Cepeda: There's nothing worse than knowing your kids don't feel safe at school

Washington Post Writers Group
Esther Cepeda

CHICAGO – Parents of children born before the Columbine school shooting all share a baseline point of view: Our most pressing concerns about our kids' futures revolved around the usual stuff like whether they'd need expensive braces, have a fun time in high school or eventually get a decent job.

Never in a million years did I think I'd soon be living in a world in which my child would be sitting in history class believing that there was an active shooter roaming his school's hallways and that people were about to die.

As teachers in the public-school system, we've gotten inured to the realities of lockdown drills – when classroom doors are bolted shut and window shades are drawn.
Teachers usually find out in advance that these drills will take place, so they can prepare to ensure things go smoothly. As a mom, however, I was taken aback this week when my son described how he felt when his high school unexpectedly went into hard lockdown mode.

He said that a grim announcement to take cover came over the intercom, and a stunned silence filled the air as his classmates started breathing heavily and eyeing each other.

My son's teacher locked the door, drew the shades, turned out the lights and herded the students onto the floor in the corner of the room with the least visibility for a potential intruder.

"I thought, 'This is it,'" he told us at dinner. "I started listening for the gunshots thinking, 'Someone is about to die.'"

The whole thing only lasted 10 minutes, and when the voice on the intercom said it was only a drill, everyone sighed in relief. But, my son reported, "It was really something to watch everyone start freaking out."

Now, this kid is a junior; he has years of experience in emergency drills. But after a whole academic year of shooting incidents in high schools – The Washington Post's tally as of April 23 says there have been 13 school shootings in 2018 thus far – it's no wonder that each drill starts feeling more and more real.

This is not what we parents signed on for when we brought our children into the world. And yet here we are, dealing with a whole generation of students for whom it is a tangible possibility that they could lose their lives at school.

According to the Pew Research Center, of a nationally representative survey of teens ages 13 to 17, more than half (57 percent) say they are "very" or "somewhat" worried about the possibility of a shooting happening at their school.

Girls are more likely to be worried than boys (64 percent vs. 51 percent), and nonwhite teens are likelier to be more scared than white teens (64 percent to 51 percent, respectively).

Let's face it, there's nothing worse than knowing your kids don't feel safe. As a mom, it hurts to not be able to assure them that "everything is going to be OK" with any reasonable certitude.

And while we have our eyes on the gossip, memes and information overload of the moment, it feels like there's another shoe ready to drop at any time. What will it be next – an incident at a prom or a graduation?

Those are unhealthy thoughts.

Better to focus on this: Young people are the heart, soul, legs and hands of efforts pushing for stronger gun laws and for investments in social services that can help prevent the desperation that drives mass shooters.

From Black Lives Matter to the March for Our Lives, our kids are at the forefront of pushing for their children to have a school career free of gun violence.

Luckily, today's young people are the most idealistic, hopeful and empowered generation in recent memory. The Parkland school shooting survivor and activist Emma Gonzalez has said, "We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we're going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because ... just like Tinker v. Des Moines, we are going to change the law."

I believe her. But speaking for many moms out there: Our nerves are jangled this year.
Give us a gift this Sunday – please call us and say the two things we want to hear: "I love you" and "I'm going to be OK." We'll all feel better for hearing it proclaimed out loud.