Sensible solutions for safe schools

Student group hosts local officials to discuss school safety


CJ Hilgaertner

From left to right: Karen Emerson, Jason Snider and Ginny Burdick discuss school safety at a listening session April 10.

By James Canfield

     Gathered in the Tigard High School library, TTSD students, staff, parents, and elected officials as well as Oregon and Tigard officials discussed their views on gun laws and school safety.

     The elected officials and TTSD staff in attendance included Oregon Senator Ginny Burdick, Superintendent Ernie Brown, Oregon House Representative Margaret Doherty, City Council President Jason Snider, Tigard Police Officer and SRO Kristan Rinell, TTSD School Board Chair Jill Zurschmeide, and Board Member Karen Emerson.

     After a short introduction by Tigard and Tualatin student leaders, attendees who had signed up were given the opportunity to ask questions and share their opinions.

     “I’ve been working on the gun issue my entire career,” Burdick, a longtime supporter of gun reform laws, said. She also said that raising the age of firearm purchase to 21 is a “no-brainer.”

     Later, when the panel was asked about the idea of arming teachers, Burdick said that it “just drives her nuts,” a sentiment that seemed to be shared by most of the panel.

     “I was a high school teacher for ten years, and I never, ever, ever had any worries when I taught. My students never had any worries,” Doherty said.

     Other topics included emergency procedure and drill policies (which Brown said are four years old and under review), building safety and how the TTSD bond will make schools safer, higher rates of discipline among students of color compared to white students, and concealed firearms on school property. As of now, the decision of whether or not concealed firearms are allowed on Oregon school campuses lies with the individual districts. In response to a parent’s question of why there hasn’t been a state referendum to ban all guns in schools, Burdick explained that in some rural districts in Oregon where the police response time is up to two hours, districts may feel like allowing teachers to carry concealed firearms creates a safer environment for the staff and students there.

     When sophomore Olivia Young, who helped organize this event as well as others at Tigard, said that she didn’t feel safe at the school, Officer Rinell tearfully said that she was hurt to hear that students didn’t feel safe. “It terrifies me to think that something could happen, and I think about it every time I come into work,” Rinell said.

     She also mentioned that in countries where firearms are more strictly regulated, gun violence is proven to be reduced. For example, after a mass school shooting in 1996, Australia quickly passed new gun laws, and they haven’t had a fatal mass shooting since, in addition to a sharp decline in gun violence.

     “We as student organizers have a lot under our belt,” sophomore Meghan Turley said. In the future, Tigard and Tualatin High will be working closely together to organize more events like this; Tigard organizers are planning another walkout on April 20, and Tualatin student organizer Hadley Carlberg said that they’re working on getting a bus for their students to take to Salem on the same day.

     “My fellow student organizers and I have been working really hard to keep the conversation around sensible gun control going at THS and statewide,” Turley said. “This conversation didn’t end with the walkout, and we will keep fighting for those affected by it.”

     Turley went on to call student activism one of the most important types, because teens “can and will be relentless in the pursuit of a better world.”