Column: For our children’s sake, we must act

Paula Herbart

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen students and staff dead. Fourteen more wounded.

Marshall County High School in Kentucky. Two students dead, 18 wounded.

Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Eight students and one teacher dead, seven more wounded.

Marysville Pilchuck High School in Washington. Five students dead, one wounded.

Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty first-graders and six staff dead. Two more wounded.

Chardon High School in Ohio. Three students dead, three more wounded.

Virginia Tech University. Thirty-three dead, 23 wounded.

Buell Elementary School in Beecher, Michigan. One 6-year-old student — Kayla Rolland — killed, by her 6-year-old classmate.

These are just some of more than 200 shootings that killed or injured someone at a United States school since 2000. Nine, including last week’s massacre in Florida, have occurred in the first six weeks of this year.

That’s nearly 250 dead thus far in the 21st century. More than 300 wounded.

Children whose parents sent them to school to learn, expecting them to be safe.

Teachers, support staff and administrators, who put themselves between an active shooter and their students, like football coach Aaron Feis did last Wednesday — sacrificing his life for his students.

If you’re still reading this and you aren’t furious, I’m not quite sure what else to say.

As a nation, we need to have the courage to address this crisis. It won’t be simple — but our children’s lives depend on finding the solution.

Responsible citizens should be able to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights. And parents should have the freedom to send their students to school without the fear that it’s the last time they’ll see them alive. These are not mutually exclusive ideas.

As a parent, I can’t imagine the pain of hearing the news of a shooting like in Parkland only to call my son on his cellphone and have him not answer. But there are parents today who will forever hear the cellphones ringing unanswered in the halls of Stoneman Douglas High.

As an educator, I know that coach Feis wasn’t alone in the instinct to keep students safe. The bravery of school employees in every one of these shootings is beyond measure — consistently thinking more about protecting students than the well-being of their own children at home. Blocking doorways with their bodies, hiding children in closets, and serving as human shields to take bullets for their students.

Why, in the greatest country on earth, is any of this necessary?

Reasonable gun laws. Better access to mental health care. More school counselors and social workers to help students deal with issues they’re facing both at school and at home. More safety officers and security for schools. All these things need to be part of a comprehensive, common sense solution.

What isn’t a solution? Allowing more guns in schools — something Michigan lawmakers have discussed with frightening frequency. The Michigan Senate recently passed SB 584 and SB 586, which would force our schools to allow hidden, loaded handguns — whether our local communities like it or not. Allowing civilians to carry firearms in schools will only make our children less safe. The only people who should have a gun in a school are trained law enforcement officers. Period.

To get real solutions to end these massacres, we must force policymakers to act. On the heels of every mass shooting — from Columbine to Sandy Hook to Orlando’s Pulse nightclub to the Las Vegas strip — there’s a temporary hue and cry to act. And then, our attention is pulled elsewhere.

Not this time. Our children can’t afford us to be distracted from our most important responsibility: keeping them safe.

Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.


Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.