Out of Tragedy Must Come Collective Action

In the last 72 hours, many DSEA members have reached out to me through email and social media asking what our organization’s position is on the tragedy in Broward County, Florida, and what we intend to do to support the educators and students victimized by this attack as well as the unacceptable level of gun violence in our nation’s schools.

Please know that DSEA condemns this violence — and the disturbing rate at which it is occurring — and stands with the educators and students who are having to deal with the aftermath of this tragedy.

DSEA resolutions are the belief statements of our organization. Through thoughtful deliberation, our members craft and vote on resolutions that seek to engender dialogue on a host of subjects and create safe, welcoming, and nurturing schools for all students.

The topic of guns and deadly weapons in our schools is addressed in DSEA Resolution H-21, which says:

H-21 — Gun Free Schools and the Regulation of Deadly Weapons

The Delaware State Education Association believes that all students and education employees must be allowed to learn and work in an environment free of unauthorized guns and other deadly weapons. Severe penalties should be enacted and strenuously enforced for criminal actions involving guns and other deadly weapons, especially in school settings, and for those who profit from the illegal sale, importation, and distribution of these weapons. The Association believes that individuals who bring guns or deadly weapons to school should be excluded from school and school grounds until undergoing mandatory prescribed intervention.

The Association further believes that our communities, schools, and students are safer when common sense gun regulations are in place. The Association supports banning assault weapons, limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines, requiring background checks and a waiting period for all gun purchases, creating a national database of gun sales, and preventing people with mental illness and/or a documented history of domestic violence from purchasing firearms. The Association believes that minors shall not be allowed to buy, own, or sell firearms.

The Association also believes that scientific and medical research on the causes and prevention of firearm violence should be extensive and ongoing and that gun owners should participate in educational programs that stress responsible ownership, including safe use and storage of guns. (1982, 2003, 2013, 2017)

So timely is this topic to our members that the delegates to the 2017 Representative Assembly voted to amend our language in this resolution last year, perhaps because of the rising occurrence of gun violence in our schools.

What happened at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week was unspeakable and it has galvanized a generation of activists — many of them high schoolers — who are driving the dialogue and demanding that elected officials (who, for too long, have ignored this problem) actually take some concrete action to stem the terrible frequency of these vicious assaults on children and educators.

DSEA stands with the students and educators who are finding their voices through this tragedy and we intend to continue to push for common sense gun regulations that will help keep our schools safe. To that end, DSEA is doing the following:

  • At its February Executive Board meeting on Thursday — one day after the attack — a Board member from Kent County made a motion for DSEA to contribute to the fund set up for the victims of the shooting. The motion passed unanimously. If you’d like to donate to this fund, please click here.
  • DSEA has heard from our parent organization, the National Education Association, which intends to partner with other groups on a #NationalSchoolWalkout on April 20 as a means to draw attention to the lack of action from our elected officials.

I have personally heard from members demanding that DSEA authorize a move to strike until such time as our policymakers do something about the rising level of gun violence in our schools. While I appreciate the passion these friends have shared with me on that topic, I believe our efforts during this tragedy must be focused on our number one priority: our students. Striking would not help us accomplish that goal.

DSEA will be following the lead of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers on actions over the next few months. The following text comes from a communication I recently received from NEA, which outlines upcoming actions they are planning or are involved with:

Together with the National Public Education Network, American Federation of Teachers, Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, and other national organizations, NEA is calling on communities to take action against gun violence on April 20th together in a way that sends a strong message to policy makers that #enoughisenough. April 20th marks the 19th anniversary of the Columbine tragedy.

In addition, two more days of action have also been planned by other outside organizations.

1)        March 14 – the Women’s March has announced a National School Walkout.  The idea behind this day is that school communities will walk out of their schools for 17 minutes to honor the lives lost in Parkland.  NEA will join with AFT in encouraging educators throughout the country to wear orange on this day.

2)        March 24 – Several students who survived the tragedy at Lakeland have called for a student led march and protest.  They are planning to come to DC and meet with politicians on the need to address gun violence and are encourage others to join.  This is a fully student-planned march.  More information can be found at https://www.marchforourlives.com/

DSEA, in addition to promoting the April 20th action against gun violence, will continue to support the students, educators, parents, and community leaders who are organizing for change to end gun violence in their schools/communities. We call on principals, administrators, and school districts to support them as well.  By coming together, we will make a clear, critical statement that we are standing up against gun violence against our students and educators in our schools.

The best way to begin collective action is to start close to home…at the local level.  I believe our local association leaders should consider having conversations with district administrators and board members on how they can address this concern in their own district. Will your district participate in the event on April 20th? Getting your district and the community involved now could make the event that much more successful in the end.

Out of dire tragedy must come demands for change. The power rests within us and I am asking each of you to be the change you wish to see in your schools, your community, your state, and your country.

As always, I’d love the opportunity to join you in these conversations. Please send me a message at mike.matthews@dsea.org to keep the dialogue going.

2 thoughts on “Out of Tragedy Must Come Collective Action”

  1. Draconian penalties for students who make terrible mistakes – such as bringing a weapon to school without harming anyone – are a bulwark of structural racism and the main driver of the school-to-prison pipeline.

    Affluent white parents simply send their children to private schools or move to a new district if their children make this dangerous, but historically common mistake. Poor black parents have their children’s education opportunities drastically reduced or cut off, and those children end up being harmed for a lifetime. Many of them end up in prison or in a life of crime, which could have been avoided by more humane treatment of mistakes which cost no lives.

    This is the reality of our time. Advocating for ever harsher punishments for children in the name of reducing crime and suffering will inevitably create more criminals, more suffering. It is a simple fact that children do not make decisions based on comprehensive understanding of laws and consequences, and will make mistakes. As long as we pursue “zero tolerance” and economic and social factors give affluent white kids the ability to avoid consequences the poor cannot escape, we create more prisoners, more criminals, more suffering, and that process will primarily harm children of color.

    Zero tolerance makes zero sense when applied to children. Mistakes that cost no lives are fundamentally not a problem that should be addressed by draconian, racist, counterproductive punishments.

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