The first school shooting I remember as a teacher was in October 1997 in Mississippi. I heard about it on the news that night and realized it was easily something that could happen in the rural Oregon town I lived in where teachers were warned not to have tests on opening day for deer season. I moved across the state to another town and for the first couple of years students were reminded over the announcements not to have guns in their rigs on school property. As school and mass shootings began to accelerate in frequency, security and consequences also amped up at schools.

Our school, like many, encouraged students not to walk out today. Instead our administration is encouraging students to practice kindness as part of “What’s Your 17?” Our administration has been trying to build a sense of community and positive change over the last few years by implementing positive reinforcement through recognizing students who go a little above and beyond. As far as I know, none of our staff mocked students or told them they couldn’t leave and we had a few students who walked out—talking to some of those kids afterwards was interesting because they walked out for a variety of reasons.

Some kids support gun control, many don’t. Some kids didn’t want to be political, they wanted to show respect for the people who lost their lives a month ago. Some kids wanted to show support for the people who survived. None of the kids I talked to were just trying to get out of class or disrespect anyone. Yet they received blowback from adults on various social media platforms.

I want my students to figure out what they think and why they think those things. I want my students to take in new information, assess its bias/value/source, and apply that information to their lives and opinions. They need to be adaptable and stay true to themselves which is a tough and lifelong balancing act. At some point they need to pull away and start making decisions—that point depends on their level of maturity and how they’ve been raised.

I go to work every day hoping my students will make good choices and stay safe. I go to work solid in the decision I made over twenty years ago to protect my students and prepare them for the rest of their lives. But last month’s shooting in Florida was different from those that had come before it. This time I had students who had watched videos posted by survivors. This time anyone who wanted to could find a way to watch it. Between those videos and the way the survivors are channeling their grief, something has changed. It’s too soon to tell what and how, but our kids have a right to feel safe at school.

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