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Education and Student Leaders to Lawmakers: Help Us Take Back Our Schools

CEA President Sheila Cohen today joined East Hartford students, the CT Association of Boards of Education, and the CT Association of Public School Superintendents to demand action on school safety.

CEA joined with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) in a press conference at East Hartford High School this morning demanding meaningful legislative action on school safety, including stricter gun laws and greater investment in mental health and counseling services.

The press conference comes one week after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that claimed the lives of 17 students, teachers, and coaches. Frustrated by the lack of progress on school safety, the three groups called on politicians to follow Connecticut’s lead in the wake of Newtown, when it passed historic gun and school safety laws.

“When the unimaginable happened here in Connecticut, and 26 students and educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we were shocked,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen. “We were devastated. We never imagined it would happen here. And we said enough.

Mass shootings, however, continue to take young lives across the country with increasing frequency, Cohen noted, calling on Congress to follow Connecticut’s lead and “protect every student, in every school, in every city and town in America.”

Connecticut’s model legislation

CEA Executive Director Donald Williams said Congress should follow Connecticut’s lead and pass measures to increase school safety.

“Connecticut’s successful bipartisan effort in 2013, which included sensible and strong gun regulation, resources for mental health, and improvements for school security, unfortunately failed to take hold in Washington, D.C.,” said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams Jr.

“Our students are saying enough,” said Cohen. “Grieving and fearful parents are saying enough. Teachers, who should never be known for being ‘killed in the line of duty,’ are saying enough. And now, we are calling on our leaders in Washington to stand with us and say enough. It is time to honor the victims of these senseless shootings by creating safe schools, by passing commonsense gun laws, and by providing funding for school resources and mental health services.”

Cohen and Williams announced several initiatives to keep the dialog going. On Wednesday, March 14, CEA is urging teachers and students to participate in early-morning school walk-ins as a show of solidarity and support for the changes needed to make every school safe. Many teachers will also be joining the student-organized national march in Washington, D.C., as well as a similar rally in Hartford, both on March 24.

CEA’s Walk-ins for Safe Schools will also be used to promote activism through voter registration drives. Parents who are not registered to vote to will receive assistance, as will students who reach voting age by Election Day in November.

“Their voices will be heard, and together, we will make a difference,” Williams said.

CABE Executive Director Robert Rader expressed pride in students across the country who are “stepping forward on their own to do what adults so far have failed to do.” Rader, together with CABE Deputy Director and General Counsel Patrice McCarthy, noted that the lack of safety at schools negatively impacts learning and reiterated that Connecticut’s adoption of stronger laws is a model for other states and the federal government.

“We must do more,” said McCarthy.

“The idea that Americans can send their children to school every day and not be totally confident that they will come home again is unconscionable,” said CAPSS Executive Director Frances Rabinowitz. “The fact that our teachers and school staff must worry about their safety is ludicrous. While we mourn the lives lost and the potential of so many young people not realized, we must take action to ensure that no other community experiences such horror.”

Stay ‘woke’

East Hartford High School senior Pedro De Jesus spoke with reporters this morning.

Also expressing concern were East Hartford High School student leaders, who talked to the press about their own hopes and fears in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

“There needs to be a change,” said EHHS senior Hannah Rivera. “This should not have happened and should never happen again. We need stronger gun control so that other communities can feel as safe as I do going to school every day.”

Fellow twelfth-grader Pedro DeJesus said he is proud of Parkland students who have been vocal and active in response to their tragedy. “If we voice our opinions, if we help people stay woke, we can keep our schools safe.”

When asked whether teachers should be trained and armed with guns—a controversial proposal that has drawn strong criticism—East Hartford students resoundingly disapproved. Bringing more guns into schools, they said, would not make them feel safer.

“Bringing guns to schools does not protect our students and educators from gun violence,” Cohen agreed. “We ask our teachers to do so much. Asking them to be police officers and carry guns is a sad commentary on the inability of legislators to do their jobs and pass gun safety legislation. Educators must focus on teaching our students, and Congress needs to take action to keep our schools safe.”

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