My first year teaching was during the 1997-98 school year. During that year we found out about intern Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton’s relationship, it was the year of Princess Diana’s fatal car crash, but what I most remember about that year was that there were three school shootings that spring, a full year before Columbine. What I most recall was the tragedy in Jonesboro, Arkansas where two boys pulled the fire alarm and waited for students and teachers outside and began firing as they exited the school. Why does this one stand out? Because the next day my school had an unscheduled fire alarm, and I remember the faces of my students and the head teacher, whose room I was in, as we slowly made our way out of the building, praying that this was just a drill. It was by far the worst timed fire drill in history.
On Tuesday, March 6, 2012, in Jacksonville, Florida, my friend and former employer Dale Regan, head of school at Episcopal School of Jacksonville, was shot and killed by a recently fired employee of the school. It was the third school shooting in little more than a week. Chardon, Ohio had suffered a fatal school shooting a week earlier and late last week in Arizona there had also been a shooting at a school, where fortunately no deaths had occured. Is this a blip on the radar or trend to be watched carefully?
The reality is that, schools cannot have this. One school shooting in 100 years is one school shooting too many. Learning can only thrive under the fertility of safety. Ask a kid who has ever been bullied if they are capable of learning at their full capacity, when they are afraid of being physically or mentally threatened. As educators, parents, students and administrators of schools we have to continue to fight bullying, teasing, and hazing on our campuses and in our homes. We have to find ways to help people feel included in the community and continue to fight maintaining traditions that undermine these efforts. We have to help everyone develop better strategies for dealing with stress and disappointment, and urge them to seek professional guidance when that is necessary.
All of our learning tools, whether it’s ShowMe, Khan Academy or 1:1 technology programs; all the creative and talented teachers out there working with students; and all the innovative and child-centered schools and curricula won’t amount to much learning if people don’t feel safe on their school campus.
Dedicated to the memory of Dale Regan.