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Children are saying ‘We are afraid’

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 10/1/2018, 2:13 p.m.
The school shootings are scary, and we feel like nothing can stop it from happening. – 11-year-old girl, Indiana

Overall, our survey shows children all across our country crying out for help and safety. Ultimately, children just want to feel safe in school, and they and their parents believe that creating safe, nurturing schools requires more than physical protection from guns. Almost all of them consider close connections and trusting relationships with school staff critical components of school safety. About 90 percent of children and parents agree children need adults at school they can talk to about their problems.

To honor their views, amplify their voices and protect their lives, it should be a no-brainer for a decent and responsible nation to do everything it can to keep children safe in their schools and neighborhoods.

It’s a disgrace and complete collapse of adult responsibility to permit our children to go to school afraid of being gunned down in hallways or yards. It’s unconscionable that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is contemplating states’ use of Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant funds under the Every Student Succeeds Act to purchase firearms and firearm training for school staff.

In fact, activities anticipated under the grant program specifically cover “violence prevention activities” defined to include “the promotion of school safety… through the creation and maintenance of a school environment that is free of weapons and fosters individual responsibility and respect for the rights of others.”

What has happened to us as adults and as a people to become accustomed to living in a country where senseless murders of children in schools and communities are commonplace? What values lead us to protect guns over children?

Most importantly, how can we restore our children’s confidence that we want them to be safe where they live, learn and play and will do whatever is necessary to fulfill this essential adult responsibility?

It is urgent we begin by:

• Making sure school safety plans across the country address the need for safe, nurturing schools offering physical protection from guns and close connections and supportive relationships between staff and students.

• Eliminating zero tolerance discipline policies and focusing on understanding children’s experiences, feelings and fears rather than simply punishing their behaviors.

• Minimizing the threats of gang violence and mass shootings in children’s neighborhoods and schools by restricting gun access for those under 21 and other high- risk groups, implementing universal background checks and banning assault weapons, high capacity magazines and bump stocks through commonsense gun laws in state legislatures and Congress.

When asked how she would change the world if she could make one change, a 16-year-old girl said, “To not have to wake up and be scared to do normal things, like go to the movies because [someone] decided to shoot it up one night. Nowadays, it’s scary to go anywhere because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Shame on all of us adults and on our nation for placing the right to own a gun ahead of our children’s right to live and grow to adulthood without constant fear.

Marian Wright Edelman is the president of the Children’s Defense Fund. For more information, go to http://www.childrensdefense.org.