School Safety and Guns Don’t Mix | #schoolsaftey

The center shares examples from around the country. In Alabama and California, for example, students were struck with bullet fragments after their teachers accidentally fired guns in class. In Missouri, a pair of middle school students stole the gun their teacher brought to school. And the mishandling isn’t just from educators. In Florida, a school resource officer accidentally fired a shot while leaning against a cafeteria wall.

There are just too many risks in arming educators that don’t sit well with many of them. Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s Foster, for example, has a lot of questions.

“Where would you store it?” he asks. “Would you carry it off with you? Would you carry it on you? Would you be responsible for protecting the floor? What if that teacher lost his or her mind on a student and pulled a gun on a student, God forbid, in a non-shooting situation, basically. Or what if a kid tackled a teacher and got the gun from the teacher … The scenarios are endless as to what could happen. So, I think the majority of us, again, just aren’t that enamored with the idea.”

In addition to mishaps that could lead to bodily harm, teachers also worry that arming adults who might have an implicit bias toward students of color is too big a risk to take. Black and brown students around the country have been vocal about their uneasiness with armed teachers, an anxiety that is heightened by the disproportionate policing of students of color in schools.

Some adults view black boys as young as 10 as less innocent than their white counterparts, according to a 2014 study. Similarly, recent studies show that black girls are also perceived as older, leading to less nurturing and support. Black students are more likely to be punished more severely than their white counterparts for the same behaviors. Biased perceptions, coupled with deadly weapons, leave students of color—and their families—concerned about their safety.


How’d We Get Here?

A school should be a safe haven, a place where students are free to learn instead of worry about the threat of violence. But we know that gun violence on campus is becoming a reality for some students today.

According to The Washington Post’s database of school shootings, more than a quarter of a million students have been exposed to gun violence at school in the last 20 years.

In the two decades since the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, schools have become increasingly hardened with metal detectors, school resource officers and locked gates. Lockdown and active shooter drills are everyday parts of children’s school experiences.

And a lucrative industry has developed around school safety, from bulletproof whiteboards and backpacks to armored classroom doors. Pro-gun advocates assert that placing guns in teachers’ hands when all else fails could save more lives.


Elevating Voices

Foster says it’s imperative to discuss gun violence and safety in schools with students—and it’s a good idea for teachers to read up on local, state and federal gun laws and how they can advocate for their students.

He argues that the very nature of teaching is political and that it’s up to educators to give students the tools to make conscious decisions about issues that affect them now and that they’ll be responsible for as adults.

Before the shooting happened at his school, had he led discussions about access to assault weapons. Not all of his students felt the same way about guns, so he encouraged Socratic discussions in class to explore different perspectives. And he’s watched with pride as some of his students have become publicly vocal anti-gun violence activists over the last year.

Foster himself was thrown into the spotlight when a student, Emma González, mentioned him in speeches in the days following the shooting. With that mention came criticism and even physical threats.

“It’s just incredible how far people will go over such a hot-button issue, obviously,” Foster says. But the flood of anger toward him and his students didn’t keep him from working toward a day when no more children would lose their lives to gun violence.

Outside the classroom, Foster advocates tightening up gun laws in his state. He’s a committee member of Ban Assault Weapons Now, a group with the goal of collecting signatures so Floridians can vote in 2020 to amend their state constitution to ban the sale of assault weapons. “Whatever I can do along the way to aid in this rush to try to change laws, I’m happy to do so,” he says.

Foster says his students’ courage inspires him, and he believes this generation will create lasting change for a safer world. He recommends that other teachers make their voices heard, too—starting at the ballot.

“The best thing we can do is put our votes behind what we believe in,” he says. “If the people want something, it’s up to us to vote those people out if they don’t want to listen to us. … Unfortunately—and I hate being overdramatic—but they just don’t listen to us at all, at every level, every person, every party.”

National PTA members encourage local units to get behind students when they are speaking out on this issue. Boggs, the national organization’s president, says local PTAs can provide support and establish forums to listen to their students’ concerns and causes.

“They want and need to be heard,” she says. “They are the ones living in the current environment in schools, and it is important that we learn from their experience and viewpoint.”

“Student-led activism against gun violence has been an inspiration to all of us,” Boggs says. “National PTA is proud of our youth, and we applaud their leadership on this issue. Their voices are what is going to make the changes needed to ensure students and everyone feel safe, wherever they are.”

Dillard is a staff writer for Teaching Tolerance.

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