Monday, I drove home with the gut wrenching reality that schools must prepare for active shooter scenarios. As a nation, we need to take a long look in the mirror and have an honest dialog about how we approach domestic violence, mental health, gun violence and how each is a threat to student safety. These incidents are a moral indictment of our nation’s priorities- a facile response speaks volumes about how much or how little we value our most precious citizens and their families. No parent should know the pain of having to bury their children, especially after entrusting them to their local school.
My thoughts and prayers are with the San Bernardino Unified School District and the entire city of San Bernardino, California. Two adults and two children were shot at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino in an incident that allegedly stemmed from a domestic violence dispute between a husband and a wife.
While the details are still being sorted out, preliminary investigations point to an apparent murder-suicide. The two students who were shot in the melee; both were airlifted to the hospital in critical condition – eight-year-old, Jonathan Martinez, later succumbed to his wounds. The shooter, Cedric Anderson, and the victim, special education teacher, Karen Smith were married in January and had separated weeks before the shooting.
I watched news coverage of the incident, and my mind immediately wandered to whether or not my school district is ready for an active shooter event. As educational leaders, we have to ask ourselves if we are doing enough to ensure the safety and well-being of young people in our schools. We must also ask ourselves to what lengths we should go to make our students and staff safe without making our schools feel less like schools and more like fortresses.
I recall working at a high school where a shooting took place. In that case, a student had brought a gun to school in a backpack to protect himself from gang members he encountered on his way to and from school. He was shuffling around in his bag during class, accidentally discharging the weapon and striking two students. Luckily, no one lost their lives, and the situation was quickly contained.
The immediate response from law enforcement and school officials was on par with the gravity of the situation- so was the response from parents who pulled their students out of school in droves. From that day on, there was a sense of unease on campus and a year had passed before the school felt normal again. The stigma of being a school where such an unfortunate accident involving a gun never went away. The fallout from this recent shooting will be felt long after school is back in session.
Each incidence of gun violence is troubling. When such violence takes place at places like churches, hospitals, schools, or any location that is deemed safe, these incidents are all the more tragic and sobering reminders that the work on ensuring students safety is a war that educational leaders are waging on an ever-changing battlefront. In many ways, schools are no longer the safe havens they once were. After each active shooter scenario, educational institutions respond with more precautions to keep students safe while walking the fine line between having welcoming environments and prioritizing student safety.
Reflecting, I like many others, search for answers, possible solutions, or some sense of a lesson or purpose from this bloodshed. One thing is clear; we have to do better because that is what our children deserve. Students should be able to go school and never have to wonder about whether or not they are safe. Educators should not be in fear for their lives while tending to the education as well as social and emotional development our young people. Parents should never have to wonder whether or not their students will return home again after sending them to school. We have to do better. Domestic violence is inexcusable, and guns have no place in school. The right to bear arms does not supersede our children’s physical and emotional safety nor their right to quality education without fear.