How do schools best protect children? The national debate is now centered around whether armed guards should be added to more schools, but here’s a different view, from Jean Fay, a special education para educator in a first-grade classroom at Crocker Farm Elementary in Amherst, Massachusetts. She grew up in Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the killings of 20 students and six teachers in December, and her mother is a retired support professional who worked in Newtown schools.
By Jean Fay
It used to be that the only people who were familiar with my home town of Newtown, Connecticut, were its residents and Scrabble enthusiasts (because the game was invented there). But Dec. 14, 2012, changed all of that. I’ll never forget the horror as I saw images of my town on every news station; my eyes still tear up when I hear Newtown mentioned. Like many, I continue to mourn not only the loss of lives, but the loss of the potential that the 20 first graders were just starting to share with the world as well as the loss of six amazing educators.
My school district in Amherst, Mass., held a lock down and shelter in place drill shortly after the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I stood in my first-grade classroom with my colleague during the drill, talking about how we thought we could fit all 17 of our students into the classroom closet if we needed to. We stopped, and looked at each other, both of us thinking the same thing: “Why are we needing to have a conversation about hiding children in order to keep them safe at school?”
Many conversations have taken place since then around the issue of school safety. We need to provide a safe and secure learning environment for all students. Some of the conversations taking place around the country mention providing armed guards in our schools. While every community should decide what its students need and parents want, it is important to remember that the Columbine shooting of 1999, in which 15 people were killed and 23 were wounded, had an armed security guard on the premises- a “good guy with a gun.” Despite the presence of an armed guard, the tragedy of loss of lives in a school setting occurred.
Turning our public schools into fortresses is not the answer. Instead of arming our school staff with guns, we should be arming them with the resources needed to continue to provide the best possible education for our students. We need to be having conversations about ensuring that educators have increased access to mental health services for their students. We need to be having conversations about taking meaningful action on gun violence prevention. The children of our nation are the most valuable resource we possess. We need to provide a school environment where children feel safe and nurtured. Arm our teachers, our guidance counselors, our support staff with the resources they need to reach and teach every student, every day.
I love my town, Newtown. While I don’t want us to ever forget the tragedy that took place there, I want people to know and remember the wonderful place I grew up in, a place where we always took care of each other. My mother is a retired education support professional from the Newtown public school system. I’ve had many conversations with my mother since December 14th, most of them ending with both of us in tears. We spoke again last week, and her words still stick with me. “When will we stop putting politics before the safety of children?” Now, was my answer. The time is now.
Correction: The author’s name does not have an ‘e’ on the end, as shown in the first version of this post. It is Fay.