We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news I react not as a President, but as anybody else would — as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.
–President Barack Obama
As I entered my house last Friday evening, I hurriedly changed my clothes and turned on the TV to learn more about the events at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I spent the 90-minute commute listening to the radio and trying to understand what had happened. As the day went on, the story evolved and the truth slowly emerged. (It is amazing how wrong much of the initial reporting was.) While I know the news channels say we will soon learn “how” and “why” the incident occurred, I think they are wrong.
Yes, I will understand “how” it occurred, but I will never understand “why” it occurred. I don’t want to sound sacrilegious but even if God came down to Earth to tell me, I don’t believe as long as I am breathing and my heart is still beating that I will ever understand why such a senseless act occurs.
I know that the Disney parks are supposedly the happiest place on Earth, but for my money, watching kindergarten and first grade students is even better. There is something about watching students with so much hope and eagerness to learn. It seems that the smaller the child, the bigger the dream. Every first grade class has a future U.S. President, astronaut, movie star, doctor, or Olympic gold medalist. Not only are the kid’s dreams big, so are there parents. So the murder of such children is inexplicable to me and always will be.
As a parent I can’t begin to comprehend what these parents are going through; the anxiety of rushing to that firehouse and hoping and praying to see your child’s face. I can’t imagine the dread of being ushered into that separate room. I know for me, it would be like a part of me died too.
Over the next few months I am expecting that there will be a national debate on trying to prevent similar incidents. That debate will probably center on gun control issues and providing better and more accessible mental health care for citizens. What however can we do as local public education leaders? We can join that debate but we have a more pressing issue – the safety of our students right now. We cannot wait to see if Washington will take action on the problem, we have to act now.
First, we have to realize, which I think we do, that these types of acts will be attempted by individuals. Second, we must remember they can occur anywhere. Third, that we have policies and procedures in place to prevent these types of individuals from entering our schools and if they do enter, procedures to minimize casualties. You may be thinking that your school already has those procedures in place. Yes, I know, and I realize that Sandy Hook Elementary School also had policies and procedures in place. In fact, it seems that those procedures may have even saved some lives.
However, we need to revisit these procedures because it our duty to make sure that our security procedures are the best that we can provide. Even if they are excellent procedures, we need to examine them to see if we can improve them. Yes, I know that statistics indicate that our schools are the safest place for children, but at this moment in time that means little to the public.
There is a heavy burden at times in school district leadership. It is our joint responsibility—board members and school administrators—to prepare the staff and students for such unthinkable emergencies.
What we need to keep in mind is that while we cannot eradicate evil, we can be prepared for it. So if that moment comes when a worried and frantic parent has to go to a firehouse or other safe place to look for their child, they will find him or her. If reexamining our procedures creates only one more moment like that, it is well worth it.
While I know that I may never understand why these tragic events occur, I know that no parent should ever have to go through what the parents at Sandy Hook Elementary School did. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.