Jefferson Thomas was 15 years-old when he started at Little Rock Central High School. He volunteered to attend the previously all-white school because he knew that it offered better educational opportunities than the African American school he previously attended. He and the other members of the Little Rock Nine were initially prevented from attending Central High because angry mobs and the Arkansas National Guard denied them entry to the school because they were African American. After several weeks, the students were eventually able to attend because federal troops were sent in to protect them.
Thomas and the other students faced constant harassment and violence from their white classmates. The white students always stared at Thomas, but he claimed “That’s natural that somebody is going to stare...It’s like kids going to a circus for the first time and seeing an elephant there. They stare” (Thomas). Aside from being stared at, Thomas was subjected to far worse abuse. One time, a white student punched him from behind, knocking him out. He was so fearful for his safety that every day when school ended, he ran home rather than walked. He also needed protection so one of his older brothers would wait for him when school got out, holding a tire iron in case he needed to defend his brother. Thomas endured constantly feeling unsafe because “If one of us had quit, that would have shown a weakness in our unity” (Thomas).
Thomas was one of the three members of the Little Rock Nine to graduate from Central High School. After graduating, he began college at Wayne State University, then transferred to Los Angeles State College, where he was president of the Associated Engineers and he was involved in student government. He then went on to serve in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. After serving, he returned to Los Angeles State College, where he earned a degree in Business Administration. Thomas worked as an accountant for the remainder of his career and eventually worked for the Department of Defense.
Thomas has been recognized for his commitment to racial equality. He received the Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1958. He also earned the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award that can be given to a civilian, from President Clinton in 1999. Thomas was also presented with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Ohio Dominican University.
Jefferson Thomas died from pancreatic cancer on September 5, 2010. He was the first member of the Little Rock Nine to pass away. The other members of the group remember Thomas for his sense of humor. The country remembers him as an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement. President Obama stated “Mr. Thomas was just a teenager when he became one of the first African-American students to enroll in Little Rock Central High School. Yet even at such a young age, he had the courage to risk his own safety, to defy a governor and a mob, and to walk proudly into that school even though it would have been far easier to give up and turn back” (Obama).
Minnijean Brown Trickey was 15 years-old when she started at Little Rock Central High School. She registered to attend Central High after she heard an announcement about having the ability to do so on the intercom at her school at the time, Horace Mann School for African-Americans. The main motivation behind her decision to switch schools was that Central High was walking distance from her house and Horace Mann was across town and did not provide any transportation services.
When Trickey was preparing to start at Central High, she didn’t expect much of a reaction to herself and the other African American students. Unfortunately, the reaction of racist white people was larger than anyone could have expected. From before they were able to step foot in the door through when they left Central High, the Little Rock Nine endured constant abuse in many forms. Trickey explained that “The abuse actually escalated over time because the 101st left, and it never ever calmed down. It didn’t suddenly become nice, it didn’t suddenly become pleasant; it was constant” (Trickey). For example, there was a group of girls who frequently spat on her, stepped on her heels and harassed her. One day, Trickey had enough of the abuse. The girls threw a purse at her in homeroom and Trickey told them to leave her alone and called them white trash. As a result, she was suspended and later expelled from Central High School. When she was leaving, white students passed around cards that stated “One down, eight to go.”
After she was expelled from Central High, Dr. Kenneth Clark and Dr. Mamie Clark, African American psychologists, invited Trickey to live with them in New York City. These doctors conducted research that produced the now famous “doll tests” that showed how racial segregation negatively impacted African American children. The doll tests were used in and influenced the outcome of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In New York, Trickey attended and graduated from the New Lincoln School, a school that specialized in the arts. She then went on to study journalism at Southern Illinois University. Over time, Trickey continued to express strong commitment to her values. One example that showed this commitment was when she moved to Canada to protest the Vietnam War. In Canada, she earned both bachelors and masters degrees in social work. After returning to the U.S., she was a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Workforce Diversity at Department of the Interior under the Clinton administration.
Currently, Minnijean Brown Trickey is still extremely involved in social activism. She works in relation to issues such as the environment, peacemaking and youth leadership. One of Trickey’s favorite moments was when she spoke at an award ceremony for Malala Yousafzai, a young woman who was shot in the head by the Taliban because she advocated for women to be educated. Trickey sees herself and the Little Rock Nine in Malala. Both Malala and the Little Rock Nine stood up for their right to education and were abused as a result. When reflecting back on everything she endured as one of the Little Rock Nine, Minnijean Brown Trickey stated that “It wasn’t pleasant but it had to be done. I don’t regret it” (Trickey).
For more information on Ms. Trickey, please see:
Carlotta Walls LaNier was the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine. She was only 14 years-old when she endured hatred and violence at Little Rock Central High School. She enrolled at Central High because she was inspired by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give her bus seat to white bus riders and she was determined to receive the best education possible. Since Central High was known as the most prestigious high school in Little Rock and African Americans could now legally attend, LaNier wanted to take advantage of the opportunity before her. LaNier was so determined to receive quality education that she registered to attend Central High without informing her parents. Her parents only realized what she had done when her registration card arrived in the mail the summer before she began school there. Her parents were proud that she made such an independent and brave decision on her own.
When she attended Central High School, LaNier was spit on, harassed and threatened regularly. LaNier was one of the three members of the Little Rock Nine to return to Central High School and graduate after Governor Faubus closed all of the city’s schools to prevent integration. The constant challenges and hardships she faced at Central High made graduating worthwhile. When referring to her diploma, she stated “I had to have that sheet of paper...It was an achievement. I helped change the educational system” (LaNier).
After becoming the first African American woman to graduate from Little Rock Central High School, LaNier attended Michigan State University and later transferred to the University of Northern Colorado, where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in 1968. LaNier currently serves as President of the Little Rock Nine Foundation. This organization provides mentoring and financial aid to students of color to help them gain equal access to education.
Due to her role as a member of the Little Rock Nine and her influence on the Civil Rights Movement, Carlotta Walls LaNier has received the following awards and recognition: the Congressional Gold Medal from President Clinton, the Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Lincoln Leadership Prize from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, four honorary doctorate degrees, a personal invitation to President Obama’s inauguration, and inductions into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame as well as the National Women’s Hall of Fame. LaNier also published a memoir entitled A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School. Carlotta Walls LeNier is celebrated for the enormous role she played in the fight for racial integration.
For more information on Ms. LaNier, please see:
Today marks the 61st anniversary of the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Throughout the week we will be publishing historical posts to commemorate this anniversary, starting today with an overview of the incident.
On September 4, 1957, nine African American students attempted to attend a previously all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, but were prevented from entering by an angry mob and the Arkansas National Guard. Three years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, the South largely ignored the ruling and schools remained segregated. The nine African American students, known as the Little Rock Nine, challenged the South’s refusal to integrate and exercised their right to choose which high school they would attend. These students wanted to study at Little Rock Central High School because it was known as the city’s best high school and they now had the right to attend it.
Pending the arrival of the nine African American students, on their first day, an angry mob of 400 people and 100 members of the Arkansas National Guard blocked the entrance to the school. The National Guard was called in by Arkansas Governor, Orval Faubus, for the purpose of preventing the African American students from entering the school. Faubus claimed that preventing the students from entering the school was for their own benefit and that violence could erupt if they were allowed to enter. His actions directly opposed a court order requiring the school to integrate. While the National Guard’s presence at Central High School was ordered by the state, an angry mob arrived on its own. Members of the mob uttered racist slurs, threw stones at the students and threatened to kill the students. Due to the horrible violence they faced, the students were forced to leave.
A few weeks later, the students were able to return to Little Rock Central High School with help from the federal government. President Eisenhower was furious with the situation in Little Rock and stated “Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of the courts” (Eisenhower). Eisenhower sent 1,200 troops from the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to protect the African American students. On September 25, 1957, the presence of federal troops gave the students the ability to attend school. Each of the nine students were provided with a personal military escort for the rest of the school year. However, the troops were not allowed to enter classrooms, locker rooms or bathrooms, which left the African American students vulnerable to harassment, threats and violence in such locations. As a result, the students faced constant racism and abuse when they could not be protected by the troops.
However, even though the federal government was heavily enforcing the court order requiring integration, Governor Faubus would not allow integration to occur. Faubus closed all three of Little Rock's high schools instead of integrating them. Arkansas’ governor chose to deny education to all of Little Rock’s high school students rather than allow racial integration. It wasn’t until 1960 that Central High School reopened as a desegregated institution.
The Little Rock Nine are now known as extremely influential members of the Civil Rights Movement. They have received various awards and honors for their enormous impact. For example, each member of the group was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Clinton in 1999. Each of them also received personal invitations to attend President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Their courage to stand up for their constitutional rights and their bravery to challenge such brutal racism are now widely respected.
For more information on the Little Rock Nine, please see:
The case stems from a fatal pursuit by the Gardena Police Department, where an officer vehicle struck the side of a pickup truck it was pursuing and killed a passenger. The State Supreme Court held that if a department requires all of their officers to be certified in policies relating to vehicle pursuits the department cannot be held liable even if not all of their police officers have in fact completed certification. Opponents of the decision worry that this destroys incentives for departments to actually comply with laws or policies requiring 100% certification.
For more information, see: www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-police-pursuit-court-20180813-story.html
Lisa Mitchell, an African American transgender woman who has lived as a woman her entire life, was continually denied the critical hormone replacement therapy she needed. In October 2011, Mitchell was convicted of a crime and was sent to Wisconsin Columbia Correctional Institution where she would serve her 18-month sentence. A month after being in the Correctional Institution, Mitchell requested her hormone treatment. Because of the DOC’s guidelines and policies on Health Care Treatment for transgender inmates, her initial request was a multistep process, including an interview of Mitchell. Through the many steps that Mitchell had to go through to even request medical assistance for her hormone treatment, her interview did not occur until six months after her initial request for care. In the months leading up to the interview, Mitchell repeatedly asked her Psychologist for help and updates. Her Psychologist continually did not respond to her requests. In the meantime, Mitchell’s psychological health was deteriorating. In her mental health counseling appointments, the Psychologist was encouraged to focus on other mental health issues, not now Mitchell was responding in the wait for treatment. After over a year of waiting, Mitchell finally received the signatures necessary to start the hormone treatment. Though her file indicated that treatment was necessary, the medical officer, Dr. Kevin Kallas, refused to begin the treatment because Mitchell’s release was a month away. Once Mitchell was on parole for 18 months, she was prevented from expressing her gender identity and obtaining treatment. Her probation officers refused her treatment, despite her file stating that treatment was necessary and would reduce the risk from committing another crime. Ultimately, because the prison medical staff refused her treatment and she was refused treatment while on parole, Mitchell did not receive medical care and was discriminated against.
Once Mitchell finished her parole in 2015, Mitchell represented herself sued Dr. Kevin Kallas and Dr. Dawn Laurent along with three parole officers for denying her medical treatment under the Eighth Amendment. The United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin dismissed her claims against the parole agents without prejudice (meaning she can refile) ruling that she failed to state sufficient facts to sustain her Eight amendment claims. However the court determined that her claims against the two doctors were sufficiently pled and allowed them to proceed.
The doctors moved for summary judgment claiming that their actions did not violate her constitutional rights. The court ruled for Dr. Kallas and Dr. Laurent and dismissed her remaining claims on summary judgment. The court found that the doctors’ actions were not deliberately indifferent to her medical needs and were protected by qualified immunity (the legal doctrine that protects government officials from being subjected to suit for actions under color of law as long as their actions are reasonable and do not violate clearly established rights). The court claimed that there was no clearly indicated medical right to hormone treatment.
On July 10, 2018, after the case had been argued in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on January 10, 2018, the court decided Mitchell’s case. The Court ruled that Mitchell stated viable constitutional claims against the parole officers and the district court should have allowed her claim against Dr. Kallas to go to trial. The Court allowed the dismissal of Dr. Laurent to stand ruling that she was not sufficiently involved in the failure to provide Mitchel hormone therapy to stand trial.
Additionally, the Seventh Circuit indicated that gender dysphoria is not distinct from other conditions that require medical treatment. Therefore, the prison officials were at fault for denying treatment to Mitchell. The appeals court sent the case back to district court, where Mitchell’s claims will be reevaluated.
Mitchell’s mistreatment is not atypical and her experience is consistent with that of many transgender inmates. There are transgender inmates who are often denied medical help and receive discriminatory treatment from prison staff. This mistreatment leads to a variety of impacts on the individual’s mental health, leading to extreme emotional distress. In many ways, transgender inmates are some of the most vulnerable individuals in the prison population and they deserve for their rights to be recognized.
For additional information on this case or this issue, please visit:
In honor of June being Pride Month, we will be writing a four-week blog series on the history and current issues the LGTBQ+ community in America has faced.
In the 1960s, homosexual relationships and behavior were illegal in New York City. People could be arrested for their clothing, holding hands, kissing, or dancing with someone of the same sex (History.com). Because of this, gay bars became a place of refuge for people. They could go to bars or clubs and be open about their sexuality without fear of being arrested. As these gay bars became more popular in New York, the state penalized and shut down many establishments that served alcohol to individuals in the LGBTQ+ community by arguing that serving alcohol to this group was disorderly (History.com). In 1966, this was overturned through the efforts of many activists. However, gay relationships and behavior displayed in public was still illegal. Therefore, the police continued to harass individuals at the bar and club safe havens (History.com).
In the mid-1960s, the Genovese family purchased Stonewall Inn and renovated its space into a gay bar. Stonewall Inn became a typical Mafia-run bar: costs could be cut in anyway the family saw fit because they did not have to go by the state’s regulations (History.com). However, this space quickly became a place where the LGTBQ+ community felt safe and comfortable to live freely. It was very literally a “temporary refuge from the street” (American Experience). Patrons at the bar could dance freely with same-sex partners and feel unafraid. There was even a warning signal set up for when the police were coming. People would see a light turn on in the middle of the ceiling, indicating the police were coming (American Experience). Because of the preparation for the police coming, patrons could still feel safe. Stonewall Inn became an iconic, important peace of New York City for the LGTBQ+ community.
On June 28, 1969 everything changed. The police raided Stonewall Inn and the individuals inside were not prepared. Because the police had a warrant, they “entered the club, roughed up patrons, and, finding bootlegged alcohol, arrested 13 people, including employees and people violating the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute” (History.com). The LGTBQ+ community was fed up with the amount of harassment they were facing from the police. Some of the customers and people in the neighborhood stayed outside the bar, instead of leaving. As the events unfolded over a series of a few days, people were mistreated and injured by the police officers present (History.com). When the riots escalated, the police, a few prisoners, and a news writer barricaded themselves in Stonewall Inn, and the mob tried to set the building on fire with them inside (History.com). The protests continued in the area for five more days, thousands of individuals participated. Ultimately, the events at Stonewall Inn acted as a way of saying "enough is enough!" The community was done pretending that the poor treatment of the LGTBQ+ community was okay.
The events that happened at Stonewall Inn were some of the most influential events in the LGTBQ+ community’s history. Because of the uprising at Stonewall Inn, the LGTBQ+ political activism increased dramatically. It led to many gay rights organizations being formed and an increase in activism in the gay rights movement (History.com). While the gay rights movement had previously began in 1924 with the Society for Human Rights being formed in Chicago, protests fighing for equal rights and acceptance began after the events at Stonewall Inn (Infoplease.com). Today, Stonewall Inn is regarded as a very important piece of history. In 2016, President Obama designated Stonewall Inn and its surrounding areas as a national monument to recognize gay rights in America (History.com). Today, people can visit Stonewall Inn and remember its impact on the LGTBQ+ community.
American Experience: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/stonewall-inn-through-years/
For additional information:
The Stonewall Inn: https://thestonewallinnnyc.com/
The Stonewall Inn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaAwtO3UUpM
As we close our eight-week series about school shooting in the United States, it is important to recall some of the facts shared from the first post. More than 193 primary and secondary schools, that is more 187,000 students, have seen and experienced gun violence at school since 1999 (Washington Post). Because of this reality, the culture of schools has changed. Before recent years, schools primarily had drills for fires or for weather emergencies. However, it is now a part of school normality for students to experience lock-down and active shooter drills to prepare them for the likelihood of it happening. It is apparent that school shootings have become a problem in the United States, but the question is: Where do we go form here as a nation? What changes need to be made? What are the solutions?
There are a variety of stances regarding what to do about gun violence in schools. People have argued that the solution is to ban assault weapons. Others have argued that the solution must include raising the minimum age of all gun ownership to 21 because of brain development. Some have argued that arming teachers and raising security in school is the solution. Others have offered the solution of extended background checks or thinking through the categories of individuals who should not own guns (Melling, ACLU). Oftentimes, hearing all the debates can make one wonder if the United States will ever reach an agreement about the changes that need to be made to form a good solution to this issue. In the decision-making, there are necessary things to consider. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) the solutions being offered about gun control must take civil liberties into perspective. They suggest that many of the laws and regulations being suggested cause civil liberties issues. They remind readers that no matter what law or regulation is put in place, “To be constitutional, they must at minimum have a clear, nondiscriminatory criteria for defining persons as dangerous and a fair process for those affected to object and be heard by a court” (Melling, ACLU). Ultimately, they argue, that whatever regulations are decided on, the lawmakers must fight to protect the fundamental rights and liberties of individuals in the United States (Melling, ACLU). Thus, no matter what laws are decided on, the first step as a nation is to make sure that the laws and regulations decided upon line up with the civil liberties that individuals deserve.
Since the Parkland shooting this past February, Dr. Ron Avi Astor of the University of Southern California has spoken up about his research in the area of school shootings. He states, “Although security measures are important, a focus on simply preparing for shootings is insufficient. We need a change in mindset and policy from reaction to prevention” (Astor). He suggests that prevention of school shootings begins long before the shooter enters the school building. Instead, he offers a three-level approach to prevention that will take place over the long-term: “(1) universal approaches promoting safety and well-being for everyone; (2) practices for reducing risk and promoting protective factors for persons experiencing difficulties; and (3) interventions for individuals where violence is present or appears imminent” (Astor). In his three-level approach, Dr. Astor provides a variety of steps in making the levels happen effectively. Ultimately, he suggested a “public health approach” (NPR, Kamenetz). Meaning, like the public health system’s approach to treating people before they are required to go to the emergency room, there are preventive resources available to lower the number of individuals who need to go to the emergency room. Dr. Astor suggests a key solution, which is not often talked about, is to “cultivate social and emotional health, connect to community resources and respond, particularly to troubled students” (Kamenetz, NPR). NPR puts his message this way, “Don’t harden schools. Make them softer, by improving social and emotional health” (Kamenetz, NPR).
We have discussed in previous posts the ways that the increased presence of SROs and armed teachers would not be beneficial. We have discussed the importance of students of color and parents of color being heard by the lawmakers. We have discussed the NRA and the Trump Administration’s responses to the gun violence happening in the United States school system. In considering all these topics, what is the solution for our nation? In summary, the various directions the United States could go regarding gun violence in schools is complicated and difficult to think through. However, throughout the series, we have discussed at length the importance of all voices being heard, particularly the voices of students and parents of color. All individuals having a platform to speak and process through these issues is necessary and their stances are mandatory in creating a solution that will be applicable to all. This takes priority in creating a real solution. It is also possible that, while laws and regulations will be necessary, some peace and help could be created through ways such as Dr. Astor describes. Social and emotional health are a big part of creating the solution, and this is often not discussed. NPR suggests that “This is a long haul, not a quick fix” (Kamenetz, NPR). Our nation must be willing to be committed to the long haul in creating a solution.
Astor, R. A., et al. Call for Action to Prevent Gun Violence in the United States of America. University of Virginia and Curry School of Education. https://curry.virginia.edu/prevent-gun-violence
Kamenetz, A. Here’s How To Prevent The Next School Shooting, Experts Say. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/03/07/590877717/experts-say-here-s-how-to-prevent-the-next-school-shooting
Melling, L. The ACLU’s Position on Gun Control. ACLU. https://www.aclu.org/blog/mobilization/aclus-position-gun-control
Scarred by School Shootings. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/us-school-shootings-history/?utm_term=.6c7646cfadf4
In the recent years of school shootings becoming more consistent around the United States, many people are impacted. One people group that is directly impacted by gun violence on school property is teachers and school administrators. With the gun violence happening in schools, what does that mean for teachers? How do they feel about their work atmosphere? Ashley Lamb-Sinclair from The Atlantic spent some time interviewing teachers after the Parkland shooting and she writes, “In these conversations, what I came to understand is that being a teacher today means working in a climate of intense fear—both their own and that of their students… To say the least, it’s not what they thought they were signing up for” (Lamb-Sinclair, The Atlantic). Teachers who once had a role of being an educator and supporter for students now are required to slide into the role of being a “bodyguard and protector” (Turkewitz, New York Times). Schools that once just had basic weather and fire drills now must have active shooter drills as a part of the school culture. Teachers are required to plan for dangerous situations and deal with the jarring feelings that come from this type of crisis. Teachers walk into their jobs every day wondering if they will have to make hard decisions or even give their life for their students (Turkewitz, New York Times). A day of safety and a solution to the violence often seems far away.
Since the Parkland school shooting in February 2018, there has been a rise in conversation about solving the problem of violence on school grounds. The Trump Administration is arguing that arming teachers may be part of the solution to preventing school shootings. There are strong opinions for and against arming teachers. Often, it is easy to delve into the political ideas and thoughts about arming teachers as a solution without considering what the teachers think should happen. Do they believe it would be helpful? Are the willing to do it? According to a series of studies done by Gallup, “73% of teachers oppose the idea of teachers and staff carrying guns in schools” (Brenan, Gallup). Additionally, “58% [of teachers] say carrying guns in schools would make schools less safe” and only “18% [of teachers] would be willing to carry a gun in school buildings” (Brenan, Gallup). Lastly, “7 in 10 teachers think carrying guns would not effectively limit the number of victims in the event of a shooting” (Brenan, Gallup). The results of these studies indicate that perhaps the idea of arming teachers as a solution to gun violence at school is not something that is easy to sell to the teachers themselves. Ultimately, many teachers do not think that their carrying a gun would be helpful in solving the issue. If teachers are not for carrying guns, what do they believe will help the issue of gun violence in schools? Many educators are supporting stricter gun laws; about one-third of educators asked took this stance (Kamenetz, NPR). However, the two most consistent responses from teachers about what should be done to help gun violence in schools were universal background checks and banning semiautomatic weapons. 57% of teachers were in favor of both those solutions (Kamenetz, NPR).
In unique ways, teachers are being impacted by the presence of gun violence at schools because of the role they now must take to protect students. They are impacted by the political arguments about whether they should carry guns. Lastly, teachers are impacted because these incidents are happening in their own workplace. In traumatic ways, teachers are being impacted by their very workplaces being unsafe. Just as much as students should feel safe at school, teachers should feel safe and seeking their safety is important.
Brenan, M. Most U.S. Teachers Oppose Carrying Guns in Schools. Gallup. http://news.gallup.com/poll/229808/teachers-oppose-carrying-guns-schools.aspx?g_source=link_newsv9&g_campaign=item_230336&g_medium=copy
Kamenetz, A. Poll: Most U.S. Teachers Want Gun Control, Not Guns To Carry. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/03/22/595648318/poll-most-u-s-teachers-want-gun-control-not-guns-to-carry
Lamb-Sinclair, A. Teaching While Afraid. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/02/teaching-while-afraid/553931/
Turkewitz, J. School Shootings Put Teachers in New Role as Human Shields. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/19/us/teachers-school-shootings.html
Since the Parkland school shooting in February 2018, a lot of the nation’s focus has been on gun laws, teachers carrying guns, and on how students are impacted by gun violence in schools. However, it can be easy to forget how much the issue of school shootings impacts parents. Every day, parents drop their children off at school under the assumption that they will be safe during the day. They assume that the “Safe Place” sign outside of most American schools indicates the safe atmosphere at the school. However, something as traumatic and shaking as the Parkland shooting can be a reminder to parents that there are many hours every week where they cannot protect their students.
There have been many studies done regarding the traumatic impacts that gun violence in schools has on students and the impact that violence has on child development. However, there has been little research about its impact on parents. Outside of the obvious sense of worry that comes from parents in response to the issue, their reactions and emotions are rarely discussed. Despite the lack of discussion, there are a couple stances that parents are taking. First, the Parkland survivors are attempting to partner with parents. Due to the students’ ineligibility to vote for legislators who support their stance on gun laws, the Parkland survivors are challenging parents to fight for safety through their ability to vote (Willingham, CNN). However, one of the biggest challenges with this is that parents are still split on arming teachers and SRO presence. Since the Parkland shooting, there has been a rise in talk of increasing SRO presence in schools and arming teachers. It is apparent that the Trump Administration and the students have different viewpoints on this, and parents are split on their stance (Schwabe, Journal Sentinel). So, parents around the United States are fighting for child safety. However, they are fighting for it in different ways and are often against each other in the decision-making. Because of the lack of unity, there will be many people concerned with whatever decision ends up being made and if they will agree with the decided solution. One can only imagine what safety would look like if parents were unified on the fight for child safety.
For parents who have students of color, violence in schools becomes even more concerning. First, the white students, parents, and teachers are often the ones who have the platform to make their stances known. Minority students have been trying to fight for gun reform laws for a very long time without near the support that has been seen with the 2018 marches and efforts. Sadly, the United States cares more about the opinions of white families than the minority families, who are heavily impacted by school violence (Lockhart, VOX). Sources have analyzed that about 63% of students who have been exposed to gun violence schools since 1999 were students of color (Cox & Rich, The Washington Post). That is a lot of students whose parents must work through gun violence with their children; sadly, most of these parents do not have a voice to express their thoughts. What does a lack of platform mean for parents who have students of color attending schools in America? It means parents know that SROs and armed teachers are the opposite of safety for their children, but they realize do not have the platform to make that known. It means telling children that they are unsafe on the streets and in the classroom. It means telling children that they will be unseen and unheard in many ways, including their stance on safety in schools. It means that parents must tell kids to always be on alert, on guard, and ready for something to go badly because preparing for the worst with SROs and teachers carrying guns is necessary. This changes parenting for individuals who have students of color and it is devastating.
While both the news and the academic spheres have not taken much time to explain the parental response regarding school shootings, one thing is for certain: Parents should be heard… most importantly, all parents should be heard and have the space to express what is safest for their children as decisions are being made.
Cox, J. W. and Steven Rich. Scarred by school shootings. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/us-school-shootings-history/?utm_term=.a3571853c210
Lockhart, P.R. Parkland is Sparking a Difficult Conversation about Race, Trauma, and Public Support. VOX. https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/2/24/17044904/parkland-shooting-race-trauma-movement-for-black-lives-gun-violence
Schwabe, A. Guns in Schools? Parents sound off about the effectiveness of armed teachers. Journal Sentinel. https://www.jsonline.com/story/metroparent/features/2018/03/14/guns-schools-parents-sound-off-effectiveness-armed-teachers/407783002/
Willingham, AJ. Parkland survivors ask parents to sign a pledge: Put child safety over guns with your vote. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/13/us/parkland-shooting-parents-promise-to-kids-pledge-trnd/index.html