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Labor Voices: Ending school violence not only about guns

Paula Herbart

School violence hit close to home last week with the stabbing death of a student in Warren. The victim’s life was lost, the attacker’s life was destroyed, and their fellow students’ lives were forever changed.

My heart goes out to all of them and their families — including the teacher and school safety officer who tried to save the victim. I know from experience that the unexpected and shocking death of a student impacts the lives of classmates and educators alike.

While this tragedy is not of the same nature as the Parkland or Sandy Hook school shootings, the lives changed last week are no less deserving of our continued focus on ending school violence — regardless of what form it takes.

In an MEA survey this spring, educators ranked “increasing funding and resources for mental health counseling” as the most effective approach to curbing school violence. More school counselors and social workers — and more security — are critical to stopping situations like what happened in Warren from spiraling into catastrophe.

But too often this debate comes down to an argument about guns in schools. In that same poll, more than 70 percent of MEA members were against arming teachers and allowing more guns in schools. Educators have shown time and again they’ll put their own safety on the line to protect students, but I can’t fathom a situation where an educator has the instincts and training necessary to shoot one of his or her own students attacking a classmate.

Schools in the U.S. now have more armed security guards than social workers, according to a study by the ACLU and the UCLA Civil Rights Project.

To make matters worse, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently proposed taking money from the federal education budget for school districts to buy guns and arm teachers.

Instead, DeVos proposed using Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants to purchase the firearms — grants intended to increase student access mental health programs at the nation’s most impoverished schools.

With so many schools struggling to fund basic needs such as classroom supplies and access to technology, the suggestion that these grants could be used to buy guns is preposterous.

Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.

Labor Voices

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