As more families learn to live with the daily threat of school shootings, San Jose residents are pushing to address campus violence before tragedy strikes.
A Pew Research Center study released last week reveals nearly two-thirds of parents worry about their children’s safety at school. The study shows 32% of parents are extremely concerned about potential shootings, while 37% of parents are at least somewhat concerned. Pew is a nonpartisan think tank that conducts research on social issues, often through nationally representative surveys.
In Santa Clara County, communities are urging school districts to invest in mental health services and other prevention measures, but there isn’t consensus on the role of law enforcement during an emergency, local leaders said.
Student safety is crucial and affects all communities, said Jillana Kimsey, president of the San Jose Unified Council of PTAs. The impact is being felt nationwide, with a school shooting in St. Louis, Missouri claiming two lives Monday.
“Every parent in this day and age worries about their child’s safety at school,” Kimsey told San José Spotlight.
In 2022 alone, there have been 40 school shootings on K-12 campuses which resulted in injuries and deaths, according to a database from Education Week. Meanwhile, six Bay Area schools, including Lincoln High School in the San Jose Unified School District, dealt with false active shooter calls in mid-October, prompting a police response and widespread concern among families.
Prevention is key for school safety through on-site mental health support and community education on gun safety and gun violence prevention, Kimsey said.
The Pew study shows 63% of parents with children under 18 think mental health services are a solution to school shootings. Schools should also work to appropriately evaluate and work with local organizations to address students who do bring firearms to school, Kimsey said.
While families are worried about school shootings, advocating for law enforcement on campus also raises a host of issues, said Tomara Hall, a special education teacher and member of the San Jose Unified Equity Coalition. Studies such as the 2022 Silicon Valley Pain Index show student discipline disproportionately impacts Black students, while Latino residents are more likely to face excessive police force.
San Jose Unified School District, which enrolls more than 30,000 students across 41 campuses, is currently discussing whether San Jose police officers should remain on its campuses. The district booted police off campuses in the 2021-22 school year, but later brought them back in limited roles, like security for large events.
Almost half, or 49%, of parents in the study expressed support for having law enforcement on campus to prevent school shootings. But Hall said not all students feel safe with officers on campus.
“One group of people might be getting reassurance by having this safety precaution,” Hall told San José Spotlight. “For most people of color, they feel like they’re in this system of oppression versus safety when we have more police on campus.”
According to the Pew study, concerns over school shootings are higher among surveyed parents of color: half of Hispanic parents, 40% of Black parents and 35% of Asian parents surveyed expressed extreme concern over school shootings compared to 22% of white parents.
There are alternatives, Hall said, which can include unarmed officers or security that are not on campus around the clock. Studies have shown law enforcement serves as a response mechanism to school shootings rather than a deterrent, Hall said.
Tackling safety on campuses requires local and state legislation on gun violence prevention, including universal background checks and bans on assault weapons, Kimsey said. Addressing school shootings requires long-term solutions, she added.
“For over a decade, PTA has heard parents expressing concerns about active school shooters from all corners of the nation,” Kimsey told San José Spotlight. “We have yet to meet a parent who doesn’t put their child’s safety as a top priority.”
Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.