Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Preventing Gun Violence in Schools

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Preventing Gun Violence in Schools

The following is an open letter to Alexandria City Public School Board candidates:

We are a group of parents concerned about the way Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) has (or has not) addressed gun violence. We direct this letter to you in hopes that you will speak to these matters as you campaign. More importantly, if you are elected, we ask that you proactively pursue and clearly communicate a comprehensive Gun Violence Prevention Program for all of ACPS.

First, let us acknowledge some sobering facts in the U.S., corresponding to data averaged between 2003-2013:

  • 314 people are shot every day; 41 of these are children 18 and under.

  • 114,644 people are shot each year; 14,783 are 18 or younger.

  • Six people aged 18 or younger die every day from gun violence.

Many parents are concerned that ACPS’s main engagement on the topic of gun violence prevention in our community has been to focus on the possibility of an active shooter on an ACPS campus. After the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the school board updated emergency response procedures based on guidance from the ALICE Training Institute. ACPS has provided some helpful information on ALICE and drills in the ACPS Express; however, more is needed.

ACPS schools have not uniformly provided information to parents about the ALICE program and what it entails. It appears that ACPS has left it to the principals at the individual schools to advise parents about the ALICE program.

The result has been patchwork; parents at some schools have received information about school emergency procedures in the event of an active shooter, while parents at other schools have been provided with no information whatsoever. Rumors about the nature of ALICE training and what, exactly, it means for our children have spread throughout the city. Some recent communication with the current school board has merely resulted in referrals to the New Emergency Procedures FAQs posted on the ACPS website. These limited FAQs lack specificity about training and drills for our children or the teachers and other professionals who work in their schools. We expect more information about the procedures being implemented in our children’s schools, in advance of their implementation.

Many ACPS schools also have a school resource officer (SRO), but their role is unclear. We have questions about SROs that we would like the school board to address. Why do some schools have an SRO, while others do not? What special training do they receive? What is their role in the event of an active shooter situation? And how will ACPS ensure that another SRO does not inadvertently discharge his or her firearm in a school, as happened in March 2018 at George Washington Middle School?

ALICE is a reaction-based program to gun violence. We urge the ACPS school board to provide a more thoughtful, explicit, and well-communicated Gun Violence Prevention Program so there is no feeling of resignation to or acceptance of gun violence.

Components of a successful program may include:

  • Implementing Sandy Hook Promise’s Know the Signs programs: (1) Say Something Anonymous reporting system (currently being rolled out statewide in Pennsylvania via Safe2Say Something Anonymous); (2) Safety Assessment and Intervention; (3)Start with Hello; and (4) SOS Signs of Suicide.

  • Holding School Safety Forums similar to that hosted by Arlington County Council of PTAs and Arlington Public Schools on Oct. 10, 2018 at Yorktown High School. The “Gun Violence Prevention at Home, School, and in the Community” forum components included a Be SMART training (gun safety education program for adults); a presentation by the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families; a presentation by Arlington Public Schools Emergency Management; and a presentation from Until Help Arrives.

  • Providing safety education programming for students at all levels on guns, fire, and other safety concerns. Partner with local law enforcement, medical professionals, NASP, and others on this.

  • Emphasizing and clearly communicating existing violence prevention programs currently used within ACPS (e.g., Threat Assessment, etc.).

We hope that in the coming months the school board will take active steps to deal with our concerns, and clearly communicate those steps to ACPS parents in a thorough, uniform matter. We expect that such communications would include, at a minimum, details about what our children can expect from school safety drills and other violence prevention programs, so that we can have informed conversations with our children before and after they encounter these programs at school (this would be an expansion of what was provided in the ACPS Express in September, which was appreciated).

We insist that school board candidates explain what they propose for a comprehensive gun violence prevention program for all of ACPS and the community in which those schools are embedded.

We look forward to hearing from you regarding this critically important matter before and after the election on Nov. 6.

Kristy Phillips,

member of Parents for Safe Alexandria schools (PSAs)

And Parents for Safe Alexandria schools (PSAs)

(Includes parents from Charles Barrett ES; Cora Kelly School for Math, Science, & Technology; George Mason ES; George Washington MS; Jefferson-Houston; John Adams ES; MacArthur ES; Maury ES; Minnie Howard campus of TC; Mount Vernon CS; Patrick Henry ES; Polk ES; and TC Williams HS)