Thoughts and Prayers are Not Enough

I can’t begin to describe the pain I felt on Wednesday, February 14th when 17 lives were taken, and thousands of other lives forever darkened. As a 1994 graduate from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, this shooting hit incredibly close to home for me.

I know you felt that pain too—educators across the city have been reaching out, ready for action.

In the past week, PAT members have made three things clear:

  1. We need to take a serious look at our own safety procedures in PPS, to make sure we’re doing everything we can;
  2. We must continue to advocate for fully funded schools—with additional wrap-around services, including more mental health and counseling services; and
  3. We need to take action, pushing our lawmakers for solutions to this senseless gun violence.

I’m all in.

But in addition to discussing preparations like our active shooter protocols, or preventative measures like adding school counselors, we have to talk about policy. I’m past the point of debating whether or not gun violence is an education issue—it is.

When kids are afraid to go to school, that makes it an education issue. When our society can’t deliver on the most basic promise to parents—that their children will come home from school alive—that means we need to have the conversation. When active shooter drills become part of standard teacher training, educators must join the debate.

I am by no means a gun safety expert, but I’m willing to listen and learn.

What I do know is that I am a teacher who didn’t start her career pulling the shades, showing kids how to barricade the door, and crouching in closets with her students.

As educators—and union members—how do we make sure this doesn’t become the new normal?

Let’s take inspiration from the Stoneman Douglas students who survived this tragedy. They made it clear that thoughts and prayers are not enough—action is what we need. I know I’ll be asking every candidate at our OEA PAC convention next month what they are prepared to do to address gun violence.

And through PAT we are also working with students and educators across the country to demonstrate our resolve—and the power of organized people.

As a first step I hope you’ll join me in planning for March 14th, as part of a nationwide walkout to honor the students killed at Stoneman Douglas. You can find out more about what’s happening that day, and how to get involved here. We are working with District leadership to plan a safe and supported event on March 14th, and we’ll also be supporting other actions across Oregon and beyond, with more details as the emerge.

In closing, I’d ask you to think about the fact that whenever we conduct an active shooter exercise, we practice risking our lives to save our students. If we are brave enough to die for our students, can’t we muster up the courage to talk about guns? I know it’s hard—my family, my friends, my colleagues—we all feel differently about it, and that’s okay.

But I think we can all agree school isn’t a place where kids should die. As long as they are, we have to do something about it.

In Solidarity,

Suzanne Cohen
PAT President