Many people have written over the past week in light of my communication to the community about the recent Parkland, Florida school shootings that tragically killed 17 people. I have included the text of that communication at the bottom of this post. A number of parents asked about what collective action we might take as a school. I want to outline Colorado Academy’s response and responsibility to students as an independent educational institution and to clarify our role for all members of the community including students, faculty, and parents.
First and foremost as a school, the safety of all students is our primary concern. If only we could ensure safety simply through use of security measures and practice drills. We know these are vitally important, and they can save lives. We also know that no amount of preparation can anticipate or prevent every scenario. We have extensive safety protocols, many of which we ask parents to be a part of, from using a singular unlocked entrance to buildings after classes begin to wearing identification badges while at school. We have safety personnel who monitor campus, and we regularly conduct drills with students and with faculty and staff. Still, I recognize that at this time, it is difficult not to feel both vulnerable and helpless.
Safe Learning Spaces
In the wake of the shootings, we have seen students from Florida and across the nation raise their voices and take action to bring about political change. While much of the nation views the issue of gun violence as a political one, most educators view this from a moral perspective: children and teachers are getting killed in our schools, and it is unacceptable.
CA is a secular, independent school. Our job is to promote critical thinking. Our job is not to engage in political partisanship. In a school survey conducted two years ago, some CA parents wrote that they felt that the school was “too liberal.” An equal number of responses complained that the school was “too conservative.” There are some issues and topics upon which reasonable people will disagree. We walk a fine line engaging students in authentic conversations about the real world while encouraging them to understand the logic of their own positions. If I think about my own teaching, I work to provide multiple perspectives on different issues. CA is a great school in part because of the academic freedom we afford faculty on this campus. We want to engage with one another and learn from another.
While we are witnessing a groundswell of emotion, especially anger in the wake of these shootings, our mission as an institution is to stand by our philosophy of encouraging open dialogue. Our role as educators is not only to keep students safe, but also to provide safe spaces for them to ask questions, to unpack the multiple viewpoints, and to gain some perspective on what are broad societal issues. We want to encourage students’ willingness to affect productive and long-lasting change. But it is not for us as a school to choose what the change might be. We need to help students understand how change is accomplished and help them understand that it rarely happens immediately. As adults, we feel dismay and heartbreaking disappointment that we have to explain to our children that change is not quick, or simple, even when children’s lives are at stake.
Marches & Walk Outs
There are several upcoming national events planned around the issue of guns and schools. Undoubtedly, we will have thoughtful students who may want to participate and thoughtful students who will not. Since some of these events are being planned by groups with clear partisan ties and objectives, I have a certain discomfort with the school officially joining these efforts. I think the students and their families can best determine how they wish to participate or not in events such as marches and walk outs. One of our most important jobs is to help create citizens who will contribute positively to the betterment of our world. As we see young people’s activism awakened by this terrible event, my hope is that it leads to a common sense approach to school safety that keeps schools dynamic, inclusive communities where students and teachers feel no fear.
Actions at CA
In the wake of the shootings, we have taken the following actions at CA:
I have met with my administrative and security teams and Board leadership to review protocols, review emergency drill scheduling, and discuss possible lessons learned from Parkland.
We held a voluntary meeting for faculty after school yesterday to provide support, answer questions, and talk about school safety.
In the coming days, we will be meeting with students and faculty in a series of divisional town hall meetings to once again review our safety protocols and to talk about processing the feelings that arise from these incidents.
We will also remind students of how to report concerns, including the availability of Safe 2 Tell, (www.Safe2Tell.org or call 877-542-7233) to anonymously report anything that concerns or threatens them, their friends, family, or school community.
We will share information about how to seek emotional support, and ways, as a school, we continually look out for one another.
When appropriate faculty members are prepared to allow time for discussion if students want to talk about the shootings.
In the Lower School, our counselor will visit each classroom to talk with children in developmentally appropriate ways about school safety.
We previously planned and will move forward with faculty and staff training in April with agents from the FBI.
We will continue to communicate with the community, to provide resources that will help parents talk with their children. Many of these are listed below.
As I have said many times before, I believe schools are in the realm of places that should be safe and sacred – set apart from all that is profane. We ask for your support in working toward our mutual goals of teaching and raising healthy children upon whom we will rely to create a better tomorrow.
Below, please find the text of the letter sent to parents earlier this week, as well as some additional parent resources. Feel free to contact me with any questions. We will stay in touch.
Anger takes hold of me as I feel the need once again to communicate in the wake of horrific school violence, one of many since the beginning of 2018. I am frustrated and in disbelief that we as a society and a nation continue to tolerate this set of dynamics in which children, our most vulnerable and valuable resources, find themselves taking shelter under desks while listening to the repeated popping sound of gunfire. I am heartbroken when I see young people appearing on national television describing their friends, lying next to them in a school building, shot to death.
While there is much that we must and can do to keep our children safe, my anger comes in knowing that this is an issue larger than a single school or community, and in knowing that when we set out to comfort our students and children and help them understand, there simply are no words.
Yet, there are a couple of things I know to be true. First, mental health support is critical for preventing tragedies like this. Parents and schools need to pay attention to the troubles and behaviors of young people. When we see or learn about disturbing behavior, we must take action. Typically, this is well received by a family who note the school’s compassionate and caring intent. We are a school that will not look the other way when we are aware of concerning behavior. We remind parents and students to live by an expectation that we will intervene and be involved. While we operate as a school on a premise of restorative justice, we will also err on the side of safety.
Second, one should not always assume the school may be aware of a concerning situation or worries about a troubled person. In many mass shootings, shooters have posted concerning images and statements on social media prior to attacks. Please know that we count on the eyes and ears of the community to report concerning behavior, and to do so in a way that does not devolve into gossip or salacious attacks on a person’s character. Please take the time to call a school administrator or school counselor.
As a school, we at Colorado Academy work together to keep our children safe. We have extensive protocols and procedures. We have experienced security officers. We train and practice for a variety of scenarios. We use reporting systems and technology designed to monitor and alert our community. We seek the advice of everyone from the FBI to local police and non-profit groups aimed at school safety. However, we all have a responsibility to care for our children, our community, and ourselves.
Please take responsibility for talking with your children to talk about safety and violence, and at the same time, monitor and limit media viewing. Coverage of these events is overwhelming for both children and adults.
Get help. If you are aware of a child or adult in emotional distress, there is help available both through our counselors here at school and in the community.
Be alert. When you are on campus, please notify our security team—available by way of the phone number on the back of every parent badge issued at the school. We must all share in the work of keeping our school safe.
If you own firearms, please adhere to all protocols for security, safety, gun storage, and education.
Listen, show compassion, kindness, and offer help whether it is a child, a neighbor, or victims of violence in our own community or communities across our country and around the world.