In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Defensiveness won’t make schools safe

There’s no sugar-coating the times: Deadly gun violence is here to stay.

No matter how outrageous the shootings, gun-rights advocates have not only stopped tougher gun-control measures from being enacted, but in some states they’ve passed laws to relax existing restrictions.

No matter how high the victim count. No matter the setting — movie theater, place of employment, or most despicable of all, a school or a school bus.

Easy access is forever.

That’s why I’m surprised at the defensive posture of the usually wiser Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who called a press conference Friday seemingly to preempt an investigative story by Miami Herald education reporter David Smiley into school shootings and the prevalence of guns on campus.

Smiley collected and reviewed hundreds of police reports from Miami-Dade and Broward school districts during the past four years and found that more than 70 guns had been confiscated in that time.

That’s 70 guns too many, but some find comfort that we fared better when compared to other large urban school districts — and that most of the firearms were in schools in high-crime areas.

But what struck me most about Smiley’s extensive and nuanced report was Carvalho’s complaint that the media hold school violence to higher scrutiny than we do violence in the community at large — and that schools are “the safest places.”

It was a position echoed by a teacher at American Senior High, where police found a .22-caliber double action H&R Sportsman revolver and 109 bullets on a student who said he was trying to sell them.

This teacher said that worries about students with guns are overblown.

“It was just an unfortunate incident,” he told Smiley. “It’s not like there’s a culture that kids bring guns to class.”

I talked to other teachers I know who also told me they feel safe.

The parents of children who have been shot in school or on their way in a bus, however, feel differently. To them, it doesn’t matter how relatively few shootings we’ve experienced.

And if schools are, indeed, so secure, then why would Carvalho call a press conference to announce stepped-up security measures? Most likely because the superintendent — who is, if not the best this district has ever had, one of the best — is also a political animal.

He’s frustrated that “when something dramatic happens, it’s often seen as a failure of the school rather than a failure of the community that allows for this pervasive violence to occur.”

To task teachers, principals, school police, and school boards with “this absolute responsibility of prevention while at the same time having the community back away from its share of responsibility is not a fair position,” Carvalho told Smiley. “The only solution lies in partnerships.”

I can’t argue with him there.

In that spirit of partnership, let’s stop being defensive about media coverage and proceed with more productive prevention, intervention, and security.

We’re a long way from schools being the “safest places.”

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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