Last week our little town had a kerfuffle (although some would say it was much more than a kerfuffle). Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together. (Please recall that I’m not an investigative journalist.)
Thursday night, Kennedy (our oldest, who is 15) asked whether she had to go to school the next day. I laughed and said, “Of course. Why do you ask?” She explained that there was going to be a gang shooting at school on Friday and that “all” of her friends were staying home. I laughed out loud (‘cause I’m an awesome mom like that) and then told her that was ridiculous and went about my merry way. (She was not amused.)
I didn’t give it another thought until Friday morning when she asked again (she’s always been a persistent little thing). I laughed again and told her to get her shoes on and head out. We live across the street from the high school, so she walks to school. She began to protest, saying that 33 of her friends were being allowed to stay home. Then she upped the ante by naming a few specific friends whose parents I am friendly with, to bolster her claim, I suppose. I still told her “no.” So off she went to school and I went out for a run.
She survived the school day with only a mild dose of trauma. By the end of the day, I had learned a bit more about the whole hullabaloo:
- In all, 544 of her classmates (approx. 1/3) had stayed home from school.
- Some students were sent home for wearing “gang colors”: red and blue (Hello, Confirmation Bias. Where have you been lurking?).
- There were only 11 people in one of her classes.
But judging from comments on Facebook, on the newspaper’s web page, and around and about town, our little town of 30,000 was embroiled in all-out gang warfare. All the “good parents” kept their children home to keep them “safe.” Some people decried that this gang violence was a direct result of having taken prayer out of schools (WordPress needs an eyeroll emoticon). Others said that we should take our kids out of the high school and send them to outlying county schools that were “safer.” I heard “better safe than sorry” a lot by way of explanation. One person even asked me, “But what if there had been a shooting and your daughter had been killed?? How would you have felt then??”
Umm, I would’ve felt terrible . . ., but thanks for asking.
What if I let her get her driver’s license and she dies in a car wreck?
What if I let her boyfriend take her out on a date and they get hit by a drunk driver?
What if I let her swim in a pool and she hits her head and drowns?
What if I let her play a contact sport and she takes a fatal elbow to the head?
What if I let her ride on a four-wheeler and it tips over?
It’s significantly more likely that she would be injured or, God forbid, meet an untimely death engaging in one of those activities than that she would be injured in a gang shooting at our small town school.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole idea of being “better safe than sorry” in terms of our teenagers. Of course I want my children to be safe. That goes without saying. But when does safety collide with paranoia? What about fear mongering? What do we do, as parents, when our concern for safety butts right up against rumors and racial profiling and stereotyping? What if the people we’re keeping our kids safe from are people who just so happen to be of a different race, religion, or socioeconomic status than us?
What then? Do we tell our kids their school isn’t safe if we mean something else entirely? What messages are we sending them about their classmates?
So I’ll keep sending my kids to our community’s public schools. And I’ll keep being grateful to our local law enforcement officers (who do a great job) and the school administrators and teachers (who also do a great job). Thanks to them, I happily send my children, every day, to our local public schools. I never fear for their safety or well being while they’re there, and that’s no small thing.
And I’ll keep telling my kids to look for the good in everyone they encounter. Sure, sometimes I might raise an eyebrow or laugh or even gasp at a story they come home with, but shoot—I wonder what stories kids are telling their parents about my kids?