I’m principal of a high school with a well-known name, only because it’s the site of one of the most devastating school shootings in recent American history: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
I’m also a mother, a neighbor and a witness to the enduring scars left by gun violence in our schools.
As a member of the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ Recovery Network, I participated in a congressional roundtable on gun violence following October’s deadly massacre in Lewiston, Maine.
I offered my assistance and my plea for something that is desperately needed in our country: concrete solutions to fight school shootings. Urgent, comprehensive action must be taken to prevent such tragedies and adequately support those who have already suffered through them.
Even as I advocate for change, the recent shooting in Perry, Iowa, and the death of the principal who tried to save children’s lives serve as stark reminders that our nation continues to grapple with the devastating toll of gun violence.
Almost six years ago, our school community in Parkland, Florida, was shattered. Seventeen lives were tragically cut short, with 17 others injured.
That horrific nightmare is my reality. At the time, I was a principal in a nearby school; my son was in eighth grade in Parkland. As I received the harrowing text from him about a “code red” at his school, I was engulfed in a terror that no parent, educator or student should ever experience.
It’s a fear that still lingers in the halls of Stoneman Douglas and in the hearts of our community.
In the aftermath of this national tragedy, I was tasked to take over leadership at Stoneman Douglas to guide the school in its recovery. Shortly after being appointed, I was contacted by and subsequently became a part of the Principal Recovery Network (PRN), consisting of educators who have faced school shootings. Our mission is to help schools through the healing process, a path we are still navigating at Stoneman Douglas.
The harsh reality is that school shootings have become alarmingly routine. As of mid-January, we’ve already had three school shooting deaths in 2024. The number of incidents has been rising dramatically since 2015. Last year alone, there were 136 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, with 66 students and educators killed and 158 more injured.
These numbers are not just statistics; they represent communities torn apart, futures lost and a growing need for resources to aid in recovery.
There are steps we can take right now to help. Federal programs like Project SERV, which provides critical support to schools affected by violence, are a lifeline. However, with a mere $5 million allocated last year amidst myriad shootings and other disasters, Project SERV’s funding is grossly insufficient.
An increase in these resources is imperative, not just for the immediate aftermath of violence but for the long-term healing and security of our schools.
The presence of school resource officers (SROs) trained specifically to work in educational environments is also crucial. At Stoneman Douglas, our SROs have been pivotal in both preventive measures and in aiding our recovery efforts.
SROs provide more than just security; they offer stability and guidance in an environment rife with threats and trauma.
Yet, as discussions in Congress on fiscal year 2024 appropriations unfold, it’s disheartening to witness proposals for drastic cuts in federal education funding. The House’s suggestion to slash that funding by 28 percent is not just disconcerting, it’s dangerous.
Such reductions would cripple our education system, exacerbate already alarming teacher shortages and compromise school safety. It’s crucial to maintain, if not increase, funding for programs that are vital for professional development, mental health support and school safety.
My ask to the members of Congress and to all stakeholders in our children’s futures is straightforward: prioritize the safety and well-being of our students and educators.
We must work together to ensure that no more school communities experience the horror that we did at Stoneman Douglas.
That means we must enact policies that prevent gun violence in schools and provide adequate resources for addressing trauma and fostering recovery and resilience.
As we continue to rebuild and strengthen our school community, we look to our leaders for action. The safety of our schools, our educators and the children who are the future of our nation depend on it.
Michelle Kefford, a longtime educator, is principal of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She is a member of the National Association of Secondary School Principals Recovery Network. This story about school shootings was produced by The Hechinger Report.
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