Community reflects on importance of school safety following a deadly shooting


Addie Gleason

Visitors enter the building and check-in at the front desk. School policy required photo identification to be let in. “I’m beside myself this morning. What does someone like myself even do? We can vote the way we think we need to, and we can push people to make the right decisions, but the people above us that make the laws are going to have to stop just talking about it and do something; that is the bottom line,” mathematics and Computer Science teacher Jason Townsend said.

By Addie Gleason, Parkway West High School

On May 24, 2022, an 18-year-old opened fire on Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen students, two adults and the gunman were confirmed dead. Hospital workers are treating multiple other students for injuries. In light of these events, staff and students consider safety in school.

“There wasn’t anything they could do — they were elementary school kids. They didn’t know that they were going to die when they walked into school. They had so much more life left to live; they had things they wanted to do or see. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a firefighter and an astronaut. I had those kinds of dreams, and those kids probably did too, and now they won’t have the chance to explore their options. It’s just over. They’re gone. And it makes me feel sad for feeling lucky that it wasn’t me,” sophomore Molly Masalskis said. “It’s [gotten] to the point where you’re either numb or terrified. It scares me when thinking that it could be us, but I still don’t feel anything [new] because that fear has always been there.”

This shooting was one of at least 27 recorded school shootings and 212 mass shootings in the U.S. since 2022. Since the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999, the Washington Post estimates that over 300,000 students have experienced gun violence.

“I’m numb to [hearing about school shootings], and that’s not a good thing. It’s too normal that someone [might] walk into the school and start opening fire. I wouldn’t say that I feel unsafe at school, but I don’t feel safe,” sophomore Vivian Chen said. “Most school shooters are students from that school. We do drills, but that’s not enough because the school shooters know the drills.”

In recent years, citizens have held various protests and walkouts to advocate for gun control. But conversely, citizens have also held pro-gun lobbying and protests

“This is pretty fresh in everybody’s mind. Everybody is tired of having the same conversation. Our president, our politicians, our state leaders, I’m tired of them talking about it. It’s time for them to do something about it. It’s a shame that instead of being completely horrified and shocked, it’s just ‘oh, another one.’ We can’t allow that to desensitize us. We still [have to] be completely shocked and outraged. It’s getting hard because just this year, just this month alone, it’s happened multiple times,” mathematics and Computer Science teacher Jason Townsend said.

Typically, police are able to arrest people who commit school shootings. According to a 2018 analysis, 655 out of 100,000 people in the U.S. are in prison. Additionally, an estimated 20% of prison inmates have a severe mental illness.

“We have got to find a way to better address the mental health issues in this country. Obviously, [the] young man who did this yesterday [had] something severely wrong with [him]. Who do we blame? Do we blame the parents? Do we blame his school? We have to find a way to better address the issues that would lead someone to think that this was something that they wanted to do,” Townsend said.

Per Missouri law, Parkway principals conduct two lockdown drills yearly. Typically, the drill involves an “intruder alert” message playing across the PA system while staff and students turn off classroom lights, hide in the corner and lock the door. Additionally, teachers present the “4E” plan: educate, escape, evade and engage.

“I don’t think drills work — most of the time the shooter is going to be a kid, someone who already knows how the system works. When I was little, we were taught to cover our faces with textbooks in case there was a school shooter. Drills are unrealistic; pretending that you’re [not in the classroom] by turning off the light and huddling in the corner of the room isn’t going to do anything. But I don’t know what else we can do. As students and staff, there isn’t much we can do to stop it,” Masalskis said.

The Robb Elementary school shooting is reported to be the deadliest elementary school shooting since Sandy Hook, which killed 27 people. (Addie Gleason)

Additionally, the Parkway website lists schools’ safety features such as buzz-in systems for visitors, panic buttons in every classroom and intruder-resistant safety film on entrances and windows.

“We’ve not had any issues in the 12 years I’ve been here. That being said, we’re like any other place. It can happen anywhere; I think we have to go in with that premise and then that’s a good reminder to students,” principal Jeremy Mitchell said. “Not that I am worried, but I just want to be cautious and do everything we can. It’s a lot better than when I first got into schools where it was just like ‘hide under the desk.’ Now we realize that maybe that’s not the best option.” 

Missouri is classified as a permitless carry state, meaning anyone legally allowed to possess a firearm can carry it without a permit, except for concealed firearms in various government buildings. This includes prisons, hospitals and educational institutions.

“We have a huge problem with our laws when it comes to sentencing and being tough on criminals who break the law with guns. That needs to change dramatically, there has to be a no-tolerance policy. People caught with illegal weapons or use them in felonies have to face severe penalties,” Townsend said. “We have to stop playing politics, stop having certain individuals in our Congress line their pockets with the money of the NRA and the other people who are pushing this, and we need to have serious gun control laws enacted.”

This story was originally published on Pathfinder on May 25, 2022.