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When the Unthinkable Happens

Ensuring safe schools for students and staff

In the last 10 years, our nation has been shaken by the awful specter of student violence in our schools. In our minds, we can recall the horrifying images of fear as students and educators rushed to safety to avoid the fate of their fellow classmates and colleagues.

The dreams, hopes, and ambitions of hundreds of innocent victims have vanished forever. Our schools and universities are designed to be pathways to scholarship and exploration for all students. When the serenity of a campus is shattered by violent crime, our institutions of learning are tragically transformed into fortresses of fear.

While the incidence of student threats and violence against educators is far from reaching epidemic proportions, once is one time too many. Great public schools are impossible to achieve if our educators feel unsafe at the hands of students who have chosen violence as the preferred method of settling disputes.

Day after day, NEA fights in the halls of Congress for more respect, better pay, and adequate resources for public school employees. Yet our members cannot teach, guide, and prepare our students for the world that awaits them if they are working under clouds of fear or apprehension in our schools. As educators, concerns about school violence must not impede our performance.

We can have no tolerance for violence in schools, and we must—as a society—take the steps necessary to make schools even safer. This will require a shared commitment and responsibility by the community, administrators, parents, school staff, and students. We all must come together and make safe schools a national priority.

Our parents must talk to their children more and pay closer attention to early warning signs well in advance of potential violence. Teachers must communicate more effectively with parents and administrators, and create classrooms that are free of bias and encourage freedom of thought. And our students must be willing to avoid confrontation and to notify school staff of the suspicious behavior of other students.

Many of our school districts around the country are taking this issue very seriously. In communities large and small, proactive measures are being used to prevent violence against educators and address the challenge of dealing with students who are troubled, angry, and crying out for help.

Last year, the NEA Health Information Network revised the School Crisis Guide: Help and Healing in a Time of Crisis to provide educators, school district administrators, and principals with an invaluable resource for keeping our schools safe. Although we all wish it would rarely have to be used, today's world demands school employees be prepared for the unexpected.

Team NEA, we must not be complacent as the chaos of society seeks a permanent seat in our classrooms. Through vigilance and preparation, we can fulfill the pledge of great public schools for every child and make it easier for educators to focus on what they do best: help all children learn. 


NEA President Reg Weaver

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