Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, D.C. Organized by the survivors of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it was a rally by students for students, but they were joined by thousands of educators who amplified their message — #neveragain. Hundreds of sister marches were held across the country and around the world.
Connecticut Educators March for Students
Busloads of educators came from all over the country to support the Florida students and students all over the country who demand to be heard. Taking part was a group of educators from Connecticut, where the shooting that killed 26 elementary school children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton is still raw.
“We have to do something with our gun laws, and we have to be vigilant. Talking and talking about it doesn’t change anything and we need to act. Our kids don’t feel safe,” said Mia Dimbo, a middle school math teacher from Bridgeport as she prepared to march to the site of the rally in Washington. “We need support for mental health. We don’t have enough resources for psychologists and counselors, and there’s so much trauma our kids are dealing with. They should not be afraid when coming to school. Today I march for our kids and our teachers…”
Just how easy is it to bring a gun into our schools?
Sadly, it appears to be too easy based on the number of school shootings that are happening on a consistent basis in America.
What can be done? Who is next? How can the students, and the adults responsible for their care, be sure that they won’t be next?
These are extremely frightening questions, yet they are also extremely legitimate ones.
When it comes to the issue of gun violence in the United States, it is safe to say that the bullets don’t discriminate – for the most part. And while there does tend to be a double standard related to the media attention and societal support certain groups receive versus others when it comes to ‘dealing with’ the issue of gun violence in America, the pain that all parents, families and friends experience due to these traumatic experiences is the same – heartbreaking.
Since the beginning of the year, America has found itself once again experiencing a tragic act of domestic terrorism, whereby many young people and adults have been tragically gunned down by an individual or individuals who were easily able to access guns – guns that eventually led to the loss of multiple lives as a result of them carrying out a mass shooting.
Case in point – take the recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, in Parkland, Florida, that has sparked an outcry from many people in the country, particularly many of the students who were impacted by the shooting and are now demanding changes in the gun laws in this country.
In this case, 19-year-old domestic terrorist suspect, Nikolas Cruz, had just legally purchased a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle in February 2017 – a year prior to killing his victims.
According to reports, Cruz caught an Uber to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and then proceeded to walk inside the school carrying a black duffel bag and a backpack. Cruz hid loaded magazines in his backpack, until the very moment he decided to pull out his newly acquired AR-15 rifle and start blasting away at people.
All-in-all, Cruz killed seventeen people and fourteen others were transported to local hospitals.
The entire world once again watched in horror as politicians and lawmakers, who are entrusted to lead and serve, offered the victims and their families little more than their thoughts and prayers via Twitter, sound bites and scripted press releases.
Nothing changed. Same thing…Different day.
So, as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass school shooting has been added to the list as one of the deadliest school shootings and acts of domestic terrorism in U.S. history, it has now also been added to the list of tragic mass shooting incidents that have seemingly and sadly become the norm in this country.
Many people remember the tragedy that took place on December 14, 2012, when 20-year-old domestic terrorist Adam Lanza killed twenty 1st graders between the ages of 6 and 7 years of age and six adults with an assault rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Sadly, since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, there have been roughly 240 other school shootings that have taken place in America with at least 438 people being shot and 138 people being killed. Now of course, school shootings aren’t the only type of mass shootings that have been impacting Americans over the past several years, but it is challenging to know young people are being killed before they have a chance to truly experience life.
Many have argued that this continued loss of life, while tragic, merely reinforces the recurring narrative that America is strongly encouraging a culture of gun violence, particularly because of the flat out refusal of lawmakers to take action and pass any sensible bipartisan gun control legislation. Over the years, the relationship between gun lobbyists and those who make policy has seemingly produced an unwillingness to advance responsible gun safety legislation, and it has caused a major divide amongst many people in this country.
And then, instead of clearly addressing the unrestricted access to high-powered, military-style semiautomatic rifles, like the ones used in the Florida and Las Vegas mass shootings, President Donald J. Trump and many of his supporters have focused on pushing for arming teachers with guns in the classroom. In addition to that, President Trump has also sought to excuse the actions of these domestic terrorists as a mental illness issue rather than a focus on the relatively easy way these individuals can acquire these deadly weapons with no real vetting process.
Many people across America have found President Trump’s mental illness narrative to be a confusing one to find credible, especially considering the fact that Trump’s latest budget proposes dramatically slashing Medicaid, which is the primary source of mental health funding for 70 percent of low-income Americans.
Why acknowledge that mental illness is the issue with gun violence and then turnaround and cut the funding for many low-income Americans who need it, and who suffer from incidents of sustained gun violence in their respective communities?
Speaking of mental illness, there are usually after affects that individuals have to deal with regarding their traumatic experience. Parents suffer, families grieve, students experience trauma, employees and educators have to deal with the stress of coming back to work knowing what had just occurred and whether it could happen again, and many other feelings of fear and concern.
Managing Partners Shantera Chatman and Natalie Arceneaux of PROSCI of C+A Global Group believe that more should be done to help the parents and employees, as well as the students affected by these tragedies and traumatic occurrences.
“For parents affected by a devastating trauma such as a mass shooting at their child’s school, they should really tune-in to their emotions,” says Chatman. “Some parents have lost their children and are literally going through the motions at work. Their best course of action is to check with their employer to understand their benefits. Some companies provide hotlines to counselors and other actually pay for counseling services. These services typically cover the entire family.”
Arceneaux states that those working with people affected by these traumatic incidents should understand that their coworkers will never be the same and it is unrealistic to assume they will ever be.
“Employers should invest in team sensitivity activities or counseling to help those that have to encounter the affected parents,” says Arceneaux. “Understanding the mood swings and the 5 stages of grief go a long way to helping your teammates.”
The issue of mental illness related to coping with tragedy and trauma is important, but it does not deal with the real issue of gun violence in the nation.
Most experts believe that any serious plan to stem the tide of this cycle of violence must include common-sense gun laws. A survey by the Pew Research Center concludes that while Americans say they want to protect the right to bear arms, “they’re very much supportive of many gun policy proposals, including more background checks on private and gun show sales and banning semi-automatic and assault-style weapons.”
One would think that protecting local neighborhoods, schools, students and families would be a bipartisan priority and that elected officials would not be bought and sold to the highest bidder. However, it appears there are many lawmakers that have little to no conviction as it relates to doing what it takes to help reduce the risk that all American citizens face regarding this national epidemic of mass shootings due to gun violence that continues to plague our nation.
Many in the Greater Houston community have been pondering how this type of situation can be prevented, while the debate about gun control rages on.
Here locally, an elected official from the Houston area has called on national lawmakers to address this issue and states that it is time for the state of Texas to take gun laws more seriously.
“It is our responsibility to protect the people from any policies that can have a negative impact on any resident in this country, especially in the city of Houston where I serve,” said Houston City District D Councilmember Dwight A. Boykins. “I am a proud outdoorsman and supporter of the right to bear arms, but I am also an elected leader who serves to promote policies that enhance the safety and security of my constituents.”
Boykins believes that federal elected officials must acknowledge the common sense notion that implementing effective gun control measures does not have to interfere with private gun ownership, but that we must put the safety of children and the citizens first above all things.
“After the 1500+ mass shootings since 2012, they (lawmakers) continue to pursue donations and endorsements from the National Rifle Association, while ignoring the clear and present danger posed by lax gun laws,” said Boykins. “The focus on obtaining the NRA’s support and blessing runs rampant, influencing our politics on all levels of government. Therefore, my plan is to create an environment where we can have this discussion openly and seek to deal with this issue from a grassroots perspective.”
Boykins plans to hold a community town hall meeting on Monday, March 5, 2018, from 6pm to 8pm at Greater Grace Outreach Church located at 10800 Scott St., Houston, TX 77047, where he plans to have a proactive conversation on “Keeping Our Children Safe: How Do We Prevent Gun Violence in Our Communities and Schools?”
Boykins has invited local pastors, Houston Police Department (HPD), Harris County Sheriff’s Department, Precinct 7 Constable Office, Houston Independent School District (HISD) Police, Texas Southern University (TSU) Police, University of Houston (UofH) Police, Houston Community College (HCC) Police, HISD Superintendent, District D School Principals, KIPP, and many more to participate in this much needed discussion.
The Forward Times plans to be a part of these discussions and will keep our readers informed on any new developments surrounding this important issue of gun violence in our country.
The Connecticut Education Association does not endorse the idea that teachers should bring guns into the classroom.
Teachers must focus on educating students. Asking teachers to be armed, paramilitary operatives as a result of the inability of Congress to pass gun violence prevention legislation is madness. We place enough mandates on our teachers—Congress needs to take action to keep our schools safe.
After the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook, Connecticut passed historic gun, mental health and school safety laws—some of the toughest in the nation—to help keep our children, our families, our schools, and our communities safe from gun violence. Republicans and Democrats worked together.
Congress must take action to protect all students in every school in America.
CEA is helping to coordinate school activities and early-morning Walk-Ins For Safe Schools on Thursday, March 14. School communities can stand in solidarity, and walk-in to school together to support the changes needed to make every school and every child safe.
by Lesia Winiarskyj for Connecticut Education Association
Bridgeport teacher Greg Furlong shared his firsthand experiences with inadequate resources and support as a witness for CCJEF during the trial in Superior Court.
Yesterday’s State Supreme Court ruling in the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell delivered a mixed verdict—bad for school funding, while rejecting the lower court’s attempt to create burdensome schemes for testing, teacher evaluation, and education policy.
The key issue in the CCJEF case was whether school funding in Connecticut is adequate. On this issue, the Court found that state funding meets the minimally adequate level required. This finding flies in the face of mounting evidence of poorly funded and resourced public schools throughout the state, especially in high poverty communities…
Do state plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act do enough to shine a spotlight on historically disadvantaged groups of students—and do they give schools the tools they need to improve outcomes for those children?
“What we are seeing so far is not encouraging,” concludes a report from The Education Trust, a Washington-based organization that advocates for low-income and minority students. “For all the talk about equity surrounding ESSA, too many state leaders have taken a pass on clearly naming and acting on schools’ underperformance for low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English learners.”
Education Trust, whose executive director, John B. King Jr., served as President Barack Obama’s last secretary of education, reviewed the 17 ESSA plans submitted to the department so far, as well as the 34 that have been submitted. It found that:
In general, states picked indicators that get at whether students are learning, including chronic absenteeism, college and career readiness, and on-track graduation. But some states picked so many indicators that it will be that there’s a “real risk” schools won’t have the incentive to improve on any of them, the advocacy group said. Example: Connecticut and Arkansas each have more than 10 indicators. Plus, some states, including Louisiana, have proposed indicators that aren’t ready for rollout yet…
Read the full story here: May require an Education Week subscription.
by Nancy Andrews for Connecticut Education Association
Connecticut teachers are urging legislators to take up the critical issue of education funding when they convene for a special session later this month to focus on the draconian cuts devastating the state’s public schools and shortchanging students’ education.
“While we appreciate legislators standing up for our senior citizens, our youngest and most vulnerable citizens are also facing peril with continued school funding cuts that must be addressed,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen. “The time for action is now. Our children can’t wait until next February. Legislators must take up the issue in special session.”
Governor Malloy recently cut an additional $58 million in ECS funding, and more cuts are planned in 2018. As Connecticut’s cities and towns struggle to make up these costs, many are planning to cut school resources, eliminate educational programs, and lay off teachers.
“These funding cuts are creating chaos in our schools and causing disruptions for students, parents, teachers, and communities in the middle of the school year,” said Cohen. “Every day our teachers are being asked to do more with less, and every day our students are being shortchanged by cuts in education funding. Education funding is being strangled in a budget nightmare that has created an economic crisis in our schools.”
Hundreds of teachers have also reached out to legislators. In phone calls and emails, teachers are asking legislators to do the right thing and protect Connecticut’s children.
Cohen stressed, “Without providing critical funding, the state is irreversibly jeopardizing the future of Connecticut’s students and the future of our state. Our children and our public schools are too important to cast aside and just hope for the best. We need to support the education of our children.”
Senate education committee Democrats used the confirmation hearing of two top U.S. Department of Education nominees to make their case against the Trump administration’s favorite K-12 policy: School choice.
Both contenders have long records in pushing for charters, vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and other types of school choice programs. Mick Zais, who has been tapped for deputy secretary of education, the No. 2 post at the agency, helped create a tax-credit scholarship for students in special education when he was the state chief in South Carolina.
And Jim Blew, who has been tapped as assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy analysis, spent nearly a decade as the Walton Family Foundation’s director of K-12 reform, advising the foundation on how to broaden schooling options for low-income communities.
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the panel, kicked off the hearing by saying that she finds it “troubling” that Zais shares Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ views on “privatization.” And she told Blew that his “record of promoting school vouchers gives me pause that you will not stand up for students and public schools.”
Senator after senator on the Democratic side of the dais echoed those concerns.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., for instance, asked Zais if he was aware that the research on the efficacy of school choice is “abysmal.” Zais said, in his experience, broadening educational options improves student outcomes. But he agreed with Franken that the evidence for that is “anecdotal…”
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, students in Delaware will be held accountable for social studies and science. Massachusetts and Vermont are also incorporating science into their systems, and Illinois is hoping to add it down the line.
Both Connecticut and Vermont also want to add physical education into their accountability systems. Educators and advocates in Vermont “felt that including the physical fitness assessment would support schools in attending to the whole child and supporting school nutrition programs and instruction that will promote a life time of healthy living,” according to the state’s ESSA plan, which hasn’t yet been approved by the feds.
Schools in the Green Mountain State won’t immediately be held accountable for how many jumping jacks their students…
Nine states and the District of Columbia had turned in their state plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act as of Monday evening, according to an Education Week survey of states. One tricky issue states have to address in those plans is how to deal with schools where less than 95 percent of all students take required state exams.
Under ESSA, states are allowed to have laws on the books affirming parents’ right to opt their children out of these tests. But ESSA also requires that states administer these tests to all students with sanctions kicking in if the participation rate falls below 95 percent and meaningfully differentiate schools based on participation rate in some fashion. Just how states address this issue if the participation rate of all students (or a subgroup of students) at a particular school falls below 95 percent is up to them.
The opt-out movement sprang up in the last several years as part of a broader resistance to testing, and has been particularly strong in states like Colorado, New Jersey, and New York…
According to a recent report by Education Week, states have largely ignored a critical mandate of the Every Student Succeeds Act that calls for schools to measure the social and emotional competencies of their students.
“Not a single state’s plan to comply with the federal education law—and its broader vision for judging school performance—calls for inclusion of such measures in its school accountability system,” according to Education Week.
However, advocates for measuring social-emotional learning have said that the current tools need more refinement, before the U.S. Department of Education weighs in.
“Existing measures of social and emotional development, which largely rely on students’ responses to surveys about their own character traits, are not sophisticated and consistent enough to be used for such purposes, they have long argued,” the Education Week article said.
Even as school districts in Anchorage, Alaska; Austin, Texas; Chicago, Ill.; Nashville, Tenn.; Oakland, Calif.; and Sacramento, Calif., are actively engaged in incorporating social and emotional learning into their curriculums, civil rights leaders continue to encourage Black parents to get involved with the implementation of ESSA.
“We have noticed that, under the Trump administration, there has been a shift in priorities concerning the implementation of some practices of ESSA, since its inception in 2015,” said Elizabeth Olsson, a senior policy associate for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “However, state and district officials still have to comply with the law.”
Olsson continued: “The U.S. Department of Education needs to make sure that it continues to scrutinize state programs to ensure that states are recruiting effective educational strategies, reducing practices that push students of color out of school systems, and identifying support programs, including professional teacher development and funding for alternative classes, like restorative justice.”
Olsson said that restorative justice programs really help get to the root of student behavior.
Liz King, the senior policy analyst and director of Education Policy for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that there are still a lot of open questions about how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is going to implement ESSA.
Earlier this year, after a hearing with a House Appropriations subcommittee, DeVos was roundly criticized by the civil rights community, when she seemed to endorse a state’s right to discriminate against children.
During the hearing, when Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) asked DeVos, if her Education Department would require states, like Indiana, to end the practice of funding schools that openly discriminate against LGBTQ students and families, “DeVos didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Slate.com reported. “She just smiled and stuck to the generations-old cover for violent oppression in America. ‘The states set up the rules,’ she said. ‘I believe states continue to have flexibility in putting together programs.’”
King called those comments “deeply concerning.”
King continued: “What we need to hear from the president and the secretary of education is a commitment to the law, the Constitution, and the rights of all children in the United States, focusing particularly on historically marginalized students.”
King said that the biggest difference between the way that ESSA was handled during President Obama’s administration versus the way the law is being handled now is the commitment to protect the civil rights, dignity, safety and respect for all children in this country. King added that children feel less safe and feel like their rights are being taken away, under the Trump Administration.
In a letter to Senator Patty Murray (D-Was.), DeVos claimed that the way that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) handled “individual complaints as evidence of systematic institutional violations,” under the Obama Administration, “harmed students.” DeVos also promised to return OCR to a “neutral, impartial investigative agency.”
The Education Department has approved ESSA state plans from Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont.
As minorities continue to enroll in schools across the country at higher rates than their White peers, King said that parents and community members need to act now to make sure that the myriad needs of students of color are fully addressed in ESSA state plans, that includes access to advanced English and math courses and addressing the disparities that exist between how Black students are disciplined compared to White students.
“We have to address the issue of ESSA now, because decisions that are being made will have consequences for years to come,” King said. “One thing that is important to remember is that the implementation of ESSA does not happen in a vacuum.”
King continued: “ESSA is the opportunity for parents to work together with various coalitions, the press and grassroots organizations to shape the way the educational system will look for their children and for their futures in their own states.”