We Can't Leave School Safety In Hands Of Legislators Who Don’t Understand The Plight Of Educators And Students

Every time a school goes on lockdown for whatever reason — right before the principal comes on the intercom explaining very little but causing immense fear and hysteria — students are being students. Teachers are teaching. Students are learning.

In the case of the Robb Elementary School students, in Uvalde, Texas, many of them had just been celebrated for their amazing accomplishments. They had just clapped for those who earned perfect attendance, honor roll and student of the year awards. They had burst into uncontrollable laughter at the silly awards the teachers had provided to their peers to acknowledge their individual personalities. They had just eaten cookies and drank punch to commemorate the end of the year. Some of them had kissed their parents goodbye and waved “see you later.” Many of the parents had just taken an early lunch break to speed 20 minutes from their jobs because they promised they would be there for their kids.

Obviously I wasn’t at the school, but as a former State of Texas Master Teacher in Dallas’ South Oak Cliff neighborhood (one of its most impoverished areas) I have sat through many lockdowns with my students — and it is immensely debilitating. In seconds your whole life is flashing before your eyes. You and your students are moving in a fury to push desks and chairs to the door to create an obstruction, praying you’ll make it challenging for an intruder to injure or kill anyone in the room. Teachers are trying to prevent students from alerting their parents, to avoid more chaos than parents can understand in the moment. And wonder what the impact will be on the people you might leave behind if caught in the line of fire.

I’m writing these words because everyone needs to sit with this excruciating pain and truly understand this incident from the perspective of those that have endured this scenario before. We must recognize the importance of making significant legislative changes in our society. We cannot continue to wait to design and implement impactful school reform. The Uvalde, Texas, community is reeling because our lawmakers have not been intentional about passing legislation that will make it extremely challenging to ever shake our country like this again.

We live in a society that is more obsessed with the medical tools a doctor uses to perform an abortion than the fatal tools an unhinged gunman uses to perform an annihilation of young children and educators. If this doesn’t blatantly demonstrate to us that there are pressing changes we need to make, then we are totally lost as a collective.

This massacre should be the last reminder we need to make the necessary changes to secure schools and ensure they are safe for everyone.

This year has been coined “The Great Migration,” in education. Teachers are leaving classrooms in droves across the United States. Please understand that the Robb Elementary School slayings just added even more teachers to the migration list because they are now in survival mode. No one wants to continue to work in a profession that doesn’t pay them well, secure them properly or provide the necessary mental health resources for them and their students.

Teachers and students deserve justice and it is up to us as a society to be a part of designing and implementing the justice necessary. We cannot leave the safety of schools in the hands of legislators who don’t commit the time to understand the plight of educators and students in America.

For those of you who refuse to let these brave children and teachers simply become hashtags and want to make real change, here’s what we can do:

Value teachers.

They endure so much, give so much of themselves and, many times, take away from their own families to provide a safe learning environment for your children. Become a part of any groups in your community that are supporting salary increases for teachers or simply providing self-care kits for educators. They need all the love they can get.

Take mental health precautions extremely seriously.

Students and teachers need to have wraparound services available to them on campuses. Create a group in your community that is involved in writing legislative bills around mental health resources for students and teachers. Be intentional about identifying mental health issues with your children and become advocates for any services you think they may need. We have to stop being afraid of labels, because the worse label is a murderer.

Work within your school community to design more effective safety plans.

This could be changing the security measures on campus, or increasing and diversifying the security team. It’s time to start having difficult conversations about who we have securing our schools. Is there room to start hiring our veterans to become a part of our security personnel? We have to start thinking in more innovative ways if we really want to avoid an incident like this in the future.

Talk to your local and state representatives as well as your Congressperson about gun laws.

We must learn what kind of efforts you can create locally that will make the changes necessary to stop guns from falling into the hands of the wrong people. Cast your vote and raise your voice. Elected officials work for us, but we have to inform them about issues that are impacting us in negative ways and be a part of devising the solutions.

Start volunteering in your child’s school.

The more present the community is, it lessens the opportunity for tragedies like this to occur. Schools and teachers need all hands on deck. Everybody has to get involved if we want to see real change.

We have to do better for our educators and students. We cannot allow the tremendous losses of these precious lives of students and teachers to be absorbed by hashtags. We have to take action now before we watch the teaching profession be reduced to virtual interactions and children relegated to screen avatars with little to no social engagement. It’s our duty to make critical policy and action plans that will transcend the lightweight initiatives that have been implemented in the past. No one likes it when our children stop laughing.