Reflections on March 14th3/15/2018
On Wednesday, students across the nation chose to speak out on the issue of school safety. In many school communities, students observed a moment of silence and walked out of class to give voice to their thoughts and feelings. We should all listen.The horrific mass shootings that have taken student lives in recent years have provoked an incredibly important dialogue and created a valuable “teachable moment” for all of us.
In Portland Public Schools, individual school communities found unique and developmentally appropriate ways to underline what a positive and caring school looks like. In many cases, students created and led the day’s activities.
Our older students organized and led respectful forums where students could express their views. Coincidentally, March 14 was also a day when more than 700 Portland high school students and educators traveled to Seattle to attend a special showing of “Hamilton.” This award-winning musical focuses on a founding father of the U.S. Constitution and has a theme of democracy and sense of individual freedom. While at the theater, our students observed a moment of silence, and student performers individually honored the victims of the shootings in Parkland, Florida. It seems quite fitting that so many of our 11th-grade U.S. Government students had the chance to participate in this wonderful opportunity.
At schools all across Portland Wednesday, our students engaged in productive and meaningful activities. This range of activities included students forming a rainbow or peace sign on their schoolyard, stepping outside to observe 17 minutes of silence to honor the 17 students and staff who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, or joining family members in front of their schools to make a visible statement of support for safe schools.
We want to extend deep appreciation to our principals, school leaders and staff for supporting our students and ensuring a positive learning experience.
We had the opportunity to join Gov. Kate Brown, Portland Association of Teachers President Suzanne Cohen, City Commissioner Nick Fish, and State Senator Lew Frederick at Roosevelt High School to listen to students express their understanding of the Constitution, advocate for safe schools and common sense gun control, and remind their peers that their voices are critically important. The students called on us, the adults and the leaders, to take this issue seriously and to commit to real action. In public education, we want our students to understand issues objectively, to think critically on any topic, and to exercise their own sense of agency as individuals in this world. Wednesday morning on the Roosevelt athletic field we heard a solid understanding of the facts, a framing of the issues, and clear, yet emotion-filled thinking expressed through song and poetry.
We are proud of our students. Please know we stand with you. Your voice is powerful, and you are right to expect action if we are ever going to guarantee safe and supportive schools.
Recently, the PPS Board of Education passed a resolution on “Gun Violence in Our Schools” that included the following positions:
- Calling on federal government action to protect school children
- Banning the manufacture, sale, and purchase of all semi-automatic weapons
- Strengthening background checks
- Opposing arming teachers
- Enhancing federal funding to improve school building security measures
- Increasing funds to support counselors, mental health staff, psychologists, and social workers in schools
The Council of Great City Schools, which represents the leadership of the 70 largest districts in America, has issued a strong statement making clear that school safety has to be taken seriously, and action has to be taken to address not just commonsense gun safety, but also real investments in mental and behavioral health supports to help students who need additional support.
Enough is enough. Our students should be focused on discovering their spark, on pursuing their passion, and achieving their postsecondary college or career plans. PPS is committed to doing what it can to enhance our ability to support students and better ensure school building security. These recent tragic incidents remind us of the importance of rehearsing our safety drills. We are also focusing more on building security as part of our bond-funded modernization.
We want to express our appreciation to our educators who made space and prepared thoughtful lessons Wednesday, and we thank our chaperones who accompanied our high school field trip. But most of all, we want to share how proud we are of our students for standing up and making their voices heard on this most critically important issue. Their leadership is admirable, and our commitment should be to demonstrate the same. Enough is enough.
Julie Esparza Brown
Board Co-Vice Chair
Board Co-Vice Chair