Back in May of 2018, a small Southeast Texas town was shaken to its core when a young man armed with a shotgun and a .38 revolver opened fire on his high school campus. He killed 10 people, many of them his fellow students, and wounded 10 more.
Moments after the shooting a reporter spoke to a student named Paige Curry. Her response quickly went viral.
“Was there a part of you that was like, ‘This isn’t real, this is — this would not happen in my school?’” the reporter asked.
The young girl shook her head: “No, there wasn’t.”
“Why so?” the reporter asked.
“It’s been happening everywhere,” she said. “I felt — I’ve always kind of felt like eventually, it was going to happen here, too.”
Every single day that children walk through the threshold of their schools, far too many of them are asking themselves if today is the day a school shooting happens there.
A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that most children and their parents fear a school shooting will happen at their child’s school. The Annual Education poll revealed that one in three parents fear that their children are in danger, while at school, on a daily basis.
A Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted in 2017 showed that 6.7 percent of students reported that they skipped school because they felt unsafe at school.
Children used to practice duck and cover in school, but today lockdown drills and “run, hide, fight” exercises are part of the school experience all over the country.
Just this week, America got another reminder of the fear that its schoolchildren must make sense of every day. Nine students were shot, one of them fatally, at STEM School Highlands Ranch, near Denver.
STEM School Highlands Ranch is K–12. Among the students, there was a second grader, who told the New York Times that he’d gone through lockdowns and active-shooter drills since kindergarten. That’s close to half his eight years of life.
This eight-year-olds familiarity with potential crisis scenarios makes him part of an enormous and ever-growing group. In the 2017–2018 school year, more than 4.1 million students participated in a lockdown or lockdown drill, according to the Washington Post.
These lockdowns can leave long-lasting emotional and mental scars. In many lockdowns, children grow so frightened that they cry and some of them even wet themselves. After lockdowns, some children have even penned letters saying goodbye to their families and drafted wills sharing what to do with their belongings.
Sadly, many children are not strangers to violence in their homes and communities, lockdowns have created a new fear that is touching the lives of children all across our country. Lockdowns and drills have created a culture of fear that has many children imagining their own suffering.
Back in March of this year, Dewey Cornell, a professor at the University of Virginia said, “Our decisions about school safety have to be based on a careful analysis of the facts and not just be driven by fears and emotions, however important they are. And to recognize that school violence is a small part of a much larger problem of gun violence.”
School districts across the country have spent billions of dollars on measures such as metal detectors, security guards, surveillance cameras, door locks, and bulletproof glass.
Since the Columbine shooting in 1999 active shooter drills have become part of a child’s school life. A school in Alaska actually uses the sound of actual gunfire during their drills. Some people believe these drills will save lives, while others say all they do is traumatize children.
Research shows that active shooters could attack anywhere, but a demographic analysis shows they tend to have traits in common. The majority of shooters were young white men or boys, many of them current or former students of the schools where they opened fire.
As a mother of school-age children, I can tell you that over the last several years the fear of a school shooting filled me with panic and anger almost every time I watched them climb the steps of their school bus.
After a series of incidences including a school lockdown because of gunfire near the school and my then 7-year-old telling me how scared she was during a lockdown drill I made the decision to homeschool.
Still watching the news and reading about school shootings as they happen is terrifying. Hearing the children speak afterward is heartbreaking.
“The school shootings are scary and we feel like nothing can stop it from happening.” – 11-year-old girl, Indiana
“No one is doing anything to make me feel safe at school.” – A 14-year-old girl, Washington, D.C.
“We are afraid because there are too many threats at schools. I want my school to be safe and to have art because kids like art.” – 8-year-old girl, Wisconsin
“We deserve to have a childhood.” – 13-year-old boy, Pennsylvania
“It is a tragedy of our society and a disgrace to our nation that our children go to school each day carrying the fear that they will be gunned down in the hallways or on the schoolyard,” said Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund. “We must not allow ourselves and our children to become accustomed to living in a country where the senseless murders of children in schools and our communities are a commonplace event. We must heed our children’s calls to keep them safe and allow them to grow up, learn and play free from violence and fear. We cannot afford to wait for another tragedy to occur before we decide once and for all to protect children, not guns.”