We live in the era of urgent news updates sharing information about the most recent school shooting. Sadly, we have largely become numb to these frequent news stories and the subsequent “our thoughts and prayers are with your school” sentiment from our legislators. Is there anyone else out there who shares my sentiment — that thoughts and prayers for these students, staff and families are not enough? When are we going to enforce our gun laws and keep our children safe? When are we going to say “Enough is enough!” regarding our teachers being human shields for our children? When will we work to find a real solution to students bringing guns to school?
I’m writing about this because, though school shootings are horrific, most people feel significant distance from these events. We all have a “not in my neighborhood” mentality. We all want to feel that the community we’ve chosen is safe. However, on Friday, March 4, 2022, Olathe East had a school shooting. Olathe East — the school where my children attended. The school that houses students and staff who I care about. A school that’s practically in my backyard. Wait, what? This wasn’t supposed to happen in a suburban Kansas school!
Luckily, no one was killed in this shooting. The shooter was shot and later hospitalized. The assistant principal and SRO were both shot, but they were released from the hospital the day of the incident. Still, a school of nearly 2,000 students is left feeling traumatized and afraid. Teachers, like students, are anxious. Are there other kids in the building who regularly bring guns to school? Is there a way to make this building feel safe again?
As a teacher, I have lived through the pre-Columbine era, where a school shooting was both shocking and occasional. But since Columbine, school shootings have become a thing. We now have active shooter drills in schools to prepare for this event. Don’t get me wrong. I am glad we prepare. In the case of the Olathe shooting, it appears to me that the SRO followed protocol and probably saved many lives. The school was on lockdown, and no students were injured. But if you’ve ever been in a dark room with frightened first graders, hunkering down with the door locked and only a dim flashlight for light, you might reconsider your stance on what to do about school shootings. Gun violence at school should not be a thing, and small children should not have to ask their teachers whether an active shooter exercise is a drill or real.
I don’t have the answers, folks. I wish I did. But I do believe that though there are many responsible gun owners, we are a country that values our 2nd Amendment rights more than we value human lives. We allow underpaid teachers to go into buildings knowing that today might be the day that they have to block a child from a bullet or lockdown their classroom. And instead of helping us, many of our legislators offer this sort of statement, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” Well, that’s not enough. What about doing something? What about action and policy change? What about providing adequate funding to schools that will allow protections for our children? What about education and/or counseling for staff and students so they don’t feel anxious about coming to school? What about mental health initiatives to help students who attain guns? What about putting our heads together as a country and a community to make school a safe and harmonious place for our children? Please, no more empty words “addressing” this problem.
Let me end with this. I am prepared to protect a student from a gunman by taking a bullet. I am prepared to die so a child won’t. But folks, this isn’t actually my job. My job is to educate, support, mentor and encourage. We need to ask ourselves as a nation, is this the America we want — a nation where our children are afraid of being at school? We owe it to our children (and to our teachers) to do better than this.
“Teachers are the guardians of spaces that allow students to
breathe and be curious and explore the world and be who they are without suffocation.”
Here are two organizations that work to end gun violence in schools (as well as in homes and communities) if you’re interested in getting involved.
And here is the link to an article about the Olathe East shooting. https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/04/us/olathe-east-high-school-kansas-shooting/index.html