In response to the 25 fatal elementary/high school shootings since the Columbine shooting on April 20, 1999, there was a national walk-out on April 20 in over 2000 schools around the U.S. (and some in the U.K.). Students participating in the walkout are pushing for stricter and firmer gun laws from Congress, in the hope that these laws will put an end to gun violence in general, not just in schools. Our own GFS middle school community participated by marching around Germantown with signs and writing letters to the local government.
While we haven’t experienced any mass school shootings in Philadelphia, should we be asking the question, “Are we next?”
At a recent GFS Open House, a parent asked “I see the school campus is very open. What kind of precautions and safety measures do you take because of this?” It is something that parents and students are thinking a lot about. At GFS we have had recent upgrades in the interest of safety, like the campus-wide PA system, the emergency call systems (the boxes with blue lights on top of them), and the app Ruvna they use for accounting for students during a fire/safety and drill. Improvements that are for the sole purpose of keeping the students and faculty safe. But how safe is it?
We the editorial board do not feel that GFS would be prepared in the event of a school shooting. The school is vulnerable in many ways: the campus is spread out, there are many windows, and most of the classrooms don’t have a place to hide that would be large enough for a whole class. What happens if there’s a lockdown and you are outside? And, adults don’t always know where students are during free periods.
There are already schools that are arming teachers and faculty with weapons to prevent a shooting, in the hopes of reducing the carnage. The Sidney school district in rural Ohio keeps semi-automatic handguns in biometric safes throughout the school, that only specific staff members can open using their fingerprints. A precaution that hopefully will not be needed, but that school officials hope will deter anyone from considering an attack.
Understandably, not everyone is on board with this. Congressman of California’s 41st District, Mark Takano voiced his opinion on Twitter: “As a teacher for 24 years, I can tell you that our schools need more textbooks, educators, and art programs. They do not need more guns.”
At GFS, what actions need to be taken in the interest of safety? Some students think it’s necessary to start arming teachers and/or our security guards, with appropriate training provided. However, not all students agree that this is a good idea. Arming adults in our community goes against the testimony of peace as a Quaker school, and furthermore, creates a negative atmosphere for our community. It would be expensive, and wouldn’t guarantee that we would prevent violence from occurring on our campus.
What we can agree on is that students should be given more information. For example, the middle school could hold an assembly, and go through step-by-step what students should do in the event of a shooting. Students should also be given more information and support on how to seek help if they need it; our school should focus on creating a safe place so problems don’t start. Unlike many other schools, we don’t currently have violence on our campus. We should focus on maintaining the peaceful community we have, rather than trying to prevent violence with more violence.