, asking for their support. We gave our students a forum to make presentations on March 14, to gather in remembrance and share their hopes for improved safety, changed laws, and protection of their rights. They formed groups to work together and attend the gathering at Court House Square on March 24. Hope is rising.
Mary Jane Burke
Marin County Superintendent of Schools
The attack in Parkland and others across the country, are devastating reminders of the need for proactive efforts to prevent future tragedies. It’s incumbent upon our schools and communities to engage our youth in positive ways, educate the public to recognize the signs of someone in need of crisis support and to speak out when potential threats emerge. Data has shown that in most cases of school shootings, the shooter showed signs or told someone about their plans. Prevention and education programs are of critical need now and in to the future to keep our communities safe.
The Parkland tragedy has given rise to a call to action by young, articulate leaders who have sparked a movement—not dissimilar to the civil rights movement of our past century. These are the students who have grown up in a world where lock-down drills and headlines about yet another gun-related tragedy are the norm. We’re proud of our young leaders who are exercising their right to advocate for stronger safety measures. They are our future and they refuse to stand on the sidelines. I look forward to seeing these future leaders continue their legacy into the coming years.
Parent of a 2nd grader, Petaluma
Fear. For weeks after the Florida shooting, the primary emotion I felt was fear— leaving empathy, sadness and disbelief in the dust. Fear was there all day, every day. Fear that this could happen to us, to me and to my daughter. As I would hug her goodbye in the morning, I would wonder if it might be the last time. I walked around during the day while she was at school, and found myself tearing up just by glancing at her toys or a drawing she had made me hanging on the refrigerator. Ridiculous right? You can’t live in fear of things that haven’t even happened, right? But they do happen. They happen more often than I can believe. I’m not making up things to be frightened of. They are all around us. I would hear people say, when will this end? I fear it won’t.
Superintendent, Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District
We are all saddened by the mass shootings that have taken place in schools around our country, most recently in Parkland, Florida, and our hearts go out to all of those who have been impacted. We all want this violence to end, so our students can focus on learning and being prepared for college and careers. Across the country, school districts are revisiting protocols and updating plans to ensure the best possible response to all potential threats, which, unfortunately, include the possibility of an active shooter.
All school districts understand we have a responsibility to ensure, as best we can, a safe learning environment for our students. We share this responsibility with parents and everyone in our communities. School districts like ours are meeting with law enforcement, and staff are attending trainings to review how we respond to threats and how we can improve safety for our students. Our district protocol emphasizes that staff “Observe, Think and Act” when encountering a possible threat.
We all want an end to school violence, but in the meantime, we want everyone to know that schools take the daily stewardship over children very seriously. Thank you for entrusting us with them.
Education Specialist, Sausalito
We conduct lockdown drills as often as earthquake drills in Marin, where I’m a special education teacher for elementary students. Since there has been 18 school shootings to date in the U.S. this calendar year alone, it seems that having these drills are relevant. During drills, we lock the doors, turn the blinds and shut all the lights off. In my class, it’s tricky to quiet the students as they have intellectual disabilities that make it challenging for them to understand that being silent could mean life or death. It’s surreal we have to think in these terms.
As teachers, we need to focus on helping children who are bullied and who are, themselves, the bullies. If a kid is isolating himself or herself, talk to them. Being nice goes a long way. You never know how small acts of kindness might change a student’s trajectory in life.
It seems as though Australia has figured out how to nip mass-shootings in the bud, banning semi-automatic and other military-style weapons. Their government prohibits the imports of these types of guns, and lawmakers introduced a gun buyback program. I support the second amendment, but there’s no reason civilians need military weapons. Arming teachers is absurd—there are too many variables that would make a situation more dangerous.
Steven D. Herrington, Ph.D.
Sonoma County Schools
No child or student should ever have to go to school scared. After the recent, unthinkable school shooting in Parkland, Fla., students have begun speaking out and peacefully organizing. As a former history and government teacher, I’m encouraged to see our youngest citizens taking such an active role in their democracy. Students have a right to free speech under the First Amendment and California Education Code that we must support and uphold while also ensuring student safety and minimizing disruption to the learning process.
I want to reassure students that their voices are being heard and that schools around the county are making safety a top priority. We must commit to making schools safe havens for our students in every way possible. Each public school is required to maintain and annually update a school safety plan, which helps schools prepare for emergencies. In addition, schools hold annual lockdown drills where they rehearse their response to an on-campus shooter or threatening individual. While no amount of preparation can completely prevent tragedies like the one in Parkland, it can help mitigate them. From safety measures, to listening to our students, to addressing emotional and mental health challenges before they escalate, we must do everything we can to ensure our schools are safe places for children to learn and thrive.
Napa Valley High School
Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland—do we know better yet? Have we learned anything? We’ve learned that youth are susceptible to committing acts of extreme violence; that guns with high rates of fire are the weapons of choice for those intent on carrying out mass murder; our current gun regulations and background checks aren’t working; our political debates are largely self-serving, and the problem of gun violence at schools isn’t going away. We know better than to continue debating the horror of what happened at these schools. And, when you know better, you do better.
So, what do we do? We climb over any obstacle in our way to create laws, policy, and background check procedures that reflect better interpretation of personal rights, better use of technology to monitor gun sales, better accountability measures, and better response to early warnings. We adopt an evolved and unequivocal stance about protecting lives from senseless gun violence.
I remember arriving at a staff meeting at La Jolla High School 19 years ago only to learn of the tragedy unfolding at Columbine. Students were dead in hallways, in classrooms, in the cafeteria, and lives were changed forever. Another anniversary has just passed, and now Parkland has become the latest incident. Students across the nation, who are organizing walkouts and speaking up publically, are refusing to allow these events to become normalized in our society. They know better, and they’re asking—perhaps pleading—for us to evolve, to be unequivocal and simply to do better.
Junior, Petaluma High School
In the third paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson writes that it is the right and the duty of the people to uphold the government in its fundamental role of securing their rights. Among the most basic and inalienable of these rights, is that to safety and security.
As a student and concerned American citizen who is worried about her own safety and the safety of her peers across the country, I feel it is my duty to hold the government accountable for its inaction with regards to gun control legislation. When I heard the news of another school shooting, I felt saddened and frustrated that a tragedy like this could’ve happened again. It seems that as a society, we have become numb to these senseless acts of violence, as if the notification of another 17 dead kids had become just as mundane as a change in the weather. It is then that I think every teenager in this country had the same realization: we have to stop this, to protect ourselves, and the kids of the future. It won’t be enough to wait until we’re old enough to be elected into office. No more kids should have to die to convince some old man in congress that gun control legislation is not only necessary, but long overdue. We’ll continue our efforts until we see real, tangible change, and, after that, move on to our next world-changing endeavor.
Sophomore at Casa Grande High School
When the notification that there had been a school shooting on February 14 popped up on my phone, my first thought was: another one? I remember putting my phone away and turning back to my lunch and the conversation with my friends, but the news stained my thoughts for the rest of the day.
Seeing these kids take action wasn’t what got me started on my own advocacy. What angered me to the point of planning my own Sonoma County revolution was seeing how the people in power cared about the youth who were marching and demanding for them to change something so that what happened at Stoneman Douglas never happened again. I was enraged by the NRA-funded politicians who claimed to represent my country, but who chose profit over the lives of children.
Over the past few months I’ve learned that getting people to care is frustrating, and, especially with gun control, advocacy can feel hopeless. Every time I want to give up, I remind myself of why I fight. I fight so that my mom won’t feel the need to triple check that there are two exits in the movie theater. I fight so my sister can come to a high school where she doesn’t have to be afraid of her peers. I fight so my friends won’t have to practice hiding in case someone comes to kill us. I fight for everyone who has lost their lives and everyone who will come after me.
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