Over the past few months, National PTA has been increasingly committed to ensuring that schools are safe for our children. We have targeted school safety and gun violence prevention as part of our advocacy agenda and have made a concerted effort to engage communities on ways to promote a safer school climate.
At the National PTA Legislative Conference this past March, we named improving school safety a top advocacy focus. At the conference, we hosted our first school safety town hall forum in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education. We were honored to have Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle and an esteemed panel of school safety experts join us to address PTA member questions. Following a rich discussion and positive member feedback, National PTA and the U.S. Department of Education hosted a second school safety town hall with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Baltimore, Md. to continue this critically important conversation.
As we continue to reassure our children that school is a safe place, it is imperative that our children know that we are sincere and our comments are heartfelt. It is our duty as parents, educators, and child advocates to dedicate ourselves to ensuring that schools remain a safe haven for children and educators. And as families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy take to Capitol Hill to advocate for tougher protections, our position remains the same. Congress must do the right thing to improve school safety.
Here are two ways you can join us in advocating for safer schools:
1) Contact your Senators to express disappointment in their failure to enact common-sense gun violence prevention measures.
Despite public outcry, last week the Senate failed to enact the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013. During consideration, multiple amendments were offered—and defeated—including those to increase access to mental health services and supports, reenact a federal ban on military-style assault weapons, and limit the availability of high-capacity magazines. Perhaps most disappointing was the defeat of the Manchin (D-WV)—Toomey (R-PA) bipartisan amendment to strengthen criminal background checks and extend them to the purchase of firearms at gun shows and over the internet. Although not universal, adoption of this amendment would have been a commonsense first step to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and protect our nation’s children.
2) Urge Congress to Enact the Bipartisan Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act.
Thousands of PTA members took action in support of the Mental Health in Schools Act earlier this year. Key provisions of that legislation to expand supports for school-based mental health services, championed by Senator Franken (D-MN), have been included in a legislative package that reauthorizes and improves programs related to awareness, prevention, and early identification of mental health conditions. In an act of strong bipartisanship, the Senate HELP Committee voted unanimously to report this bill to the Senate floor—and now we need YOU to urge your Senators to pass this bill, either as an amendment to S.649, or later as a stand-alone bill.
Both of these acts are vitally important to gun violence prevention and to guarantee every child’s inherent right to a safe learning environment.
Betsy Landers is the President of National PTA in Alexandria, VA.