Our editorial: Keep focus on student safety

The Detroit News

Following the horrific school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead, seeing and hearing students speak out about their safety makes a strong impression. While students have a right to voice their concerns, forces behind the Wednesday walkouts are using these young people to make a political case for gun control.

Students, teachers and parents at roughly 3,000 schools around the country — including many in Michigan — left class to stand in support of the Parkland victims. Most of these protests were about more than just honoring the victims, however. There was also a clear message to politicians to “do something” about guns.

And this coordinated effort was far from organic. The Women’s March, a far-left movement that has shut out conservatives, was key to organizing the student walkouts. Using the #Enough hashtag, the Women’s March put together a whole webpage offering tips and a toolkit for students and other school activists.

That’s worth keeping in mind, in light of the attention the students received.

According to the Women’s March website: “Women’s March Youth Empower is calling for a National School Walkout to protest Congress’ refusal to take action on the gun violence epidemic plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.

“We are not safe at school. We are not safe in our cities and towns. Congress must take meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation that addresses this public health crisis. We want Congress to pay attention and take note: many of us will vote this November and many others will flood the polls in 2020.”

There’s no doubt that the women (and men) behind the Women’s March will support candidates who favor tighter gun restrictions. But many of the students the organization brought together are years off from heading to the polls.

Plenty of right-leaning parents and groups could see through this thinly veiled political stunt and made their concerns known.

Janine Kateff, chairwoman of Michigan’s 14th District Republican Committee and a former principal in Rochester Hills and Ypsilanti, expressed her concerns.

“This ‘protest’ organized by a national radical group of adults—not by a local group of high school students—is designed to restrict one of America’s basic freedoms,” Kateff said in a statement. “An anti-gun ownership event, held during normal school hours and using taxpayer resources, is a misuse of taxpayer dollars. Worse, it is a disservice to our students.”

The same day of the walkouts, Congress did take action on school safety, although that got largely ignored since it didn’t include gun control. The U.S. House approved the STOP School Violence Act, which would authorize state-based grants to support violence prevention programs and other security measures. The legislation would allocate $50 million to $75 million per year from 2019 through 2028.

And over the weekend, the Trump administration announced the creation of a federal commission on school safety and appointed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as chair.

Student safety must be a top priority, but that vital concern should not be conflated with the Women’s March’s goal of getting more Democrats into office.