It is another devastating week for this country.
Nobody can grasp how it feels to lose a child, or a parent, to a gunshot at school – except for those who have experienced that cruelty already. But no community across the United States is untouched by the killing of at least 19 students and two teachers two days ago at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Lexington included.
An emotional School Committee meeting
News of this massacre broke just hours before the Lexington School Committee’s regular Tuesday meeting, which was Sara Cuthbertson’s second as chair.
In the two weeks since Cuthbertson’s first meeting as chair, Superintendent Julie Hackett had to send a communication condemning violence and hate to school community members after another gun massacre in Buffalo, New York left 10 dead and three others injured at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood. It’s been barely a week since a community vigil mourned that same tragedy.
Cuthbertson was reflecting on the massacre in Buffalo Tuesday afternoon when she turned on the news and learned what had happened in Uvalde.
After opening Tuesday’s meeting with a moment of silence recognizing “the news over the last few weeks,” Cuthbertson shared her anguish preparing for this meeting.
“I was struggling with the fact that we were seeing something on TV, and we had experienced something in our country just a few weeks ago, that was so heavy – but here we are having to go right into our usual business…at a time when a lot of people in our community and in our country are reeling from these acts of senseless violence that seem to be business as usual in our country,” she said.
Cuthbertson acknowledged that many of those watching the meeting likely felt the same way. As she reviewed materials for upcoming agenda items – Lexington Education Foundation (LEF) grants that educators will “turn…into wonderful things for our students”; school innovation plans that “will have an impact beyond those individual schools and spread out throughout the Lexington community”; and work to diversify literature by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Student Advisory Council – Cuthbertson found some slight solace.
“None of it comes close to erasing those tragedies, or bringing back the lives that were lost,” she said. “But in a time where everything… can seem to be awful…seeing those things gives me a little bit of hope that the work that we do here together… – in Lexington Public Schools and the broader community – will send just a little bit of something positive into the world as we send our students out.”
Later during the meeting, Superintendent Hackett echoed Cuthbertson’s sense of hope and faith in community amidst debilitating heartache.
Hackett was a superintendent when 20 first graders and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut a decade ago; “my heart still aches for them,” she wrote in a follow-up email. Her niece’s close friend was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida when a school shooting there killed 17 people. “It’s unconscionable that after all of these unspeakable tragedies, we haven’t done a thing as a nation to address the problem,” she wrote.
“Community embraces each other when we have events like that… we have to nurture that, and foster that, and keep doing that, and not take that for granted,” Hackett said during the meeting.
From a practical perspective, Hackett shared a previous school safety update during her superintendent’s report to reassure students and families that “we actively think and plan for these situations, and will continue to work on this.”
School Committee Clerk and former Chair Kathleen Lenihan pointed out the obvious: That no district should have to do so.
“I just want to pause for a moment to think about how people in other countries watching this think we have lost our minds,” she said. “This does not happen in the UK, in Canada, in Ireland, Spain, France, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, Italy…Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil – this is the only country in the world where children are slaughtered at school with depressing regularity.”
“This is completely insane – that we have to spend time and money on this that could be spent doing literally anything else that would benefit children,” Lenihan said.
Hackett agreed. “We, collectively, are becoming desensitized to something that’s horrific. And we do need to take action,” she said.
Teachers are “exhausted”
Avon Lewis, President of the Lexington Education Association (LEA), felt “out of words” at this point, she wrote in an email to LexObserver. She referenced a tweet from activist Joshua Potash that summed up her feelings: “To ask teachers to be on the front line of mass shootings, the front line of a pandemic, and the front line of the struggle against inequality all while underpaying them and systematically underfunding the education system is both cruel and a recipe for societal collapse,” he wrote.
“I am exhausted. I think many of us are,” Lewis wrote.
Another LEA board member, Amanda Laskowski, is a special educator at Bridge Elementary School. The Uvalde massacre forces her to imagine confronting nightmarish choices that should never have to cross her mind.
“I’ve been in this conversation in a teacher group I’m in about how we have to be forced to think about whether or not we would sacrifice ourselves for our students,” Laskowski wrote. “Honestly it tore us all up because a lot of us have our own kids. As much as I adore my students my own kids are more important to me.”
“I don’t want to be labeled a hero and I don’t want to have to figure out if I’m a terrible human because I can’t sacrifice myself for my students because I have three kids at home that need their mom,” she wrote.
State House legislators plead for action
From a legislative standpoint, Lexington’s state delegation condemned the abundance of firearms and absence of common-sense gun laws nationwide.
“Pro-gun folks have promoted a lively commerce in firearms, have seen firearms proliferate as a result, and now cite this very proliferation as a reason to load up further in self-defense,” State Senator Mike Barrett (D-3rd Middlesex) wrote in an email to LexObserver. “The consequence for the country, however unintended, is a self-perpetuating disaster.”
“In many parts of the U.S., the cycle will continue,” he added. “In Massachusetts, at least, we can give our kids and ourselves a modicum of added protection, by regulating firearms to the maximum extent permitted by law.”
State Senator Cindy Friedman (D-4th Middlesex) expressed her anguish on Twitter. “Families should not have to fear that dropping their kids off at school will be the last time they see them,” she wrote. “I refuse to become immune to gun violence and complacent with inaction. We need to make policy choices nationwide that will curb gun violence and end these tragedies.”
State Representative Michelle Ciccolo (D-15th Middlesex) called for “swift and comprehensive action as a nation.”
“Uvalde, Buffalo, Milwaukee, Lafayette, Pittsburg, Brooklyn, Dallas, Sacramento and so many more all in 2022,” she wrote. “We are long past words to describe the horrific epidemic of gun violence gripping this nation.” Even in Massachusetts, which has “some of the best gun laws in the nation” and one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the country, she called to strengthen state laws even further “to serve as a model for other jurisdictions to follow.”
Among other necessary actions, Ciccolo implored constituents to call friends and family members in other states “and urge them to do something and demand better laws from their legislators.” She said that everyone should donate to state and national anti-gun violence organizations to dilute pro-gun power. And she asked that everyone “lift up candidates at all levels of government who support action, including and especially those from red and purple states who need our help.”
Universal assault weapon bans and background checks constitute a bare minimum for necessary gun regulations, she specified. Ciccolo forcefully condemned the National Rifle Association (NRA) narrative “conflating gun violence with mental health, substance abuse, and video games.”
“Most importantly, do not believe we are incapable of change,” Ciccolo wrote. “Change only comes about through continuous, diligent, engagement and each of us must participate if we want a stable, healthy, society.”
You can find The Texas Tribune’s list of ways to support Uvalde’s victims, survivors and their families here.