Enough! We Must All Stand up to Keep Students Safe
Most college acceptance letters start with the words, “It is with great pleasure.”
Not Alex Schachter’s.
In late February, the Florida high-schooler’s family learned that he was admitted to his top school: the University of Connecticut. Known for his trademark UConn sweatshirts, Alex had always dreamed of joining the university’s marching band. Sadly, he was one of 17 students and teachers gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. His college acceptance letter, sent posthumously, began with the words, “It is with great sorrow.”
From Columbine to Newtown to Parkland, communities like Alex Schachter’s are standing together to demand an end to the scourge of gun violence in our schools.
For Connecticut, Sandy Hook was enough. The senseless deaths of 26 children, teachers, and administrators spurred not only outrage but bipartisan action that led to one of the nation’s toughest gun and school safety laws. Teachers were behind it. Parents were behind it. Citizens and their elected officials were behind it. And it worked. Connecticut has one of the nation’s lowest rates of gun-related deaths.
For students across the country, Parkland was enough, precipitating a national movement to enact meaningful change. Students are calling on their elected officials to pass commonsense gun laws, the way Connecticut did, to make schools safe places.
Along with their students, teachers — who should never be remembered for being killed in the line of duty — are also saying Enough.
We are no longer hoping for change; we are demanding it.
Teachers fully support the courageous activism displayed by the students across the country and are coordinating early morning walk-ins on March 14 at schools across the state to coincide with the student walk-outs planned for that day, so entire school communities can stand in solidarity for the kinds of laws and changes needed to make every school building safe. They are also participating in community action rallies on March 24 in Hartford, in Washington, D.C., and around the country.
Teachers, who encourage civic engagement and who educate their students about social justice, are heartened to see their lessons brought to life by students demanding change. They care deeply about their students and are often the ones — in tragedies such as Parkland and Sandy Hook — who lay down their lives so that the children in their care can return safely home. Teachers should not have to make these ultimate sacrifices — although they always do.
We must all honor the legacy of our brave and selfless teachers and the spirit of their students not only with our thoughts and prayers, but with our actions.
We are calling on Congress to respond to the tragedy in Parkland the way Connecticut responded to Sandy Hook — not by arming teachers but by getting serious about gun control and school safety. We are standing up for the opportunities all students deserve, and our advocacy begins with providing safe, nurturing environments conducive to teaching and learning. We cannot fulfill our obligation to students without commonsense gun laws that protect children in all schools.
We urge every resident in the great state of Connecticut who wants to keep our children safe at school to join us in saying, Enough.
President of the Connecticut Education Association
Protecting students: More guns not the answer
President Trump has proposed that the answer to gun violence in schools is to arm teachers and bring guns into the classroom — an idea the vast majority of educators stand firmly against.
The President’s plan is meant as a diversion from the real issue: the need for nationwide gun violence prevention laws, additional resources for school safety, and sustained funding for mental health services.
Teachers want to focus on educating students, and that is where they direct their passion and skill. The state has placed enough mandates on our teachers. The idea that they should also take on the role of armed, paramilitary operatives as a result of the inability of Congress to pass gun violence prevention laws is madness. After the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, an overwhelming majority of teachers —85 percent—said they strongly opposed any proposals concerning teachers carrying guns in schools.
There are many reasons why arming teachers is the wrong solution for addressing gun violence in schools.
First, the risks and liabilities far outweigh any imagined benefits. It is far more likely that increasing the number of guns in schools will result in new and unexpected tragedies rather than safer schools.
Second, teachers’ jobs already come with tremendous responsibility as professional educators. Improving teaching skills should not mean improved marksmanship with a gun. Imagining that teachers should easily assume armed law enforcement duties is deeply insulting to both law enforcement officers and the teaching profession.
Third, the idea that we have no choice other than to ask teachers to be soldiers and gunslingers, ready for hallway shootouts because of the easy accessibility of weapons of war, is a sad and defeatist lesson for children in America.
Finally, the conversation about arming teachers and others in our schools deflects from the real problem and its legitimate solution.
After the 2012 tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut passed comprehensive legislation that enhanced gun violence prevention, school safety, and mental health services. As to gun safety, the legislation included a ban on semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15— the same type of weapon used at Sandy Hook, the Parkland high school, the Las Vegas mass shooting, and the Orlando nightclub massacre; a ban on high-capacity magazines; and established a universal background check system.
The legislation also provided resources for improving safety within our schools, including secure entryways, and expanded mental health resources and protocols. These reforms are still needed today — in a growing social media movement, #ArmMeWith, teachers are demanding not guns but smaller class sizes, improved mental health services, additional school counselors, psychologists, and social workers.
These resources are the types of front line safety nets that are usually first on the chopping block when budgets are cut — and this has been playing out recently in many Connecticut communities suffering from cuts in educational funding. Bridgeport Public Schools have a ratio of 500 students per guidance counselor or social worker — double the recommended level of 250 students. Continued disinvestment in our public schools will hurt the educational, social and emotional well-being of our students.
Connecticut’s gun violence prevention legislation was a bipartisan effort, crafted and supported by both Democrats and Republicans, and it has paid off. With some of the most effective gun laws in the nation, Connecticut has one of the lowest gun death rates.
It’s time for Congress and the president to take action to keep our schools safe, and follow Connecticut’s lead to protect students in every school across America.
Donald Williams is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Education Association and former President of the Connecticut State Senate.