Letter to the Times: Turning schools into mini prisons

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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I am angry. I am upset. I am horrified. It is difficult to have to go through the media cycle of yet another mass shooting at a school.

I also have trouble stomaching how many mass shootings there have been since the Uvalde, Texas shooting. As of the writing of this letter, there had been one on May 25, two on May 27, five on May 28, seven on May 29, three on May 30, one on May 31, and the Tulsa shooting on June 1 (Gun Violence Archive). Of those shootings — all of which had more than four victims either injured or killed, which is what defines them as a mass shooting — I only had heard about Uvalde and Tulsa in the news. I am unable to get over my anger and astonishment that the country I live in has blithely accepted that this is just the way our world is. 

As we are all struggling with the aftermath of yet another mass shooting in a school, there is a lot of conversation about how this happened. Politicians and media types are discussing the fact that there was a door left propped open. There is a discussion of “hardening” schools, and that we should only have one door to enter and exit a school with armed guards at that one door.  The Uvalde school district had its own police force and had spent time and money working with the local police force to “harden” the schools. Evidently, the school-security industry has “billions of dollars in public contracts.”

I think there is one aspect of this that seems to be missing from the conversation — and no, I’m not talking about gun control legislation, which is at least being waved around as an option, though the likelihood the Senate will take it up is laughable. I’m talking about the fact that politicians and parents seem to be promoting the fact that we turn schools into prisons. All this discussion of “hardening” schools is just branding. What is really happening is we are sending our children to buildings every day where they are locked in, have armed police officers watching them, are monitored on cameras, and in some cases are going through metal detectors at the door. Politicians are arguing that teachers should be armed — so teachers will become the guards of the school prison.

Now I am not suggesting that we should not keep children safe, especially in schools; however, has anyone really considered what this does to not only the ability of children to learn but also their mental health overall? I vividly remember the first lockdown drill I had to participate in during junior high. It was right after Columbine and I remember being scared and upset. My teacher did his best to strike a tone that was both comforting and serious as he discussed the need for us to be prepared; however, I also remember having a hard time focusing for the rest of the day. School is supposed to be a place to nurture learning, work on socialization, and make friends. For me, it was always a place I enjoyed and generally wanted to go. How do we expect children or young adults to want to go to school or even have the ability to learn when they are basically being sent to a minimum-security prison every day?

After shootings, there is always talk about how we need to fund mental health in order to keep these events from happening. There is discussion of how we need to provide mental health support to the survivors of these tragedies. This is all correct, but we also need to consider funding mental health support for all students because these events do not happen in a vacuum. Students, whether they go through an active shooter drill, have to hide because of the possibility of an active shooter, or are in a tragedy, such as Uvalde, Sandy Hook, or Parkland, need mental health offered in schools. Schools need to have the funds to offer this. 

We all need to consider whether or not we truly want to be a society that sends children from the ages of 5 to 18 into schools that are basically mini prisons. If we do, then our tax dollars are going to the right place right now — the thriving school-security industry. If we do not want our children to spend their days in mini prisons, then we need to start considering telling our legislators to spend our tax money on funding schools, mental health, and working toward some common-sense gun legislation. 

— Colleen Boley (she/her), Lawrence

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