When I brought my son back to school on Monday after the winter break, we got an unpleasant surprise: two armed cops standing at the front gate. The first thought that went through my mind? Wayne LaPierre has won. A week after the Newtown shootings, LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association (NRA), had called for gun-toting security guards to be placed at every school in country. And here I was bringing my five-year-old son to kindergarten, walking past two police officers loaded and ready to shoot.
When I went to the PTA meeting later that morning, I learned that this was only the beginning of changes coming to his school. Starting today, parents have to drop off their kids at the front gate in the morning and aren’t allowed on campus without stopping at the principal’s office for a special pass. And in the afternoon, parents must pick up their kids at the front gate and won’t be allowed to stay on campus after 2:30 pm.
You know what? None of this makes me feel like my kid is safer.
The Newtown shootings were a horrible tragedy and my husband and I cried along with every other parent in the country when we heard the news. But turning our schools into armed prison camps is not the solution. Tragedies like Newtown are incredibly rare. In 2012, 151 people in the United States died in mass shootings. Compare that to the 16,290 who died in traffic accidents last year. Car accidents are the number one cause of death in children under age 18, but I don’t see LAUSD spending money to make sure kids aren’t killed when their parents drive them to school.
The worst part about all this isn’t the financial waste (though I’m sure those nice police officers could be put to better use somewhere else). It’s the way it creates a climate of fear in LA schools. Instead of being welcomed to participate in their childrens’ education, parents are being treated like intruders and potential criminals. This is terrible, especially since study after study has shown that parental involvement strongly impacts student achievement.
What’s really depressing is that most of the parents I’ve talked to are completely on board with the increased security. In fact, they want more to be done. One parent wants my son’s school to invest in fence coverings so no one can look at the children when they’re playing. So what’s next? Putting chadors on our kids so they can’t be seen walking down the street?
This is not what I want for my son. One of the reasons I live in downtown Los Angeles is because I don’t want him to see life solely through a car window or to encounter other human beings only at the mall. I want him to be exposed to the diversity of life–cultural, racial, and economic. It’s true that living near skid row means we sometimes see sad, unpleasant, and depressing things. But my son also has the joy of saying hi to the shopkeepers who know him, petting neighbors’ dogs, riding his Spiderman bicycle in Ciclavia and walking to the Central Library. I do the best I can to keep him safe, but I also have to accept that I can’t protect him from every possible risk. To try to do so will impoverish his life.
Lenore Skenazy, author of the Free Range Kids blog, wrote a post on Newtown and the need to put the shootings in perspective. As she said,
The vast majority of children in America will never encounter a psychopathic mass murderer at school, and to guard them as if they will is unnecessary. Worse, it is bordering on ungrateful.