May 23, 2018      News      

Leadership and changes needed to protect schools

By Cheri Helt

No parent ever forgets the first time you send your child off to school — whether at the bus stop or walking them into a classroom. As their little hand leaves yours, you are setting them off on an incredible adventure of discovery and growth. You hope and pray that your child will return home safely each day. Sadly, we now live in a world where the assumption of safety at school can no longer be taken for granted.

The safety of over 18,000 students who attend our schools is deeply personal to me, as a mom with three kids in public schools and as a Bend-La Pine School Board member. As parents, elected leaders and citizens, we must come together to ensure that no child — whether 5 or 24 — ever has his or her education or life cut short by the senseless tragedy of gun violence — or by our unwillingness to prevent it.

This past week, the tragic shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, is further evidence of the need for more leadership and change to meet this challenge. Sadly, Oregon has seen our share of tragic shootings — Umpqua Community College, Clackamas Town Center, Thurston High School and Reynolds High School. Here in Bend, following the Florida shooting, we experienced multiple threats to our schools. One Bend-La Pine student was arrested after making what Bend Police called a “credible” shooting threat to one of our own schools.

Marching, protesting and speaking out is good — it keeps the issue of school safety and reducing gun violence front and center. But activism alone isn’t enough — action is also required.

Locally, school administrators, teachers, parents, students and law enforcement are coordinated and committed to keeping our schools safe. In April, for example, the Bend-La Pine school district fast-tracked new safety entrances for roughly 24 schools. This is a good step, but school safety and gun violence is a complex problem. No single law or approach will be sufficient — we need a comprehensive approach.

As a school board member and as a state representative, I would support the following proposals to create safer schools and to reduce gun violence:

• Tougher gun laws — expand background checks for gun purchases at gun shows, over the internet and those with diagnosed mental illnesses; raise from 18 to 21 the age to purchase assault weapons, like the AR-15 used in the Florida shooting; ban bump stocks and high capacity magazines that make weapons more lethal in mass shootings; require gun owners to use safety devices in the storage of firearms and report lost or stolen guns within 24 hours; establish a tax credit for the purchase of gun safety and storage devices.

• School building safety — make state bonding capacity available to help pay for local school building safety enhancements, like the safety entrances being installed in Bend schools, gun-resistant glass and other practical measures.

• Mental health engagement — create a dedicated funding source for threat-assessment teams and school counselors who can support and evaluate the emotional well-being of students; empower counselors and if necessary law enforcement to proactively engage youth-in-crisis and those exhibiting signs of dangerous or disturbing behavior.

• Stronger law enforcement tools — make it a felony, instead of misdemeanor, to threaten violence against schools; extend the maximum youth detention time (currently 36 hours) for misdemeanor charges against youth with weapons offenses of those who make threats to others.

I know that many of these ideas are controversial and will face opposition from both ends of the political spectrum. Rest assured, I’m not afraid to buck my own party, take-on entrenched interests, reach across the political aisle or stand on my own if necessary to achieve safer schools and less gun violence. I believe that’s what people still want and expect in their elected leaders. It’s certainly what I expect of myself.

Read the original article in The Bend Bulletin here.