I Am Tired of Being Silent About Gun Violence in Schools. Here's How We...

Opinion | School Safety

I Am Tired of Being Silent About Gun Violence in Schools. Here's How We Can Take Action.

By Marissa McCue Armitage     May 10, 2023

I Am Tired of Being Silent About Gun Violence in Schools. Here's How We Can Take Action.

Educators are scarce on everything, whether it be resources, compensation or time. So often, we are stretched thin and in many different directions, using the little time we have to learn best practices or catch up on the latest research that will help us become better teachers. Instead, we are forced to spend our time learning about active shooter scenarios.

I’ve lost count of the number of hours I’ve spent in training for active shooter situations. In many districts, time is set aside each month for this purpose. Due to the litany of school shootings that have become a regular occurrence across the country, educators must practice lockdown drills with our students, quieting them as we herd them into a corner. We’ve learned the horrifying statistics and watched the simulations. We’ve practiced building barricades and breaking open windows. I’ve simulated throwing classroom materials at a fictitious shooter. I’ve even had a colleague shoot foam bullets at me from a fake gun.

Any time I am sitting in an active shooter training, I look around at my colleagues and wonder how many of them feel the way I do — resigned to this fate of active shooter training because they are unsure of how to take action without the risk that comes with it. As we watch the latest school shooting news story, many teachers, including myself, are in a forced state of paralysis. How do we keep ourselves and our students safe in a climate where gun reform is a heated debate? It makes me sick to my stomach thinking about it, and I hope it does the same for you.

Many educators have been indoctrinated into believing that we’re not allowed to be political. As teachers, we feel the need to remain neutral and unbiased for the sake of our students while being silenced by the schools we work for. As a teacher and a mother, I wonder at what point I will quit teaching out of fear for my life or the lives of my students.

I joined Moms Demand Action (MDA) for Gun Sense in America five years ago after my first active shooter training. My husband and I had just moved back home to the United States with our newborn after living abroad in Singapore, a country with little to no gun violence because of strict gun laws. I knew that if I was going to live in the U.S. and work as a teacher, I had to be involved in ending gun violence.

I have been encouraged to hide the fact that I am an MDA member from the families in my community for fear that I will appear too political. I find myself hesitant to post updates on my social media page, and I always get nervous running into students and their parents when I’m out at an event in my red MDA shirt. When I try to recruit fellow teachers, they also express apprehension about getting involved for fear of repercussions.

Despite the fact that our lives are literally on the line, teachers feel obligated to stay silent. I can’t stay silent anymore. It is my hope that teachers — and the schools and unions that support them — will begin to feel more comfortable joining the movement for gun reform.

Active Shooter Training Is Ineffective, Traumatic and Expensive

Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in America, recently conducted an impact report on gun safety in schools and revealed that 95 percent of American schools require students to participate in lockdown procedures. This report proves that active shooter training is ineffective and traumatic for students and teachers; to add, there is also no research affirming the value of these drills for preventing school shootings or protecting the school community when shootings do occur. Yet, we still participate in active shooter training.

One active shooter training program – specifically the Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate (ALICE) training program – is used in many school districts around the country. Contrary to the traditional, lockdown-only model utilized years ago, ALICE training is meant to empower educators to make a real-time, informed decision when there’s an intruder. As part of our training, teachers must envision different scenarios for a potential active shooter. Should I lock the door and hide my elementary school students? Would I build a barricade in front of the door? Will I break the window open and tell my 6-year-olds to run? Instead of feeling empowered, I feel horrified and enraged that teaching has come to this.

What many educators do not know is that the ALICE Training program is run by a for-profit company that receives millions of dollars from selling its training materials to schools and districts. Specifically, Trace reports that the school security industry, which includes training programs like ALICE, is worth $2.7 billion dollars. ALICE training can cost taxpayers at least $10,000 a year. For school budgets that are already tight, it can easily become an expense that could otherwise go toward other resources.

Unfortunately, school superintendents often depend on for-profit companies like ALICE Training Solutions to reassure parents when the next school shooting inevitably happens. When their district has invested money and time into a training program, they can falsely reassure parents that their children are now safer. Even something as simple as educating the community on safe gun storage is often avoided for fear of parent pushback.

This shows that superintendents, like teachers, feel pressure to remain neutral. Do we blame these superintendents? Do we blame the educators who are afraid to get involved?

Of course not, but the system is flawed and it’s up to us to change it. Educators are not the problem, but we are the solution.

Gun Reform Is Not a High Priority for a Teacher’s Union

In most public school systems, educators are lucky to have a teacher’s union. While I have been fortunate to be a member of a teacher’s union for the entirety of my career, I often wonder, where is the union on this matter?

The unfortunate truth is that a teacher’s union is often consumed with a myriad of grievances whether it be teacher pay, benefits, retirement or job security. The last few years have focused predominantly on working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has required consistent advocacy from the union and distracted us from the issue of gun safety in the process.

On the National Education Association (NEA) website, you are able to write to Congress in support of universal background checks, but only after scouring the website to find it. Even more, if an educator goes to the site to get involved and learn about NEA's priority issues, gun reform is the 17th out of 34 action items. From this evidence, it is abundantly clear that gun reform is not a high priority, even for one of the biggest education advocacy organizations in our country.

Still, I continue to wait for my teacher's union to take a stronger stance on this issue. Why aren’t we teachers rallying and DEMANDING action on gun reform? How many school shootings will it take to get educators and school staff to strike? How bad does it have to get for us to see change?

(Im)Patiently Waiting for Change

Teachers have been silenced for too long. America has failed its teachers by allowing fear of active shooters AND fear against speaking out about gun violence. We cannot allow fear to silence us.

I’m calling on superintendents to share information on safe gun storage, a strategy that has been proven to be very effective in keeping a community safe from gun violence. I am asking parents to understand the tricky position that educators are in and to join the fight for gun reform. I’m imploring the teacher’s union to prioritize this issue. I’m inviting educators to practice getting vocal about your safety: to the union, to the administration and to your community, despite the risk of scrutiny.

It’s time to work together to make our schools and communities safe again.

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