I have failed the students and parents of the Newton Municipal School District.
Any apologies I can offer to you, especially to Tylin Parker, his family and everyone affected by Thursday’s shooting on the Newton Elementary School campus, are not enough to undo what has happened.
I am ashamed that I have allowed this to happen again. The student’s blood is on my hands. I cannot allow this to continue.
When the school district confirmed that a student brought a gun on the Newton Elementary School campus in April 2021, I should have stood up and demanded change. I should have held Superintendent Glenda Nickson, the NMSD Board of Trustees and all other administrators accountable for what happened.
We got lucky that the incident was just a gun being brought on campus. This time, we weren’t lucky at all.
After that April incident, nothing happened. In fact, it appeared like school officials were trying to shove this under the rug so that no one, not even the parents of the elementary students, knew about it.
Right then, I should have known we were in trouble. I should have demanded that the school district make real changes to ensure the safety of their students on campus.
I didn’t. I failed as being a watchdog for our community. I failed to do my best to make sure this never happened again.
But it did happen again. District officials cannot hide it this time. This story made national news. My parents in Birmingham, Ala., called me because they saw the story on their TV newscast Thursday night.
More importantly, a 6-year-old should have been at E.L. Morgan Field Friday night being a part of the homecoming court. Now, he has a long road to recovery.
Now, a campus has been rocked by a shooting. It doesn’t matter if it was an accidental shooting. This could have and should have been prevented.
I didn’t take it seriously enough. We all didn’t take it seriously enough. We now see what happened.
Something has to change now. First of all, the school district must come up with a comprehensive plan to address school security. The current backpack policy isn’t working. Something has to change.
The district must implement a policy to either install metal detectors or have some kind of baggage check at the door or gate. If that’s not feasible, perhaps the district must ban all backpacks. I know those measures are extreme, but the district cannot afford to make another misstep.
As soon as anyone learns about a gun, it needs to be reported not only to school officials, but to the police department. All threats have to be taken seriously no matter who the student is.
The district and the Newton Police Department must have a close working relationship with each other. Perhaps, the district should pay the salaries of a Newton Police officers to stay on campus at all times. Regardless of the cost, the district can’t afford not to have a Newton Police officer on each campus at all times.
School leaders must also be transparent and open with parents, staff, community members and the media when events like this happen on campus. Doing Facebook posts and parent app alerts alone may not be enough to reach everyone who needs to get the message. In the event of a major emergency, someone needs to inform the public of what is going on.
To the parents and guardians, you must be vigilant to make sure that weapons in your homes are stored unloaded, securely and are not in a place where children can easily get them. Make sure your children are educated on gun safety and on the dangers of guns if they are used improperly.
Right now, everyone has failed to protect our children and ensure them a safe learning environment. The staff cannot do their job if they cannot feel safe in their classrooms.
Newton, we all have to take responsibility and find a way to make sure this never happens again.
Brent can be reached at email@example.com.