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School safety is more than just gun control

Schools should be places where our children feel safe, learn about themselves and their community, and receive the support they need to discover and pursue their passions. We must work together as a community to keep our children safe as they return to school this fall. If a child does not feel safe, it can have catastrophic consequences for the school and the community.

As a former college principal and lifelong educator, I have seen firsthand how our schools’ evolution toward assembly line testing, banning books on battlefields and prison pipelines harm our children. As our students return to the classroom, it’s time for us to work together to revolutionize their schools to prioritize their overall safety.

Consider the state of our schools today: young people are facing a mental health emergency and lives threatened by the climate crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded our shortage of educators. Toxic facilities and crumbling public school infrastructure endanger the health and well-being of students. And unprecedented gun violence and hatred are making our classrooms more dangerous than ever.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman at his first annual youth conference in New Rochelle
Emma Simon

Students, parents and educators are aware of the urgency of this problem. But instead of addressing it, Republicans are embracing hate speech against LGBTQ+ youth. They ban books, attack evidence-based and truthful teaching practices, and cut funding for public education. And they are blocking common-sense gun reform.

They are very clear: they do not want to ensure the safety of our children.

True education is a process of self-discovery and a source of freedom. Schools can and should be more than just test scores and academics; they should be the cradle of our love for ourselves and each other, and the foundation of a democracy that works for all of us.

True education is a process of self-discovery and a source of freedom. Schools can and should be more than just test scores and academics; they should be the cradle of our love for ourselves and each other, and the foundation of a democracy that works for all of us.

But young people cannot discover the joy and power of learning in spaces where they do not feel safe, seen and supported.

To ensure they feel safe, we need to comprehensively address the physical, emotional and environmental safety of students (and educators!). It begins by addressing the most fatal crisis facing our students: gun violence. Guns are the leading cause of death among children in the United States. As principal, I stood outside the cafeteria every day during lunch to make sure my students were safe. Meaningful gun reform would ensure that no one can walk into a school and commit a senseless act of violence against our babies.

Gun violence is only part of the equation. The physical safety of our children also encompasses the environment in which they learn. Our schools are collapsing and struggling communities have been hit the hardest. How can we expect our children to learn when they don’t even have clean air to breathe in their classrooms?

School safety is more than just gun control
Representative Jamaal Bowman at the Yonkers Library Reading Buddies program teaches a student
Emma Simon

Students need fresh food, green spaces, and intentionally designed infrastructure to promote their well-being and educational growth. Imagine if we transformed our public schools into the palaces that form the center of our community life and guide us towards a resilient future.

To do this, we need my Green New Deal for Public Schools, which would invest in public schools as a sustainable public good, a safe space for every student and every family, and a teaching laboratory for the next generation of visionaries. STEM.

As the bill makes clear, school safety goes far beyond simply protecting our children from physical abuse and crumbling infrastructure, because they deserve more. They deserve to discover their innate genius and have their minds safe and cared for.

This means investing in mental health professionals and initiatives in schools. It means giving our children the opportunity to read books and learn stories that reflect their identity so that they feel represented in the classroom and in the world.

Unfortunately, Republicans are on a crusade to bury the stories and ideas that give voice to students. We must fight back and empower our children to know and love everyone around them, including themselves.

As they learn to love, they also deserve to feel cared for and valued by those around them. Throughout my studies, my relationships with my friends, my professors and my students were what allowed me to get by. School can feel like an overwhelming place that moves too quickly, and our children need safe spaces and strong support systems to help them get through it.

It’s up to us to create these spaces by investing in sports, arts and extracurricular activities so that students have the opportunity to discover their passions in a healthy way. Let’s direct resources to public schools so educators and staff can cultivate authentic relationships with every student.

Every day when I came to my school, I saw unlimited talent and unbridled curiosity, testimony to the joy of learning. We cannot afford to be ensnared by Republican rhetoric and policies that will keep our schools safe every day. Our children are our future. They can and will solve our greatest challenges and build a better society where everyone can thrive.

As students and teachers return to the classroom, we need to think critically about why and how to create safe schools. The people we should be listening to are children, parents and teachers, not the pundits who attack public education to score cheap political points. It’s time to refocus the conversation on our children and empower them with policies that keep our babies safe and unlock their full potential.

Jamal Bowman is the U.S. Representative for New York’s 16th Congressional District.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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