We saw the heroism of public school teachers and staff once again during the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, which have left us all heartbroken. Unfortunately, such incidents no longer are unimaginable. They take place in our country with unnerving frequency and have only now arrived in our back yard.
While the massacre will undoubtedly leave a permanent scar in the lives of those Douglas students, faculty and family members, it will also leave a lasting impression on each one of us. The images of children screaming, running, after having seen others brutally felled should not be forgotten nor easily dismissed.
However, what is more disturbing to me is the lack of accountability from our leaders in this discussion. Rather than barricading themselves in with single issues, they should be discussing solutions that help us meet at the intersectionality of schools, children, teachers, mental health, resources, security, safety and gun control — all of the things that are needed to ensure the well-being of our children and communities.
Florida currently ranks 41st nationwide for youth mental, behavioral and emotional health and 38th in access to services. In some schools, the counselor/student ratio is as high as 1,000 to one. Despite these statistics, leaders are aggressively ramping up their effort to systematically defund public education and mental healthcare services, to the detriment of the constituents they have vowed to serve, while benefiting the special-interest groups that keep them on payroll. It’s clear that legislators are not truly interested in enacting laws that would improve school safety, climate or response to violence.
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Current bills, such as HB 7055, SB 1048 and HB 1419 are making their way through the Florida Legislature and are designed to further debilitate public school education, while allowing guns on campuses during non-school hours or events. As an educator, and a parent, I feel safer knowing that current policies make schools off limits to guns, even to gun owners with concealed-carry licenses. Instead of making firearms more restricted, it would have the opposite effect by opening the floodgates.
The conversation should be about schools having adequate resources to guard our children. This should be about having the ability to treat our students and help them through the experiences and challenges they face, not flooding them with grief counselors after the fact. It certainly shouldn’t be about arming teachers and turning school campuses into potential war zones.
In the face of this tragedy, the Douglas students keep my spirits high and give me hope. They are looking past their personal trauma and demanding change, which is long overdue. I am proud of all the educators who have given these survivors the foundation to overcome their fears and anxiety and to so eloquently speak for themselves in front of the world. And I am even more humbled by the adults who heroically shielded the students they serve and settled their nerves throughout the tragedy.
We, the teachers, parents and students of Miami-Dade must follow Parkland students’ lead and say, “Enough is enough.” We can no longer turn a blind eye. We must participate in the process, be their voice and demand to have a seat at the table. We must break the stranglehold that private interests have on finding meaningful solutions that will benefit all children and families.
Karla Hernandez Mats is president United Teachers of Dade.