10 years after Sandy Hook, focus on school safety measures persists

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Wednesday, December 14, 2022
10 years after Sandy Hook, focus on school safety measures persists
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Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the second-deadliest school shooting in US history.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the second-deadliest school shooting in US history.

"Somehow it continues to happen. Anniversaries like Sandy Hook make us all stop and re-evaluate about the (school shootings) that have happened since in the (past) 10 years, you think 'how are we still here,'" said Melissa Hudgens, a Chapel Hill mother of two.

26 people -- 20 students and six staffers -- were killed at the Newtown, Connecticut, school in a tragedy that sent shockwaves across the country.

"I remember feeling horrified, thinking about young, elementary school children killed in schools," recalled Letha Muhammad, the mother of a Wake County high schooler.

Muhammad serves as Executive Director of the non-profit Education Justice Alliance, and supports proactive measures to create a safer environment in schools.

"We also believe there should be trained personnel outside the administration and the teachers in the building, who are placed there like community intervention workers who've been trained with crisis intervention schools, mental health first aid training, conflict resolution, restorative practices training, which would also create a more relationship-centric school environment," said Muhammad.

Inside the group's offices, Muhammad pointed to a list on the wall, created by students, highlighting their top concerns; the top issue was guns.

"I think young people would want to speak and say something and have something to say about what it means to keep them safe in schools. But adults sometimes have to create the space so they feel powerful enough to do that," Muhammad said.

Muhammad does not support the use of school resource officers, believing the presence of law enforcement in school can have negative consequences.

"What could be seen as regular adolescence behavior or 'misbehavior,' can oftentimes because there is law enforcement placed in schools, it can turn into behavior that can be criminalized, and then put young people on a trajectory from the school to prison pipeline," Muhammad said.

It's one part of the school safety conversation which has generated debate, as legislators, education officials, advocates, and parents have discussed several measures that could be implemented to reduce the likelihood of such tragedies, including mandating locked doors and adding fencing or barriers around schools.

"It's kind of a hollow feeling in a lot of ways that these incidents happen and then we all talk about how terrible they are, and we all try to reassure our kids and make them feel better, and these are the things we have implemented, and yet they continue to happen," Hudgens said.

In October, the Department of Public Instruction's Center for Safer Schools announced more than $74 million in grants for 200 districts and charter schools across North Carolina. In elementary, middle, and charter schools, the funds will go toward safety equipment, school resource officers, as well as training and services for students in crisis. In high schools, the funds are available for measures besides school resource officers.

"Trying to get guns out of the hands of people that would be perpetrating these things, but that's not something that I think is on the school's shoulders," Hudgens said.

In 2019, NCDPI rolled out Say Something Anonymous Reporting System, an app that allows students and staff to submit safety concerns about individuals who may be at-risk to themselves or others. ABC11 reached out to NCDPI on Wednesday to learn specifics about the number of tips the app has received over the past three years; at the time of publication, we had not received a response.

The app is a product of Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit group founded by family members of Sandy Hook victims. Governor Cooper commemorated the tragedy on Twitter Wednesday, writing: "On the 10th anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, we pause for reflection and resolve. Gun violence can never be normalized even when it happens to often. We must come together to enact popular, common sense safeguards that preserve the 2nd Amendment while saving lives."

He expanded on those remarks during an address to North Carolinians Against Gun Violence.

"They happen so often, and our challenge is we cannot normalize it. Even when it is happening often, it is not normal. You don't see this around the world," Cooper said.

According to Sandy Hook Promise, entering this most recent school years, there have been 948 school shootings in the United States since Sandy Hook.

"We want our freedoms and we want our independence and we want to be able to own the things that we want to own, and I am supportive of that to a certain extent, but somehow there seems to be a disconnect with that ideology and then what's happening here, which I think we all can agree as a society, regardless of where you fall in terms of gun control measures that what's happening is unacceptable, to put it mildly. What's happening in our schools is unacceptable," said Hudgens.