To the editor:
At this week’s public hearing on the issue, Gloucester residents substantially opposed the proposal to place armed guards in all our schools.
Many said they believed schools are the safest places children can be when it comes to protection from lethal violence. They are correct.
Too many children are victims of homicide. In all, 1,579 school age children were murdered in this country in the 12 months before June 2009, the last complete reporting period. Certainly, we need to do more to provide security for children.
But the proposal to place armed guards in the school did not address the core of this problem.
Consider: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, of the more than 1,500 yearly homicides among school age children, only 17 — a little over 1 percent — took place when the kids were going to, coming from, or at school. And this though students spend nearly 25 percent of their waking hours there. You could say that kids are 25 times safer at their school than outside of it.
How do schools provide such relatively high levels of security for kids? Part of the answer is that they work to ensure that the pressures and stresses of student life don’t give way to violence.
Schools provide kids with access to critical mental health professionals and other community services. Teachers foster non-violence, tolerance, and mutual respect. All staff work on identifying and addressing the emotional needs of students.
In addition, our schools respond pragmatically to even very remote threats. Here in Gloucester, we are overhauling emergency response plans, fast-tracking the installation and repair of locks on classroom doors where necessary, installing a new security intercom at the high school.
Are schools 100 percent secure? Of course not. Sandy Hook reminds us that perfect security is unobtainable while federal and state laws allow the irresponsible and wide distribution of assault rifles and other military weaponry.
The public hearing on armed guards distracted from the key questions:
How do we ensure that children are afforded the same security outside of school that they have inside it? And how do we ensure that Gloucester schools can continue to be relatively secure, healthy, engaging environments?
The first question challenges our state and national leaders to finally enact responsible gun control.
The second reminds all of us, particularly our city leaders, that Gloucester has a responsibility for fully funding the variety of school programs keeping our kids safe, healthy, and academically engaged.
Member, Gloucester School Committee