What's Next After Parkland?
This week, Andy Saultz will be taking over the guest blog to discuss the real stuff of when and how policy gets made, and to share lessons he learned during his time as a school board member. Andy previously taught high school social studies before earning his Ph.D. from Michigan State. He is currently an assistant professor of educational leadership at Miami University.
Lent is an important time for me, as it provides an opportunity for reflection and sacrifice. It is the Christian observance of the time preceding Easter, and is meant to bring people closer to God and to remember the forty days of prayer and fasting Jesus spent in the desert. For me, Lent is a respite after the chaos of the holidays and the harsh winter weather. Regardless of your faith, I encourage you to find time to think about the world, your place in it, and recalibrate your life around your values.
This year, Lent has been hard. Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent, fell on Valentine's Day, which made for a strange hodgepodge of emotion. It also was the day that Nikolas Jacob Cruz entered Stoneman Douglas High School and killed 17 people and wounded 14 others. I am filled with anger and confusion about this tragedy. Drawn to the heroic stories of educators and students in Parkland, I inevitably return to thoughts of emptiness and rage that this happened.
That Sunday, I went to my church with a heavy heart, not knowing how to make sense of all of this. My pastor, Aaron Layne, gave an impassioned sermon that emphasized the importance of leveraging tragedy, disappointment, and other negative feelings to focus on "what's next?" This simple question spurred me to think about the community in Parkland, the students, and what it means for schools in the future.
Stoneman Douglas High School was the 18th school shooting in 2018, and the 291st school shooting since 2013. I am not an expert on violence, guns, or security. What I know is that if we do not change anything, we can, and should, expect more school shootings. School shootings are so routine that the political commentary, subsequent debates, and talking points are predictable. Sandy Hook, Columbine, Thurston—too many to list; we have heard this story before.
We need to listen. High school students in Parkland and elsewhere are speaking out. What are they saying about what they need to feel safe? What are they saying about the status quo regarding school security, gun violence, and gun control? What evidence do we have about the relationship between gun ownership and crime?
What will you do to improve the safety of our schools? Not after the election, not when you have time, but right now.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve our schools. But the policy solutions for teacher quality, school accountability, and school finance are empty if our kids are not safe. On February 15th no one cared how Stoneman Douglas High School scored on the school report card or if the students were college-and-career ready. I urge you to reflect on what you could be doing to increase the safety of our schools. History tells us this is not a one-time catastrophe. Unless we take tangible steps to reduce gun violence in our schools, we should expect more tragedies.