Mich. education leaders react to Newtown tragedy

By now, we’ve all heard about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. We’ve watched the images on television of a community grieving. We’ve read the stories of the teachers who sacrificed their own lives to save the lives of students. We’ve listened to pundits argue over causes and solutions. Among it all, we’ve hugged our children a little longer and a little harder, and we’ve shed more than a few tears.

It’s hard to make sense of what happened that day, when a deranged gunman shot 20 first-graders to death, along with four teachers, the principal, the school psychologist, his mother and himself. What we do know is the heroic actions of school employees saved countless lives — in some cases, at the expense of their own.

Teacher Victoria Soto hid students in a closet and cupboard in her classroom. She put herself between her students and the killer, and died making the ultimate sacrifice.

Library clerk Maryann Jacob hid 18 children in a storage room and barricaded the door.

Kaitlin Roig, a teacher, hid at least a dozen students in a bathroom.

Teacher Anne Marie Murphy’s body was discovered in her classroom with the bodies of her first-grade students; she was found in a shielding position.

We all grieve for the loss of these children and school employees we didn’t personally know. We also shake with fear, knowing that this could happen to any of our students or families.

Although it’s one of the more tragic cases we’ve seen, school massacres are disturbingly common and something must be done, MEA President Steve Cook said.

“More than 30 times since Columbine, unconscionable acts of gun violence in American schools have either ended or forever changed the lives of students and school employees,” Cook said. “Speaking for MEA’s 150,000 members, all our condolences go out to the victims and their families, as well as the entire community of Newtown, as they deal with the senseless deaths of these children and educators. 

“Regardless of what the details and facts are of the events in Connecticut, this nation must have a real conversation about guns and the safety of our students and those who care for them,” Cook said.

“I am a gun owner and avid outdoorsman, but something must be done to protect our children from such acts of violence,” Cook said. “Entire school communities — boards, administrators, teachers, support staff, parents and students — need to be partners in discussions to ensure our school buildings are safe and protected from these kinds of crimes, using the latest in technology and building design to secure buildings and classrooms from those who would bring harm to students, whether armed or not.”

Other Michigan school leaders are also speaking out, including the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, which said the Newtown massacre serves as a “chilling and heartbreaking reminder” that “firearms have absolutely no place in our schools.” 

The Michigan Association of School Administrators released a statement sending its “heartfelt condolences to all the school personnel, families and friends of those who were killed or hurt in this tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.”

“Violence of this nature tears apart lives and devastates communities for generations,” MASA’s statement read. “We must all recommit to finding ways to prevent these types of incidents in any community at any location.”