Submitted by the New York State School Boards Association
Tuesday’s shooting that killed two people celebrating a high school graduation in Richmond, Virginia, including a young woman who had just received her diploma, underscores the relentless heartache felt by students, parents and educators who now face a constant potential for once-unthinkable acts of gun violence.
The number of school shootings last year reached a new high – a sad fact that prompts school leaders to make lockdowns and school safety drills a part of every school year. It also highlights our society’s inability to solve a serious problem plaguing our schools – even while the problem continues to get worse.
Gone are the days when parents would drop their children off at the bus stop in the morning and then go about their business for the rest of the day. In this day and age, every parent keeps a watchful eye on their cell phone, wondering if they are going to receive a text message informing them about an incident at their child’s school.
School leaders know that an incident of school violence can happen anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
We all agree that schools should be safe. But finding ways to eradicate school violence – an issue that should seemingly bring everyone together regardless of political persuasions and beliefs – has become an intractable issue.
What can school boards do? They can fund school security initiatives, put in place policies and procedures to prevent intruders from entering school buildings, and create safety plans. They can work collaboratively with law enforcement, support the development of students, and conduct safety drills. They can help foster school climates that encourage mutual respect and a family-like feeling.
But school boards can only do so much because there are factors outside of their control that influence school safety. School boards cannot control access to guns in their communities, nor can they single-handedly thwart an attack that has been meticulously planned for weeks or months.
We must all focus on how to stop school shootings. A would-be school shooter may leave signs that they are planning something sinister. It’s up to everyone in the community to identify the warning signs of someone at risk of planning and committing violence and report those signs to school officials.
Despite all of their meticulous planning and adoption of safety precautions, school leaders can never fully assure parents that schools are 100% safe. We, as adults, should make sure our children can learn in a safe and secure environment. Too often, violence has disrupted, traumatized, and taken the lives of students in our schools: childhood innocence shattered by gunfire in Newtown and Uvalde, promising young lives of those about to make their mark on the world stolen from us at Columbine and Parkland. There are too many to mention.
Until we at least try to come together and reach consensus, until we can make schools a safe haven, we will continue to live in fear.
We believe our society can find solutions to this problem. We urge our federal and state leaders to convene stakeholders and find common ground – and begin the necessary discussions that will lead us to those solutions.
The New York State School Boards Association represents more than 670 school boards and more than 5,200 school board members in New York. NYSSBA provides advocacy, training and information to school boards in support of their mission to govern the state's public schools.