What our leaders are doing, and what we as parents can do, too
By Kathryn Streeter
Many anguished parents across America have come to recognize Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter, Meadow, in the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14. With his face flashing across various news channels, his passionate anger is palpable when he says straight into the camera, “No more. We’ve had 200 school shootings in America and it’s got to stop,” he recently told CNN. His life-long goal going forward, he says, is to make schools safe. “My agenda is to have kids go to school without worrying they’ll be shot.” His posture and message serve to summarize the mood of every parent: Fix it! Enough already.
It sounds like such a basic assumption—a bare minimum, in fact—that our children who live in the 21st century in the richest nation in the world, should be able to attend school without fear of a shooter entering their classroom. Unfortunately, in today’s world, things have changed and we need to, too.
In the wake of the Florida tragedy there is renewed energy nationally to return to this question of keeping our kids safe. Vital as national change is, it’s incredibly slow. Parents may do well to concentrate their energies on working with their local authorities to foster change, results likely to offer a more immediate effect on families and schools. Houston Independent School District (HISD) Superintendent Richard Carranza’s empathetic letter to the community, released immediately after the Florida shooting, reflected the pain and deep anxiety felt by parents as did his public remarks with Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Harris Co. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.
Carranza’s belief is that a healthy school culture anchored by trust, where students comfortably share information, is an essential starting point for school safety. Coupled with this, “See something. Say something,” plea for information sharing, concrete changes are also underway. For example, HISD Police Department is creating a new division of officers to disperse across the district, trained specifically to respond to active threats and emergencies.
In an interview with Houston Family Magazine (HFM), HISD Press Secretary Tracy Clemons offers a three-pronged message, first describing HISD actions prompted by the Florida massacre, which claimed seventeen lives: “We’ve asked all our principals to revisit emergency response plans. You’re going to see schools practicing some scenarios but we don’t want parents to be alarmed. Schools should let you know when those practice scenarios are going to happen. Our HISD police department also works hand-in-hand with other local law enforcement to ensure safe passages are secured to and from our campuses.” Next, Clemons speaks to parents: “We need our parents to work with us to reinforce how vital it is that if students hear or see something to say something. If someone is showing your student something or writing something that appears to be a threat against a school or school community, it’s their responsibility to report it to an adult, so we can follow up.”
And finally, on behalf of HISD, Clemons has a message for students: “My message to all students is that you do not joke around with any kind of threat. You may think it’s funny, but we take threats extremely seriously. It’s a crime to make a threat against a school or a school population, and we don’t tolerate crime on our campuses. So, to all of our students I just want to say don’t do it. It’s not funny. It’s not worth it, especially in this kind of an environment.”
Understandably, parents are emotional when it comes to our kids. When HISD and Houston law-enforcement respond quickly and openly with an eye for reviewing protocols and making necessary changes, it communicates: we’ve got your back! and will go far to assure parents and unify our school community.
Parents are action-oriented when it comes to our kids. But what can we do? While it’s critical and comforting for parents to hear about changes being considered to help keep our kids safe at the national, state and city level, there’s also a natural longing to know: what can do, what do say to teach child about safety in light of this recent school shooting? Parents could use some guidance—and courage—about what to say, when to our kids.
Nationally acclaimed clinical psychologist Dr. John Duffy, author of best-selling book, The Available Parent, offers HFM parents his candid thoughts on talking to your kids in the wake of the recent school shooting. “First, parents need to keep in mind the age and developmental level of their kids. We talk about this differently with our 9-year-olds than we do our 17-year-olds. But we cannot ignore it, no matter the age. Because of all the information bombarding them from all of the screens, they know what happened, and they will continue to know,” Duffy said, himself a father.
Dr. Duffy recommends the following steps for parents:
• Ask your kids how they feel about what happened. And offer emotional support for their feelings. Keep in mind that they may seem anywhere on the spectrum of concern from unaffected and disinterested, to devastated. And I find that children do not need to be directly involved in a situation to find it very troubling.
• Ask where they think the answers might fall to prevent something like this from happening again. Kids find comfort in this question, I find, and some degree of empowerment. They also tend to come up with striking, creative solutions.
• Ask if they would like a ritual (planting a tree, putting up signs, starting a movement), either at home, school, or in the larger community.
• This is the tough part. Your kids may well want to know whether this could happen at their school. Given the fact that most schools offer drills and discussion of these issues, you cannot say ‘never’. Your children are savvier than that. But let them know how very unlikely such a circumstance would be, and that on the whole, they are safe. Tell them this is not something they need to worry about day-to-day.
The horrific school shooting in Florida ignited ripple effects across the nation, rattling the nerves of every parent. As public dialogue ebbs and flows, what matters most is that the Houston community grows stronger and closer through it all. After all, we are in this together. These are our children. Let’s continue to seek support and action from our city leadership, as well as have honest conversations with our kids, carefully weighing their insights and emotions, and encouraging vigilance and transparency.
Your ISD and Law enforcement want to hear from you!
Superintendent Carranza: @HISD_Supe
Houston ISD Police: @hisdpolice
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo: @ArtAcevedo
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez @SheriffEd_HCSO
Let your school district hear from you:
Kathryn Streeter’s writing has appeared in publications including The Washington Post, The Week and Austin American-Statesman. Find her on Twitter.
A fresh idea to secure schools: Galvanizing retired military and law-enforcement to serve as voluntarily armed presence
When retired Senior Special Agent Chris D. heard about the Florida school shooting, he was upset. “I know, had I been there, I would have made a significant impact on the outcome.” Retired from a lifetime of working for the Department of Treasury (US Customs Service) and the Department of Homeland Security (Investigations), Chris’ life today—characterized by fulfilling volunteer activity focused on serving veterans—is a stark contrast to decades in the field fighting some of the world’s most hardened, violent criminals.
His idea is to meet the need for school security around our country with the special skill-set possessed by retired military and law-enforcement like himself, not too unlike other ways retirees volunteer in schools. “You know how ‘old folks’ sometimes volunteer as crossing guards?” Chris said.
Sending out a call for comrades to join him in serving as School Resource Officers: “Would there be an interest amongst us “old folk,” retirees, to volunteer as armed School Resource Officers?” Chris points out the obvious, that they’ve all received decades of training in firearms, proficiency and use of force protocol. “We’ve all been vetted to the nth degree, holding all sorts of high level security clearances,” he says. Also wired and relentlessly reinforced in this special group of warrior-citizens is a fierce sense of steady resolve in the presence of danger and the ability to make life-death decisions in a split second.
On the public debate to arm teachers: ”Training teachers and arming them is kind of a good idea, but how could their level of training ever compare to ours? Unless of course, they come from a similar background. Besides, teachers never signed up to have people shoot at them, all of us did.” In short, Chris believes an armed presence at schools is essential in today’s world, but suggests we’re asking the wrong population to do the job when we identify teachers to serve in this capacity.
Putting the idea into action: Chris explains, “Sherriff’s departments across the country could administer a Reserve Officer Corp. that conducts complete background checks and maintains firearms qualifications for volunteers. Within months, we could have a couple of grey-haired, old-timers wandering the hallways of schools all across America, free of charge!”
Final thoughts on school shooters: “These school shooters are cowards. They prey on a helpless, captive quarry. They would not have the balls to confront an armed presence,” Chris said.
Parents, what do you think? Do you feel your child’s school would be safer with someone like Chris roaming the halls? Let your voice be heard on Twitter, using #SchoolResourceOfficers and tagging HFM, @HoustonFamily; HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza, @HISD_Supe; HPD Chief Art Acevedo, @ArtAcevedo, Harris Co. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, @SheriffEd_HCSO, and/or Mayor Sylvester Turner, @SylvesterTurner.