Tomorrow will mark one month since the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida. To mark the day, I wanted to share with the public a letter that I submitted to Dr. Sinanis and the Hastings-on-Hudson Board of Education. I want to commend our district's Administration, especially in the Middle and High School, for supporting our student's right to voluntarily participate in the National School Walkout. Hopefully, today's nationwide demonstration and school walkout will lead our nation's lawmakers to work to change the conditions that permit the prevalence of school shootings in our country. This letter was submitted on March, 1st.
Dear Dr. Sinanis and Members of the Board of Education,
It has been two weeks since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida and I want to take some time to reaffirm the HTA’s ongoing commitment to working with the district and community to make our schools safe, nurturing places for all students and staff.
Since Columbine in 1999, 129 people have been killed in shootings at schools, including the 17 students and educators who were murdered in February at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Six years ago, we wrote a similar letter to the district shortly after the Sandy Hook tragedy. While teachers are saddened and frustrated by the increased incidents of gun violence in schools, we also find ourselves more resolved in our desire to create a safe and vibrant educational space for our students. It is hard to ignore the current public debate that is happening in Washington D.C. and in social media. Because of that, we want to caution our district’s leaders to avoid kneejerk reactions or demands to fortify or “harden” our school campus and environment. As the teachers, administration, staff and district continue to have important discussions about ensuring short-term and long-term goals for safety in our two buildings, the HTA would like to propose three principles to guide this work:
1. Safe schools begin with people. We believe that a safe school begins with a well-supported staff that has ample opportunities to make one-on-one connections with students. So many of our school’s strategic goals, from maintaining small class sizes to supporting a diverse curriculum that includes the arts and social emotional learning, foster an environment where our students can make crucial connections with caring, dedicated adults.
2. Shared Decision-Making. In crafting and re-crafting our approach to issues of safety, we should capitalize on our district’s long history of shared-decision making. Teachers, administrators, students, and parents should play a crucial role in determining safety needs as well as possible solutions to those needs.
3. A Balanced, Evidence-Based Approach. Given budget constraints, it is imperative that we look closely at the trade-offs of any given approach to security. Likewise, we will need to carefully balance possible security arrangements against our goal of creating an open, welcoming school environment where students feel a sense of freedom and empowerment.
We want to encourage the School Safety Committee to continue and promote the above goals as well as ensure the ongoing commitment to safety of all the stakeholders in the Hastings-on-Hudson UFSD.
We would also like to invite the entire district in our call to support three upcoming demonstrations against school and gun violence.
March 14 – The Women’s March has announced a national school walkout. The idea behind this is that school communities will walk out of their school for 17 minutes to honor the lives lost in Parkland. We are asking that the district’s administration support any student led calls for a walkout. The HTA will be asking its members to wear Orange that day.
March 24 – Students from all over the country led by Parkland students will converge on Washington D.C. to call for an end to gun violence against our students and educators on school campuses. More information about this march and marches in sister cities can be found here – www.marchforourlives.com
April 20 – The HTA is supporting the National Day of Action against Gun Violence in Schools. This day will have communities across America engage in actions that will bring attention and force changes necessary to end gun violence in our schools. This day might include a day of community service, a town hall meeting with students and elected officials or even in-district meetings with your members of Congress. The list of coalition partners continues to grow showing the interest on the ground to take a stand against gun violence. We hope the Board of Education and Administration will join us in planning an event for this day. More information can be found here.
Please find attached a resolution that was passed by the HTA Executive Board (resolution below). We recognize the districts ongoing efforts to increase safety measures in our school buildings. From a robust video surveillance system to a security staff in each building, Hastings has made large strides in its attempts to make our schools safer. We also must recognize that school safety does not end at the edge of our campus. This is why you will find in our resolution a call for commonsense gun control measures that will make schools a sanctuary for teaching and learning for all.
We appreciated all your efforts in the immediate aftermath of the Parkland tragedy to keep us informed and to provide resources in a time of uncertainty. We look forward to partnering with you on future initiatives that will ensure the safety and vibrancy of our schools.
As always, I appreciate our cooperative working relationship.
Hastings Teachers Association
HTA's RESOLUTION ON GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION AND SCHOOL SAFETY
WHEREAS, all students deserve safe, welcoming, supportive school environments where they can learn and thrive without fear; and
WHEREAS, no parent should send his or her child to school and fear that the child may never come home; and
WHEREAS, no academic faculty, professional faculty, staff or student in an institution of higher education should fear for their lives or be victimized by gun violence while attending class or living the life of the academy; and
WHEREAS, principals, administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals and other school staff have shown over and over again their instinct to shield and protect students in these tragic situations, and their acts of heroism should be lifted up while at the same time doubling down on the work needed to ensure safe working environments free from gun violence; and
WHEREAS, in the wake of the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., we said, “never again,” yet there have been 239 school shootings since Newtown, with 438 people shot and 138 murdered—most recently the 17 students, teachers and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.; and
WHEREAS, the mass murder of students, teachers and staff at Stoneman Douglas High School was committed using a legally purchased AR-15—the same weapon used in mass murders in Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Orlando, Fla.; San Bernardino, Calif.; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Las Vegas, Nev.; and more; and
WHEREAS, since the shootings at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colo., first shocked our nation, students, parents and educators have fought tirelessly to put an end to gun violence in our schools and communities and are now at the forefront of organizing efforts in the wake of the mass murder in Parkland; and
WHEREAS, the National Rifle Association has stood in the way, using money and threats and influence to fight every commonsense reform of gun laws as an assault on the Second Amendment rather than a means to ensure the safety of Americans, while also shielding gun manufacturers from all legal liability related to the sale or use of their products; and
WHEREAS, too many elected politicians have ignored this crisis, offering, at best, rhetorical gestures and, at worst, blatant hypocrisy—from singularly focusing on mental health interventions (and ignoring gun restrictions) while simultaneously slashing funding for and access to mental health care for everyone from school-age children to adults, to President Trump’s, Betsy DeVos’ and others’ misguided suggestions that we arm teachers and staff and militarize our schools; and
WHEREAS, America’s students—led by the courageous young people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School—are now leading the charge to prevent further tragedy:
RESOLVED, that the Hastings Teachers Association will join American Federation of Teachers and will recommit ourselves to lobby for commonsense measures to stop gun violence in schools and institutions of higher education, including further school safety efforts, reforms such as bans on both assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, background checks and other vetting processes, revoking the federal Dickey Amendment (which has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting research on gun-related deaths), and rescinding the gun industry’s immunity, while also opposing wrong-headed and counterproductive ideas like arming faculty and staff; and
RESOLVED, that the HTA will join the AFT and will continue to fight for expansion of mental health care for all, including: defending and fully funding the Affordable Care Act in all 50 states, expanding access to public mental health facilities and services for all Americans, and fully staffing every school in America with qualified mental health counseling to identify and intervene before students reach a crisis point; and
RESOLVED, that the Hastings Teachers Association will join the AFT to be a conduit for listening to members and students, and for amplifying their voices and experience in the public sphere to more effectively fight this scourge, through lawful strikes, other concerted actions and disruption of business as usual to compel the nation to take action; and
RESOLVED, that the HTA will support the AFT in its work to find ways to combat the stranglehold the NRA and gun manufacturers have on policy in this arena, including exploring further divestment of pension funds and others from the gun industry; and
RESOLVED, that the HTA will join the AFT to work to support the courageous efforts of the survivors of gun violence at Stoneman Douglas, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and too many other schools and institutions of higher education, and of all those who have fought for schools that are free from gun violence, by ensuring that April 20—the anniversary of the Columbine massacre—becomes a day of action across the country to end gun violence in schools, and by supporting the student-led marches on March 14 and March 24; and
RESOLVED, that the HTA will join the AFT to support the students’ and survivors’ movements in other ways as well, including through voter registration, engagement and mobilization efforts.
RESOLVED, that the HTA will continue to work with the Board of Education of the Hastings-on-Hudson UFSD to ensure a safe, vibrant and nourishing educational environment for our students.