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HOS Blog Post

The Toll of Gun Violence on Schools and Students
Rabbi Mitchel Malkus

With over 56 million students and close to 4 million teachers back in schools this month, administrators and educators should be focusing on propelling student learning, energizing teacher growth, supporting families, and other serious challenges facing American K-12 educators. So why am I up at night thinking about protecting my students and community from gun violence? I’m not alone. According to a Pew Center study, a majority of U.S. teens fear a shooting could happen at their school, and most parents share their concern.

As of July, there have been 22 school shootings in 2019 alone. Previous shootings at Virginia Tech, Newtown, Parkland, Columbine, and other schools are seared into our memories. Since 2013, the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund has been tracking every incidence of gunfire on school grounds. Their data indicates that school shootings are becoming more prevalent and more deadly. Families send their children to school each day for the experiences and education they will gain, but gun violence is leaving them wondering if their children will be safe.

We do not have to look any further than the phenomenon of bulletproof backpacks. Yes, you read that correctly.  Bulletproof backpacks. A number of companies are marketing them to protect school children from gun violence. According to recent reports in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, demand for the backpacks surged after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

As the head of a Jewish day school, the confluence of increasing gun violence generally and rising anti-Semitism particularly has lead us to significantly elevate the security in and around our campuses. The Anti-Defamation League reports that there were 48% more anti-Semitic episodes in 2018 than in 2016, and 99% more than in 2015. In the case of schools, America’s gun violence epidemic is creating a generation of students who, on top of the stress and anxiety of their normal lives, is being emotionally scarred by fear for their physical safety. With the unprecedented shootings this past year at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, concern of potential gun violence at Jewish schools and in the Jewish community has also grown exponentially over the past year.

Many state leaders around the country have worked diligently to support schools with their security needs. Yet, elected leaders in Washington have not meaningfully addressed school gun violence, and I fear this inaction is having lasting consequences for American children. Ideas like arming teachers as a response to an active shooter in a school introduces new risks to students and is opposed by the American Bar Association and most major national education organizations. We need as a society to curtail the gun violence epidemic and the culture that leads to bullet-proof backpacks.

Our children deserve safe schools and a safer world. One in which they will not be fearful of going to school or suffer the impact of gun violence or its emotional toll.

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