On February 14, 2018 a lone gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and killed 17 members of the school community. Countless others suffered physical and emotional injury that will last a lifetime. This is just the most recent example of the unimaginable state of gun violence in the United States. The toll these events have on the social and emotional climate of schools across the country cannot be understated. On learning the tragic news from Florida, ASHA posted a statement on its website.
This was the first time ASHA has made a public statement in response to the ongoing epidemic of gun violence in our schools. ASHA’s statement called on its members and all school health professionals to lead change efforts in their communities. However, we recognize leading those efforts requires guidance around evidence-based and research-informed best practices, training, professional development, and access to other resources. ASHA also recognizes that to truly realize our mission of transforming all schools into places where every student learns and thrives, we must lead change through advocacy and activism. ASHA is inspired by the actions of student activists who have emerged from Parkland in response to the tragedy in their community. The advocacy efforts of these students should serve as a model for school health professionals and community leaders.
As president of ASHA, I don’t want these to be just more words and expressions of sympathy, I want something to change… something must change! Like many of you, I don’t have all the answers. I certainly have my own ideas about how we can protect our children, and I know bad ideas when I hear them coming from some of our elected leaders, but I don’t have a magic ball that tells me what to do. What I do know is that it is well past time for ASHA to be proactive in addressing this problem. As such, I am today announcing the formation of the ASHA School Violence Taskforce. This Taskforce will be chaired by ASHA’s immediate past president, Sharon Murray and I have invited eight additional former ASHA presidents and our executive director to participate in strategic conversations about meaningful solutions. Over the coming weeks and months, ASHA will be bringing forward strategies such as a comprehensive advocacy agenda, trainings and other professional development opportunities, and collaborations or partnerships with other organizations operating in this space. ASHA will also be crafting positions statements to define how we will respond in the future and exploring opportunities to support other change efforts, such as those being pioneered by the students of Parkland. We have created a page on our website dedicated to the Taskforce and their activities. We will be updating the page and sharing additional information as new developments emerge, so please check back often.
Rarely in our history has there been an issue where a solution is so desperately needed, but all proposed solutions result in nothing more than increased political divisiveness. We can’t continue allowing our children to be caught in the middle. We must work together. I invite everyone reading this message to post a response below and share how you will commit to engaging in strategies to reduce school violence. Thank you!