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Stolen Innocence

Stolen Innocence

Before the horror of Columbine High School in 1999, an “active shooter drill” was unheard of. Now, nearly 20 years later, it is not unusual to turn on the television to hear of shootings at schools, shopping malls and other public places. It is something that has the country wondering, “When will this stop and what will it take to do so?”

Representing Sandpoint at the March for Our Lives

Protecting our children and helping them to feel safe, whether it is from shootings, bullying or other things that threaten their well-being, is a priority not just for parents but for society in general. For a group of Sandpoint residents, it was important to them to show their support to not only children in our community, but nationwide, especially after the students from Parkland High School began to speak.

The Sandpoint group of five, which included Ben and Rhonda Tate, Sue Haynes, Sandpoint Middle School teacher Jacki Crossingham and Dan Bartlett, traveled to Washington D.C. in March to participate in the March for Our Lives.

Ben Tate said there was an estimated 800,000 people who attended the march in our nation’s capital. “Nationwide, there were probably millions more,” he said, referring to the more than 800 sibling events that took place the same day.

The Sandpoint residents were moved by the groups who represented many of the mass shootings in recent years including Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Las Vegas concert massacre, Columbine High School, the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater killing, Parkland High School, Virginia Tech and more.

“Not one speaker was over the age of 17,” said Ben. “It was a very emotional three hours of gun horror stories ranging from many of our recent mass shootings to the almost routine inner-city gun violence that children witness daily. It was very sobering to say the least. I was in tears for most of the rally.”

With the stories that were shared, there are some that Ben said will stay with him forever. For example, one 11-year-old from Los Angeles remarked, “I learned how to duck [bullets] before I learned to read in first grade.”

Ben said regardless of political affiliation, he does not understand how anyone can be opposed to background checks for all gun show and online weapon sales as well as restricting gun sales to domestic abusers and those on terror watch lists.

He said one 10-year-old’s hand-drawn poster which read, “One child is worth more than all the guns in the world,” was particularly moving.

Listening to the youth in Washington D.C. has motivated Ben and others more than ever to do what they can to support the threat to children in our country. “When we couldn’t get anything done after the horror of Sandy Hook, I lost hope for this country and its institutions and people,” said Ben. “Australia, a gun culture like ours, managed to redeem themselves after their horrific school shooting back in 1997 with strict but fair regulations. Today, there are literally no mass shootings and very few gun-related incidents. Their new regulations have an approximate 90-percent approval rate and are a testament to what can happen when citizens are heard.”

Encouraged by youth standing up and entering the discussion, Ben said there is hope. “The light at the end of the tunnel is the fact millions of under 18-year-olds will be of voting age soon,” he said. “Unfortunately, historically, only 18 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds vote. It’s critical to get them registered and to the polls.”

And while for many it is a political issue that can be divisive, the reality is the ultimate goal is to protect our children and help them to feel safe. It’s astonishing to think that as of April 20, 2018, there has been on average at least one school shooting each week in 2018.

Yes, the issue of gun control is sure to bring unbridled passion on both sides of the political arena, but the immediate concern is how can we protect and support our children and what is being done in our local community to do so.

Lake Pend Oreille School District’s Focus on Safety

Lake Pend Oreille School District Superintendent Shawn Woodward said there have been great strides made over the last several years in the area of both staff and student safety.

Each school in the district has an active safety and security team that is tasked with addressing improvements that can be made as well as specific areas of concern. Also, each school has a crisis plan that is specific to that particular school that is aimed at keeping students and staff safe while addressing a threat in or outside a building. There is a standard response protocol for lockdowns, lockouts and evacuations, all of which are practiced by students and staff at the schools.

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Woodward said he and the LPOSD staff encourage the entire community to break the code of silence. Do you see something you deem suspicious in or outside of the school building? On social media? Among your child’s peer group? Report it! “We have worked hard at all levels on this via our Connections and Sources of Strength programs at the secondary level and our Second Step Social Learning curriculum at the elementary level,” shared Woodward.

The district is also utilizing outside agencies to assess the potential threat of concerning actions by students. They have also utilized funding from the Idaho Safe and Drug Free Schools Grant to install beacon alert systems that will alert those not within earshot of the intercom system that a lockdown is in progress.

Among other measures are safety and security audits conducted by an outside agency, single points of entry so that all traffic must travel through the school’s front entrance and a school resource officer as well as a security guard at Sandpoint High School.

A huge factor in providing support comes in the area of mental health. The district recently brought back elementary school counselor positions and contract out with licensed professional counselors. “We are the first district in Idaho to also offer ‘school clinics’ in our schools,” said Woodward. “This is where outside agencies can provide consistent therapeutic sessions to students in need.”

Woodward encourages parents to share these safety measures with their children. “Let them know that the schools take safety seriously, and if they see or hear about something that is concerning to them to report it to an adult,” he said.

What Parents Can Do

Dr. Tim Bonine of Mountain View Family Health recently opened Mountain View Mental Health in response to a growing need for mental health services in our area. It works to meet the psychiatric need for ages 10 through adulthood, something that was severely lacking.

“It became increasingly frustrating to attempt to get services for a patient only to be told that it would be a wait list of one year or more,” said Erin Bonine. “The opening of Mountain View Mental Health has brought psychiatric services to all ages and stages of life.”

So just how can we as a community and as parents support our children and help them feel safe? One is to show support in every way possible. For Ben Tate, that meant gathering with friends and relatives to join the March in Washington, D.C.; showing the youth that they are not alone in this fight.

As parents, Erin Bonine says it is as simple as being there for our kids. “Make sure our kids feel important. Be there to be a soft place to land when the world is tough. Be there to remember that the feelings our teens feel are very real to them,” she said. “Be there to protect them. Not just from the bully on the playground, but know their social media passwords, their friends and their teachers. Be there to be the parent they don't know they need. Don't be afraid to stand up to your teen, set boundaries and make mistakes … then show up. Show up at every school event, no matter how much you would rather not. Show up at parent teacher conferences, open houses and back-to-school nights. When in doubt, show up.”

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