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EduLege Tracker 5-21-18

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EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 32
May 21, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

“We experienced an unthinkable tragedy. We appreciate your continued prayers for our students, staff, and community.” 

- Santa Fe School Superintendent Leigh Wall

Santa Fe High School sits on the mainland portion of Galveston County, has an enrollment of about 1,400 students, solid performance on the mandatory state tests and an 89 percent graduation rate.

The senior prom was held several weeks ago, the Santa Fe Indians baseball team concluded a successful season and graduating seniors were focusing on their June 1 commencement exercises.

Last month, students at Santa Fe High School staged a walkout against gun violence. They sat outside for 17 minutes, in silence, in memory of the 17 Florida students who were murdered at their high school on Valentine’s Day by a lone shooter.

The Santa Fe school district also has an active-shooter plan in place—and practices it, just as they would a fire drill. Two armed police officers patrol the halls of the high school.

But a little after 7:30 Friday morning, Santa Fe High School became part of a 
stunning statistic:

schoolmiltaryAs of May 18, more people have been slain on U.S. school campuses this year than have been killed while serving in the U.S. military during the same 138-day period.

That gruesome statistic was compiled by the Washington Post and is based upon the school shootings that have been reported across the country in the first four-and-a-half months of 2018 compared with both the combat and noncombat deaths reported by the U.S. Department of Defense during the same time period.

But, but, but…

“The figures ... do not suggest schools are more dangerous than combat zones.  After all, there are more than 50 million students in public elementary and high schools and only about 1.3 million members of the armed forces,” wrote Post reporter Philip Bump. “So far in 2018, a member of the military has been about 40 times as likely to be killed as someone is to die in a school shooting.”

Still, individuals enlist in the military knowing that it’s a dangerous undertaking.  Students should not feel that going to school is also a dangerous undertaking.

"It’s been happening everywhere. I’ve always felt it would eventually happen here too."
- Santa Fe High School student Paige Curry

Indeed, in the aftermath of the deadly school shootings at high schools in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, a majority of American teenagers—and the parents of those students—both admit that they are very or somewhat worried about the possibility of a shooting happening at their school.

That’s according to new Pew Research Center surveys of teenagers, ages 13-17, and parents with children in the same age range, in surveys that were conducted in March and April.

Overall, 57 percent of teenagers say they are worried about the possibility of a shooting happening at their school, with one-in-four saying they are very worried. About three-in-ten (29 percent) say they are not too worried about this, and just 13 percent say they are not at all worried.

Nonwhite teens express a higher level of concern than their white peers. Roughly two-thirds (64 percent) of nonwhite teens, including 73 percent of Hispanics, say they are at least somewhat worried about this, compared with 51 percent of white teens.

School shooting fears differ by gender as well: 64 percent of girls say they are very or somewhat worried about a shooting happening at their school, compared with 51 percent of boys.

Not just prayer. Let’s discuss it…

Governor Greg Abbott wants state leaders—and “affected parties”—to begin discussions this week to find ways to ensure that the Santa Fe school shooting is not repeated elsewhere in Texas.

“We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” Governor Abbott said at a news conference in Santa Fe hours after the high school shootings. “It’s time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated, ever again in the history of the state of Texas.

“I’m going to be working with members of the Texas Legislature, but also with members of our communities from across the state of Texas…where we will assemble all stakeholders to begin to work immediately on swift solutions to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again,” Governor Abbott continued.

“We want to hear from parents, we want to hear from students, we want to hear from educators, we want to hear from concerned citizens, we want to hear from those who hold the Second Amendment right in high esteem and we want to hear from everybody who has an interest in what has happened…so we can work together on putting together laws that will protect Second Amendment rights but at the same time make sure our communities and especially our schools are safer places,” Governor Abbott said.

The Governor said he had been planning the roll-out of a package of gun safety recommendations in the next week or two—probably in the context of his re-election campaign. He mentioned a familiar litany of ideas, including speeding up background checks; developing strategies to keep guns out the hands of dangerous individuals; providing schools with more resources for safety personnel and paying more attention to links between mental illness and gun violence.

One of the first to publicly pan the governor’s response was State Representative Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, a former president of the Austin school board.

She called the governor’s upcoming roundtable discussions on the school shooting epidemic “a grossly inadequate response to the murder of our children. Florida took immediate action. You have power to do same. As a lawmaker, and more importantly, as a mom, I pray on this solemn Sunday that Texas act now.”

Speaking at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Dallas just two weeks ago, Governor Abbott declared, “The answer to gun violence is not to take guns away. The answer is to strengthen the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. The problem is not guns. It’s hearts without God.”

And yet…

More and more Texas schools—particularly smaller districts in rural areas of the state—are proceeding to allow certain employees to carry concealed firearms on campus.

The Mart school board is considering a policy that would allow the superintendent to appoint specific district employees and board members to carry certain firearms at school and school-related events, if they’re properly trained.

And Marlin school trustees recently approved a similar policy, hoping to provide an additional layer of safety to the district’s one-officer police patrol.

The decisions to arm more school personnel in Texas come at a time when most Americans—and educators—oppose the idea on a national level.

In a recent survey of 1,000 teachers nationwide, the National Education Association found that more than 80 percent of those surveyed stated they would not carry a gun in school, including 63 percent of the NEA members who own a gun.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia has called the concept of arming teachers and other personnel ill-conceived and dangerous.

“Our students need more books, art and music programs, nurses and school counselors; they do not need more guns in their classrooms,” President Garcia said.  “Teachers should be teaching, not acting as armed security guards or receiving training to become sharpshooters.”

But in small communities like Mart and Marlin, officials say the local police are often understaffed, and ill-prepared to respond to a school incident.

“There are no school resource officers, and the police are stretched pretty thin, very thin,” said Mart’s interim superintendent Len Williams, who also happens to be the town’s mayor.

The latest data from the Texas Association of School Boards shows that at least 172 districts currently allow staff to carry firearms, and that number is growing.

Approximately 150 Texas school districts have their own police departments, and more than 250 districts that do not have a police department utilize SROs on campus, in conjunction with city or county law enforcement agencies.

Put your keys, cell phone and laptop in the tray…

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says Texas schools need to be made as safe as airports and other government buildings, and he believes the installation of metal detectors would be a good deterrent at campus entrances.

“School districts across Texas should consider installing metal detectors in all campus buildings,” Mayor Turner said. “Metal detectors are a deterrent to anyone who might try to bring deadly weapons into schools.

“As we care about protecting travelers and visitors to federal, state and locally-owned buildings, we must also show the same sense of urgency, concern and compassion toward children and adults in schools. Schools must be made to be as safe as airports and government buildings,” Mayor Turner said.

He acknowledged that the cost of installing metal detectors may be an obstacle for some school districts. “Therefore, I call on state elected leaders to make funding metal detectors and other security measures in schools a priority across Texas,” Mayor Turner said.

Everybody's weighing in…

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick blames the Santa Fe school shooting on “a violent culture where we devalue life,” citing violent movies and video games, bullying on social media and abortion. He also called for arming teachers who he said should be part of the militia envisioned by the Second Amendment.

“We cannot sit back and say it’s the gun. It’s us as nation,” Lieutenant Governor Patrick said in an appearance on ABC This Week. He said that guns “are part of who we are as a nation. It is our Second Amendment. You know it talks about a well-run militia. Our teachers are part of that well-run militia. By the way, its guns that also stop crimes.”

Lieutenant Governor Patrick was followed on the national news interview program by Fred Guttenberg, who has become a leading voice against gun violence since his 14-year-old daughter Jamie was killed in the Parkland, Florida, school in February.

To say that Mr. Guttenberg disagreed with the Lieutenant Governor’s comments is an understatement.

“I think those are most idiotic comments I have ever heard,” Mr. Guttenberg said.  “Let me be clear: he should be removed from office for his failure to want to protect the citizens of Texas.”

“To hear him continue to make the argument after 10 people died in his state that guns are not the issue is simply a crock,” Mr. Guttenberg said.

“I’m raging right now,” Mr. Guttenberg continued. “I’m here this weekend at what was supposed to be my daughter’s dance recital, where they’re honoring my daughter’s memory instead of having my daughter dance and for that man to make those moronic comments—unacceptable!” 

EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege.  Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.