In the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook, 17 people were killed and another 16 injured after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire with an AR-15 rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The shooter pulled a fire alarm but another alarm had gone off earlier in the day for a drill.
The school had recently held an active shooter training.
“We could not have been more prepared for this situation,” Melissa Falkowski, a teacher at the school who hid with 19 students in a closet during the rampage, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “We did everything that we were supposed to do. Broward County Schools has prepared us for this situation and still to have so many casualties, at least for me, it’s very emotional. Because I feel today like our government, our country has failed us and failed our kids and didn’t keep us safe.”
Those who died included students and adults, including two NEA educators. Parkland, with a population of 31,000 in 2016, was named Florida’s safest city last year, according to one analysis. The south Florida city had seven reported violent crimes and 186 property crimes the previous year, the analysis said.
As the news streams in and images flash across screens, children can’t escape disturbing scenes when mass shootings occur. Many will be scared and confused. Here’s advice from the National Association of School Psychologists for talking to your students about violence and other national tragedies.
“Our hearts are broken yet again by the senseless and tragic shooting in our nation’s public schools, this time in Parkland, Florida. We are monitoring closely the still developing and tense situation, but we have confidence in the ability of the first responders and the school staff and administrators to help students and families at this time,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, who will be visiting with school staff and Florida Education Associationmembers today. “While our thoughts and prayers are with Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, educators and their families, we know that we, as country, need to do more to end these senseless shootings.
“As educators, our foremost priority is to ensure the safety and well-being of all of our students. Our focus now is on supporting the educators, students and their families in the Broward County community today and in the future. We all have a responsibility to create safe schools and communities. As a state and a country, we can and must do more to ensure that everyone who walks through our school doors — educator, student, parent or community member — is safe and free from violence.”
Stand With Us to Keep Our Schools Safe
ENOUGH! The outrage of yet another gun-and school-related tragedy is incomprehensible, in its actual occurrence as well as in the inaction of those in the halls of legislative bodies throughout this nation who have had and continue to have the capacity to make a difference and help make our schools havens for all.
CEA is at the forefront of efforts to draw attention to the problem and spur Congress to take action to keep our schools safe and end this epidemic of mass school shootings plaguing and terrorizing our country. CEA is planning several activities that tie into the national events—activities that include walk-ins and rallies.
After the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook, Connecticut passed one of the toughest gun control laws in the country—aimed at keeping our children, our families, our schools, and our communities safe from gun violence. We are all uniting together and calling on Congress to pass a tough gun control law, similar to the one in Connecticut that will help keep children safe in every state of the union.
March 14 – Walk-ins
CEA is sponsoring walk-in events on March 14 across the state to coincide with the walk-out events planned across the country. CEA is NOT advocating walk-outs. Instead, through these CEA-sponsored walk-ins, which begin before school starts on March 14, we are showing our support and calling for action. The walk-ins will draw attention to the need for Congress to take action and pass a bill similar to Connecticut’s tough gun law, to protect students in every state.
CEA is asking LPs to work with their executive teams and building reps to host walk-ins at their high schools. CEA will provide you with speaking points to help you hone your message, as well as a walk-in guide detailing specific information on how to plan the event. These events should focus on students, parents, and teachers, and the need to keep schools in Connecticut safe and violence free.
The event should begin about twenty minutes before school starts. Everyone will gather outside school in a specific area, away from car and bus traffic. A few people speak about the issue. You can decide to have a moment of silence to remember all the students lost to gun violence in schools across the country and in Sandy Hook. Then, as the first bell rings, everyone should walk into school together, to show support and unity.
CEA successfully held walk-ins last year on the issue of school funding. Because teachers, parents, and students participated and shared their stories, the walk-ins were effective at getting out the message
March 24 – March for Our Lives
CEA is participating in the March for Our Lives community action rallies organized by students. If you know of any plans in your local to host or attend rallies in the state or in Washington, D.C., please contact us. In the coming weeks, CEA will be sharing information about these events to help connect members, students, and families with actions in their own communities.
Please click here to indicate if you are interested in taking a CEA organized bus to D.C. or Hartford.
Teachers, students, and parents are encouraged to join CEA at a 12:30 rally being held at the State Capitol in Hartford on March 24. We will be meeting at CEA at 12:15 and walking over to the rally together.
Details and specifics are still being worked out, but we wanted to let you know about our plans.
Please watch for more information in the coming days, and we hope to see you at these events.
Thank you for everything you do, each and every day.
“All teachers I know are horrified that, once again, school classrooms and hallways have been killing fields,” said Bloomfield teacher Mary Kay Rendock. “I am in tears thinking of the terror those teachers felt as they shielded, hid, and protected their students, and as some paid with their lives.”
Connecticut Teachers Honor Educators, Students Killed in School Shooting
High school teacher Scott Beigel left this earth the way he had lived his life: looking out for the young people in his care.
The camp-counselor-turned-teacher was one of 17 victims in the high-profile shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last week.
“All teachers I know are horrified that, once again, school classrooms and hallways have been killing fields,” said Mary Kay Rendock, a teacher at Carmen Arace Intermediate School in Bloomfield, Connecticut. “I am in tears thinking of the terror those teachers felt as they shielded, hid, and protected their students, and as some paid with their lives.”
Beigel had been a longtime friend of Sarah Williams, principal at Carmen Arace. The two were Starlight summer campers together, then counselors, then—like many camp alums—classroom teachers.
Last Thursday, as shots rang out at the high school where Beigel taught geography and coached cross country, he unlocked a classroom to let students hide inside. It was a swift and heroic move that would not surprise anyone who knew him. But while some students made it to safety, their beloved teacher and coach did not. When Williams heard the news, she was crushed.
“I had known Scott for 25 years,” she said through tears. “He was a hero to so many kids, to so many of us.”
As communities in Florida began organizing races in Beigel’s memory, Rendock—a runner herself—got to work doing the same. She rounded up fellow Bloomfield teachers as well as members of her running club, which also includes educators from around the state. In all, more than 30 men and women gathered at dusk at the track at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford to pay tribute to Beigel and the 16 other victims of Parkland. Some brought their children. Some brought signs commemorating Parkland’s students, teachers, and coaches.
“Scott was killed shielding his students, and we are here to honor his legacy,” Rendock said.
“We are here,” Williams added, “to honor his spirit.”
Rendock and some of her fellow teachers wore the same blue T-shirts they had made up after Connecticut’s own notorious school shooting at Sandy Hook in 2012. They read, “Bloomfield Believes…Love Wins.”
“I am here because Scott was a fellow teacher,” said Bloomfield fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Coleman, who came out to run with her husband and their infant daughter. “I am remembering the difference he made.”
Torrington special education teacher Mark Mangelinkx recalled that he was a first-year teacher the year of the deadly high school shooting at Columbine, almost 19 years earlier. Last night, he ran 17 laps—one for each of the students and teachers killed in Parkland. Among other things, Mangelinkx voiced his hope that schools would be given more resources for mental health support.
Frustrated by lawmakers’ inaction on gun safety, many teachers planned to participate in upcoming events around the state and in Washington, D.C., to demand change.
“To say it’s scary is doing it an injustice,” said Bloomfield teacher Katrina Kucinskas. “It’s unfathomable, and it’s not the world I want my children to grow up in.”
Education and Student Leaders to Lawmakers: Help Us Take Back Our Schools
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
“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.”
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.”
CEA Teachers, Leaders to Appropriations Committee: We Need Full, Fair Education Funding
Quality public education does not happen without adequate funding.
That was the message from CEA teachers and leaders who held a news conference at the Legislative Office Building this afternoon. The news conference came in advance of a public hearing before the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, where teachers pushed for the restoration of education cost share (ECS) funding for schools, critical programs that support new teachers, and a budget that ensures veteran teachers who have dedicated their professional lives to Connecticut’s children can retire with dignity.
“Our students and teachers are dealing with the destructive consequences of budget cuts, including fewer resources, the elimination of programs, teacher layoffs, and increases in class size,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen. “Legislators must restore public school funding so that all students have the critical resources, tools, and support they need to achieve.”
“What’s at stake here today is the future of stable, quality public schools in our state,” said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams. “All during the last session, legislators worked very hard to keep ECS funding whole. Despite their efforts and the resulting bipartisan biennial budget, the governor has since cut almost $67 million in education funding from that budget.”
The districts most severely cut have not been in wealthy towns, Williams pointed out, but in those struggling to make ends meet—municipalities that serve a diverse population and have significant pockets of poverty.
“The schools in those cities and towns,” he said, “are under attack. We’re here today to ask the Committee to restore critical funding to our schools, or class sizes will increase and quality will decline.”
In addition to urban districts, small, rural communities were some of the hardest hit.
“We are already doing more with less, and our schools can’t absorb more cuts,” said Ethan Spinelli, a middle school science teacher in Regional District 8. “We must find long-term solutions to solve the state’s chronic underfunding problem and develop a new, fair funding plan that ensures that all students have the critical resources, tools, and support they need to achieve.”
“These cuts are on top of last year’s cuts, which decimated our school budget,” added Tim Zeuschner, a social studies teacher at South Windsor High School. “Adding to years of underfunding, my district simply cannot meet all of the needs of all of our students with these devastating cuts.”
The budget cuts also wiped out state funding for Connecticut’s Teacher Education And Mentoring (TEAM) program, one of the most highly regarded new teacher induction and support programs in the country. Teachers unanimously called for the reinstatement of funds for this key program.
CREC Museum Academy fifth-grade teacher Shay Lewis recalled, “I have been in districts with and without mentoring programs, and I found that the districts that supported me as a new teacher were the ones where I was the most successful. When teachers are not professionally supported, nurtured, and given the opportunity to grow, it is difficult to keep them in the profession.” Recruitment and retention of teachers who reflect the diversity of the students they serve is particularly crucial, she said—and particularly challenging without programs such as TEAM.
West Hartford second-grade teacher Cathy Davis observed, “I have been teaching for 20 years, and I can tell you that our students are coming to us with more needs, not fewer. In a year when I see more and more classrooms with students whose needs are so severe that we have to clear the room so that students’ emotional needs can be attended to in a way that is safe for all students, the governor proposes less funding for schools. Class sizes are so high already that meeting students’ individual needs is a constant struggle. With these cuts, it will become impossible.”
“Connecticut must stop underfunding and endangering our students’ futures,” Cohen reiterated. “We must develop a new ECS plan that provides a fair, reliable, sustainable, and equitable funding source for all students, regardless of where they live. A new funding plan will ensure our local public school students have the critical resources, tools, and support they need to achieve.”
Statement from CEA President Sheila Cohen on Arming Teachers to Prevent School Violence
The Connecticut Education Association does not endorse the idea that teachers should bring guns into the classroom.
Teachers must focus on educating students. Asking teachers to be armed, paramilitary operatives as a result of the inability of Congress to pass gun violence prevention legislation is madness. We place enough mandates on our teachers—Congress needs to take action to keep our schools safe.
After the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook, Connecticut passed historic gun, mental health and school safety laws—some of the toughest in the nation—to help keep our children, our families, our schools, and our communities safe from gun violence. Republicans and Democrats worked together.
Congress must take action to protect all students in every school in America.
CEA is helping to coordinate school activities and early-morning Walk-Ins For Safe Schools on Thursday, March 14. School communities can stand in solidarity, and walk-in to school together to support the changes needed to make every school and every child safe.
NEA Vice President Becky Pringle told NPR’s David Greene that students do not want teachers armed and teachers don’t want to be armed.
Urge long-term solutions, not shortsighted fixes.
What you should know and do.
The February-March 2018 edition of the CEA Advisor is now available online. Don’t miss these and other stories.
57 extra seats would have drained money from neighborhood public schools.
Hear from your colleagues about why union membership matters more than ever.
The New Teacher Round Table Discussion scheduled for Feb. 22 at Maple Hill School was canceled; it will be rescheduled.