In the aftermath of the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the 12th school shooting nationwide this year, Beach & Bay Press sat down with ASB students, their advisor, and principal Ernest Remillard, who aired their views on what could be done to make schools safer.
Seniors Daniel Legaspi IV, Cecilia Lopez, Paige Parkhill and Chloe Meng joined teacher-advisor Lynsey Littlefield in discussing why things “should” be handled differently this time around.
Legaspi IV pointed out students today exist in a different era.
“I don’t know anyone who goes to this school that wasn’t born after Columbine,” said Legaspi. “They’ve grown up in an age when they’ve seen a school shooting at least once a year. We’ve all grown up in that world. It’s been desensitizing to kids, because they don’t think there will be change. That makes them not care about whether there will be change — or not.”
The Columbine shooting on April 20, 1999 in Colorado was one of the first high-profile school massacres. Two students murdered 12 students and one teacher, while injuring 21 others, before exchanging gunfire with police and committing suicide.
Nearly 20 years later, school shootings nationally are increasing, the body count continues to rise and little appears to have been done concretely to protect schools by making them harder targets.
ASB senior Chloe Meng was “shocked” by Stoneman though she “wasn’t very surprised that another shooting has happened. It’s kind of become the norm, which isn’t OK.”
Asked about a better outcome now, Meng answered, “Sandy Hook didn’t change anything. I hope this one does.”
On Dec. 14 in Connecticut, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School between 6 and 7 years of age, as well as six adult staff members, before committing suicide. He shot and killed his mother at home before going to Sandy Hook.
Fellow senior Paige Parkhill was “devastated” when she learned about Stoneman through Twitter.
“I saw a video of a teacher who had been shot and was being dragged out and blood was covering the floor — It was unbelievable,” Parkhill said. She defended Stoneman students lobbying legislators for gun control and launching the national walkout. “They’re taking the right actions. I think it will push it [change] over the edge this time.”
“I was also shocked … but also more angry,” said senior Cecilia Lopez.
“It’s hard to admit in some ways, but we’ve become numb because it’s become such a regular occurrence,” said Remillard. But he noted tightening securing at schools is just one aspect of making them safer. “Our schools and staff need to look for the signs,” Remillard said, adding schools need to personalize relations with troubled students in order to reach them.
“Students need to have a trusted adult on campus, that’s the big piece of this,” he said. “MBHS is fortunate we have a school psychologist five days a week, a mental health clinician … It’s not so much all about weapons. There are a lot of the [student] supports that can be put into play to help kids proactively beforehand. That really starts with their relationship with the staff and other students.
“It’s about the fences, and the walls and the infrastructure, but it’s also knowing your kids — and having the supports in play for those kids who are feeling stressed, or ostracized, those triggers,” Remillard said. “It’s being aware of those, and how do you support the kid along the way.”
Neither Remillard, nor the ASB students, thought having guns in schools, other than police with licensed firearms, was the answer.
“At this moment, I don’t know who I would trust to have a weapon on campus,” Remillard said. “There would have to be a lot of training, and background work, to ensure whoever carried a gun was trained and ready.”
“To have each teacher armed in each classroom is just ridiculous,” said Parkhill. “That would even cause more safety accidents happening.”
Parkhill pointed out it would be tough to tighten physical security at MBHS and other San Diego Unified School District facilities because, “We’re an open campus. There are so many ways people can get in.”
Legaspi would have a problem with more walls and other barriers at schools. “It would feel like a prison if no one were allowed in or out at any point during the day,” he said. “I don’t want to have to go through metal detectors and cross four security guards.”
National protest organizers are calling for students and others to take part for 17 minutes in the event on Wednesday, March 14. The MBHS protest, starting at 10 a.m., will be 18 minutes long, including a moment of silence plus one minute each for the 17 students killed in Florida.
“This is a student-led protest, my role is just helping them with the execution of their plan,” said Littlefield, adding students chose to wear white, instead of the Stoneman school colors, to honor and memorialize that school.
Will the student protest work?
“We don’t know how successful we’re going to be,” Littlefield said.
Legaspi had a message to deliver about MBHS’s participation in the National School Walkout.
“If you can’t protect us in schools — what’s the point of being in school?,” he asked. “We’re walking out, not only to protest gun violence, but also to protest the lack of security. It’s to show we’re done with what’s been happening in the past. This is supposed to be change for something new.”
“We can’t let this conversation fade,” said Remillard. “Let’s not forget about what happened in Florida — or in Columbine 19 years ago.”
National School Walkout
When: 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 14, for 17 minutes, in memory of the 17 people gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.