by Mary Ellen Campagna
I continue to be shocked at the massacres in our country in schools and other public places. I was reared in Northern Virginia, but have lived all over the country and I now reside in Southwestern VA. I was a schoolteacher for 20 years and I feel that it is important to rally behind the high school students who witnessed the recent shootings in Florida.
First, only military personnel and law enforcement should have assault weapons, bump stocks, semiautomatics, AR 15s, automatic riffles, or any guns that can be converted into high capacity assault weapons. Certainly, children under age 21 should not be able to obtain these guns and riffles unless they are with the military or a law enforcement agency. Background checks should include school behavior records and police department reports of domestic and/or drug abuse, as well as medical records that highlight serious mental illness requiring medication. Even toy guns should be banned.
Also, local social service professionals need to put a stop to turf fighting among agencies that serve the mentally ill, the impoverished, and the behaviorally disturbed. This includes agencies that deal with abuse and drug rehab. Local treatment centers with beds available are almost non-existent and have been for about 40 years. School counselors are few and far between and the culture of silence has become sacrosanct, growing exponentially in the past 25 years, largely as a result of the competitive and often non-supportive culture that we inhabit.
Children who are dismissed/expelled from school for any reason need to receive elaborate follow-up with counselors, school administrators and local law enforcement. Religious leaders also need to do their part if by no other means than supporting active after school programs for teens and young adults. That would provide proactive support for children before they sink into serious problems. Tax money must help with this too. Educational, social and cultural opportunities must continue after 3pm.
Teachers and college professors need to continue to speak up as they did in the case of the Virginia Tech massacre, only – if speaking up to school administration officials is not enough, they need to speak to board members and rely on local media. That’s what it’s there for. Rely on it before the tragedy, not just after.
If teachers lose jobs for speaking up about sensitive issues, as I once did, they will be rewarded eventually – as I was. If legislators and business leaders lose jobs and money for not supporting gun associations like the National Rifle Association, they will surely be blessed either on this side of heaven or the other. But as it stands, we are the most violent nation in the world. We are in a national emergency because our children are literally afraid to go to school and teachers are afraid to teach.
In addition, arming some teachers is not the answer. Even teachers who pass a responsible weapons use or preparedness test will not necessarily be adequately prepared for hundreds of students running in hallways in chaotic situations. Surely, the insurance that would be necessary (just in case a teacher were to shoot and kill or injure the wrong student) would be more than his or her salary in a year. We need fewer guns in schools, not more. Teachers are trained in myriad ways and can do many important tasks, but learning to be expert marksmen is not among the skills that teachers should have to master.
What lessons can we learn from the Florida case? Reportedly, Nickolas Cruz, 19, was called upon at his residence by the Broward County school district more than thirty times while he was under the district’s watchful eye. Allegedly, all of these calls were to address behavior concerns. Just yesterday a conservative national radio talk show reported that the district where Cruz committed the massacre was receiving funds for reporting low violent behavior in its schools.
I have no reliable sources to back up this accusation, but it certainly sounds plausible to me. If that were true, it would partially explain why the school system may have wanted to wash its hands of Cruz following his expulsion.
We must not let our society decay any further by failing to protect the most vulnerable: our children. Monetary rewards for good student behavior in schools has no place in society any more than rewarding schools financially for fewer shootings. Shouldn’t we first address serious societal ills like drug addiction, mental health and poverty, not to mention, gun control?
Mary Ellen Campagna