On Monday, many of our kids and teachers will be back in school.
That shouldn’t be scary.
And yet, more than a week after the school shooting killed 14 students and three faculty members in Parkland, Florida, I admit it might be tough to say goodbye to my daughter and send her into school.
Across the country, many of us are echoing what national teachers union president Randi Weingarten said in a recent interview. “How do you balance the issue of ensuring safety without a school becoming a fortress?” asked Weingarten, who represents 1.7 million teachers as the head of the American Federation of Teachers.
Arming teachers with guns, as President Donald Trump suggested Wednesday, is not the answer. When a backlash erupted after his comments, Trump tried to clarify, tweeting that he’d want teachers “with military or special training experience” to carry weapons. But that’s not the answer, either.
As one of my daughter’s former teachers wrote on social media this week, “I did not become an educator to potentially have to shoot a child.”
Trump’s broader critique of gun-free school zones as “like going in for the ice cream” is equally tone-deaf to the needs of our kids and teachers.
These are teachers who would stand in front of our kids to protect them, who are cleaning out their closets to create spaces for our children to hide. I am grateful that when I drop off my daughter at school on Monday, it will be in the hands of those who will teach her, care about her and protect her. They don’t need guns to do that.
Still, we must make our schools safer. No single model will work for every school. But consider adding police outside schools, and safety officers at doors. Lockdown drills, more teacher training on safety protocols, and mental health services in schools that often have been cut for budgetary reasons are among the answers.
Keeping our kids and teachers safe also means giving them a chance to speak, so the loud drumbeat on the larger issue of gun violence doesn’t fade.
The moment now feels different, in part because our teens are taking the lead. My daughter, who turns 14 Friday, saw kids just like her in the photos of young girls who went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week and never came home. Their classrooms look like her classrooms.
And that’s true for many teenagers across the country, thousands of whom walked out of schools in protest Wednesday.
Over the next two months, there will be a series of marches, walkouts and other efforts that might keep up the momentum.
The AFT plans a day of action in schools nationwide on April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings. That day, there’ll also be a student-led national school walkout.
This activism could be a turning point. We as a nation might look back and say, “Parkland changed us.” But only if the moment is also different a month from now. Six months from now. A year from now.
Real reform will come when we vote. And there’s the rub. Our teens are old enough to know what happened and to speak out, but most are not old enough to vote yet. That’s where we come in — their parents, their aunts and uncles, their teachers, the adults around them.
It’s up to us to help our kids turn their screams into action.
Start with improved school safety. But as we send our kids back to school next week, none of us should stop there.
Randi F. Marshall is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.