Afraid to drop my kids off at school

In 2006, a lunatic got into the Seattle Jewish Federation offices and shot/killed people. This man wasn’t just a lunatic. He was/is a terrorist. He struck terror into the hearts of the Jews throughout Seattle. The day after the incident, a group of us met on a hillside our neighborhood, with a police officer stationed nearby to keep us safe. To the depths of our souls, we were afraid. That’s terror. That’s what terrorists do.

To help keep our community safe, many of the Jewish institutions in Washington State received funding to turn their facilities into fortresses. I was on the board of Hillel (the Jewish Student organization at the University of Washington) at the time and we really wrestled with this conundrum. We wanted to make sure that students felt that it was an open and hospitable environment. Yet – we needed our staff and students to be safe. We had just built a beautiful window-filled building designed to convey that sense of welcoming and lightness.

6 years later, we have bullet proof front glass doors, an intercom system to buzz people in, a surveillance system that captures footage of the surrounding area, and armed police officers for many of the big events. Fortunately, students are resilient and they have continued to come. They have grown accustomed to a new – and perverse – normal.

In 2007, my family and I went to Israel and, during our trip, went to a mall in Eilat to buy some sandals. We went through metal detectors that were staffed by young men with very large and imposing guns. Throughout their country, Israelis go through security to shop and live their lives. They have grown accustomed to a new – and perverse – normal.

Today, I drove my 2 elementary school kids to their respective schools. There was a police officer at my daughter’s school but no noticeable security at my son’s school. I have never been scared of dropping my children off at school before. But my brain couldn’t help but run through macabre scenarios at what are sweet and very open/accessible schools. Would some crazy young man (they are all young men, unfortunately) go into the school with a semi-automatic weapon and murder my babies? Of course the odds are against that happening, but are there mentally ill copy cats who would do that? Just last year, some dumb high school students carried fake plastic weapons onto the play area of one of our neighborhood elementary schools. Granted, they wouldn’t fire on anyone – but if there can be non-mentally ill high school students who do something as moronic as that (last I checked, “stupid” wasn’t classified as a mental illness), then it’s not a stretch for someone to bring a real weapon to one of the schools

So what’s the solution? How do we reduce the terror? How do we reduce the gun violence?

There are far more qualified people thinking about the criminal science and legislative angles on this. I pray that they come up with productive and viable solutions.

Ever since they were teeny, I would emphasize to my kids that my number one job (besides loving them) was to keep them safe. For example, if they were doing something fun, but dangerous (playing with sharp sticks), I would be a buzzkill and tell them to put the sticks down. After they guffawed with a two syllable “mo-om!” I would simply ask: “what’s my main job” – and they’d put the stick down while reluctantly saying “keep me safe”.

This time “keeping them safe” feels much more daunting, especially since it relies on the whole community and country. But I’ve watched enough movies to know that, when the group comes together to take down the bad guy, the group – and good – always triumphs.

Change on this front is not going to happen if we don’t push for it. So – while I still feel afraid today to drop my kids off at school, I am going to work hard to make sure that condition doesn’t persist – and I ask you to help too.

For a start – here are some resources/places to engage and stay tuned to the effort:

Also – call your Mayor’s, governor’s, and state legislators’ offices. There’s a lot that can be done locally and not just federally.

Lastly – Take 18 minutes to watch President Obama’s speech last night at the Newtown interfaith vigil.

Be ready. Your help will be needed.

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10 responses to “Afraid to drop my kids off at school

  1. Excellent. I’m in, of course.

  2. Suzi, having lived in Seattle during the Federation shooting, attended UW when an employee was murdered there (http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/uw-architecture-building-reopens-after-murder-suic/nKm84/) and suffered through a mass shooting that killed a close relative in September (http://kstp.com/news/stories/S2783408.shtml?cat=1), I can empathize with the feelings of fear, terror, grief and frustration. I’ve been following the Demand a Plan campaign and like their clear, concise messaging (http://www.demandaplan.org/newtown), but I also have to speak up about the early learning part.

    For all children, Seeds of Compassion and Roots of Empathy projects are great ideas. For children on the autism spectrum–anywhere on the autism spectrum–a much greater, more intensive, investment is necessary and crucial. I don’t know the details of Lanza’s situation, but I know how frightening the world can become for a family with a child whose needs are so intense. There is a lot that can be done for kids with 25+ hours of early intervention per week. We also need school counseling, generally accessible mental health services, anti-bullying education, and peer mentors or ‘buddies’ who can embrace students with special needs and help them integrate. The rates of bullying are so extreme that it will take a broad mix of programs to truly help engage people with Asperger’s who are mentally extremely sharp but socially challenged. http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/news/survey-90-percent-autistic-children-bullied
    And also see this article: http://gawker.com/5968818/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother.
    We have an extremely long way to go and improving school security will be but the first step to a long road to recovery.

  3. I also feel very strongly that changes need to be made and everyone who cares about this issue should make their voices heard now. And I agree that we need to finally have the conversation about gun laws, mental health services, and fostering compassion. I am hesitant, however, to suggest that making public places into fortresses is the road we want to go down. Yes, it is terrifying to think of a large number of children being the target of a madman with a gun, but a truly determined madman will target them in any way possible. This one forced his way into the school by shooting out a window. A man with a gun can easily overpower a security guard or parent entering the front door. And we and our children spend our time in many public places. Is the next step to barricade the community centers, parks, public festivals, shopping malls? Granted, I have not visited Israel, where I know these kinds of security measures are more commonplace (and, statistically, more necessary). But it seems to me that it could create more of a societal feeling that normal, everyday activities are unsafe, while not necessarily creating more actual safety.

    This is a great conversation to have, Suzi.

    • Amy – I agree with you that building fortresses is not the direction we’d like to go. But it feels like there’s this choice out there (at least for those who want to continue to make these dangerous weapons available): get rid of the guns, or provide security for our schools and, even though it may not prevent entry, maybe it’ll delay it enough to get police on the scene. And – while we’re waiting for legislation to be passed/enacted and/or mental health support to take effect – what else can we do? That, to me, is the dialogue that needs to happen at all levels. Thank you so much for engaging on this!

      • Daniel Petter-Lipstein

        Suzi: If you really want to make James Heckman’s vision a reality in the USA, we should talk. Shawn Landres and Joshua Avedon will vouch for me.

  4. Pingback: Afraid to drop my kids off at school | Tikkun Olam at Temple Beth Am

  5. Bravo Suzi. Schools are targets, and our kids are sitting ducks. Why do we put our money in armored cars but our kids in unguarded schools?
    The mental illness issue is a tough one, and we cannot count on that to ever get fully resolved. The behaviors that go along with some mental illnesses are considered normal in some families, or may just go unnoticed. How about the folks who live alone and don’t have any evaluations by professionals, don’t have mothers who notice something is wrong? How about mentally ill young men who are cared for by mentally ill parents? Yes, let’s make sure the mentally ill among us, who have been identified and are willing, get the help they need. But we need to address guns and school safety now.

  6. It is appalling and an embarrassment to me that counseling positions are cut from our schools as class sizes increase, and special services are eliminated. It isn’t surprising, though it is tragic, that children continue to die at the hands of youth who feel marginalized, bullied, or who just plain fall between the cracks in our affluent society. Shame on us

  7. Antonia Gonzalelz

    I dropped my 7 year old grandson off at school today too but my feelings were no different than any other day.
    The Connecticut shooting was a horrific act against children but I just cannot believe that people are not outraged anytime a child is killed. And not just when it’s an American child. On a daily basis children are killed by drones, guns, bombs and soldiers in Afghanastan, Iraq, Palestine………. I hate those drones. These children have parents too that fear and hurt when their child is killed with one exception. They don’t have the luxury for “funding to turn their facilities into fortresses or 6 years later, have bullet proof front glass doors, an intercom system to buzz people in, a surveillance system that captures footage of the surrounding area, and armed police officers for many of the big events.” I believe children are innocent and ALL children of the world should feel safe and be safe.
    Thank you for doing this Suzie I care.

  8. Dear Suzi,

    Thank you for your excellent post, and your ever-present passion and vision. I agree with you whole-heartily on our need for gun control laws, supporting gun buy-back programs, strengthening mental health resources and investing in early childhood education. I would love to help make calls, write letters, lobby – whatever it takes to reduce the accessibility of guns in our country and the insane violence that follows.

    Your argument for making our schools into fortresses however gave me pause. So many public schools in our country already feel like prisons – further institutionalizing them doesn’t feel like the way to go. Having been a student in the Chicago Public Schools, and worked in the Boston Public Schools I know what it is like to enter in the morning through a metal detector, wear a security badge all day, and have armed guards patrol the hallways. This is the reality in many urban school systems. Many students, accustomed to violence in their neighborhoods, will tell you that having all of this security in place makes them feel safe – but at what cost? Is this the right direction to head in?

    My initial reaction to the shooting last Thursday wasn’t to fortify my son’s school, but to home school him. Just take him out of the system. Remove him from a big building full of sitting duck targets for mad men. Take him out of a place that makes kids do “lock down drills” with the same frequency that we used to do fire drills. Keep him safe.

    I don’t think I am actually going to home school him – but I think smaller, more home-like school environments is the direction that schools need to go in. Not just because of gun violence – but for so many reasons having to do with community and connection. This though is a bigger fish to fry. So, let’s start with gun control.

    Let me know when it is time for the phone calls, trips to Olympia, DC – whatever it takes. Obama is President. Now is our time.

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