The terror of the times

When parents and school shootings coincide, the victims aren't the only ones left in fear

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Clarisse Bell

School shootings have the power to tear apart families and communities.

Since 2012’s Sandy Hook, the United States hasn’t gone more than 231 days without a school shooting.

That’s the 2000s: a time when gun violence frequents the news so much so that it’s become a constant reality where students have to worry about whether or not their classmates will pull a gun out of their backpack, a reality in which students may not come home, and a reality that teachers and parents have to prepare for.

The 1960s had hippies, the 2000s have school shooters

Genevieve Tep, Carlmont’s choir teacher, not only has to worry about her 176 choir students, but also her 2-year-old son who attends the daycare on campus, Happy Campers.

“I know that I could handle a school shooting. My bigger worry honestly is if there’s something going on on campus, my son is right there too,” Tep said.

Similar to Tep, many parents say that they’re not worried about what they would do in an active shooter situation; they’re more concerned about how to raise their children to know what to do if they were to experience it.

“I really only had to think about me and my husband, but now I have my daughter,” parent Robyn Hall said. “She’s so helpless and I can’t even imagine having to explain an active shooter drill to her.”

Alongside the fear of having a child grow up in a time of seemingly nonstop mass shootings comes the realization that a parent in the 1970s had a completely different set of worries.

“When I was in middle school and high school, this was just not an issue. We never had to talk about gun violence or the chances of it happening,” said Julie Lade, mother of 3-month old Keeva Lade.

According to Guns & America, a national reporting collaboration, the number of school shootings since 1999 has been increasing. This data was taken from the CHDS – K-12 School Shooting Database, a database that records every time a gun is brandished, fired, or a bullet hits school property, regardless of the number of victims.

From 1999 to 2014, there was an average of 124 days between each shooting. From 2015 to 2018, the average decreased to 77. 

School shootings are becoming more frequent, but that doesn’t mean a parent has more to worry about now. In the past, instead of shootings, some parents, like those of Tuomas Holmberg who grew up in Queens, New York, had to worry about bomb attacks or gang violence.

“Where I grew up, there were a number of gangs who tried to recruit kids to do drugs and stuff, but I think that’s a little bit different than these mass shootings,” Holmberg said.

Although there are differences between the past and present, many parents continue to feel helpless in these situations.

“At this point, it’s too late [to prevent school shootings from happening],” said Ying Feng, mother of Adam Feng, 24, and Brandon Feng, 13. “I feel and think that things are getting worse and worse.”

At the scene of the shooting

Gunshots sounded from the cafeteria.

Within seconds, Dave Sanders, 47, was up on his feet. He managed to get nearly 100 students away from the danger before being shot in the neck.

Sanders was the only teacher who was killed during a shooting at Columbine High School, but he is one of the hundreds who have been shot since then.

The amount of people who have died in school shootings is not just worrisome for parents, but for teachers too. Amid all the shootings, teachers feel more anxiety and pressure to keep their students and themselves safe.

According to a 2018 survey conducted by the National Education Association, 60% of the 1,000 teachers surveyed worry that a mass shooting could happen on campus. 

“The last drill we had, Women’s Choir was in [the choir room], the lights were all off, and the vice principal pulled the door. It opened because the door was busted,” Tep said. “It was terrifying.”

Although it was only a drill, the students and Tep quickly realized the severity of the circumstances. Had it been a real active shooter situation, anyone could have come into the room with dire intentions.

The fear that was felt in that moment is shared by 63% of parents who said that they are scared to send their children to school, as reported in a 2018 article by the Pew Research Center. While parents feel responsible for the safety of their children, they also express concern for the safety of school staff.

“It’s so unfortunate and such a burden to be placing on people who just want to teach, who want to educate and help mold young minds in a positive way,” Hall said. “It’s a hard situation to be putting teachers in.”

In 2019, some states discussed the idea of allowing teachers to carry guns on campus. These proposals faced a lot of backlash, and many parents agree that it shouldn’t be part of a teacher’s job to learn how to use a gun in defense of a shooter.

“I don’t think it’s the school’s business to somehow arm themselves for potential gun violence,” said Sofie Qiao, mother of 10-year-old Winston Qiao. “Schools are meant for teaching and nothing else.”

It should be the school system making sure that teachers feel empowered and confident that they have all of the tools they need in this sort of situation.”

— Julie Lade

However, for most parents, it goes beyond whether or not a teacher’s job description should include carrying a gun. Their main concern is whether or not they can trust the teachers and the school. After all, they’re sending their child there for multiple hours on end.

“If I didn’t totally trust the gal that runs the daycare and my son’s teachers, it would be a very different situation. I mean, he wouldn’t even be there,” Tep said.

For some, the risk of exposing their child to an armed teacher is even worse than the chance of a school shooting itself.

“If there were a school that was promoting teachers having guns in the classroom, that would probably be a negative, and a dealbreaker for sending my kid there,” Hall said.

The media leaves parents in the dust

It’s become increasingly apparent that schools aren’t the only place where kids can get information. With just a few clicks, anyone can gain access to tens of thousands of websites dedicated to specific topics.

As a result, a student with ill intentions can use the internet in a much more harmful way.

Shooters have been known to use platforms to interact with others like them, giving them new ways to hurt students. In turn, parents who are less likely to use social media platforms may miss these threats.

“I think social media and people being able to find groups of like-minded individuals is a factor,” Holmberg said. “That didn’t exist 20 years ago.”

Clarisse Bell
Parents and Mass Shootings
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For many parents, the use of the internet and social media creates a natural barrier between them and their kids. The constant flow of new apps and trends make it difficult for parents to relate to their children, especially when they didn’t have this technology as a teenager.

Unfortunately, such a break in a close-knit relationship between a parent and a child can cause students to turn down the wrong path in search of hurting others.

“Some kids will act completely good while behind the scenes they aren’t doing well,” Feng said. “Sometimes, high school kids will shield their true emotions from their parents.”

For many parents, this lack of communication is their biggest fear. It’s known that a kid without a support system is more likely to “slip through the cracks.” Additionally, some schools don’t have the financial resources to focus on the mental and social health of their students.

However, Tep believes that at Carlmont, students are constantly supported. 

“We’re really fortunate that there are way more safety nets at Carlmont than most other schools,” Tep said. “We’ve got flex time where kids can come in and check out, so hopefully they’re not as stressed out. We’ve got Students Offering Support (SOS) reaching out to kids. We have way more resources than I think the average high school does.”

As is to be expected, not all schools are as fortunate as Carlmont, and school shootings remain at the forefront of political and societal debate as increasingly prevalent issues. However, the beginning of a new decade marks a new start and the opportunity for change, which begins with the acknowledgment of the problem at hand, and the willingness to prepare the youth of today for the world they will face.

“We have to speak reality and say, ‘Look, these are kids. They’re the future,” Holmberg said.