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Sue Lani Madsen: Do the next right thing

Sue Lani Madsen (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Sue Lani Madsen (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Do something. We all want to do something.

After the Marysville school shooting in October 2014, Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, ran a bill in the Washington Legislature to do something, but he wasn’t an expert and the solution needed work. The next year he teamed up with then-Rep. Kevin Parker, a survivor of the 1999 Columbine shooting, consulting with educators to find practical solutions.

The result was the bipartisan Students Protecting Students bill filed in 2017. One of the co-sponsors is Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane. The bill was voted out of the Education Committee in 2018 but stalled in the short session traffic jam in Appropriations.

Then the urgency to do something came back. And the Washington Legislature is again moving the bill to support what experts say works.

Suffering tragedy doesn’t make you an expert, but it can spur a victim to become one. This week’s White House listening session with victims of school gun violence was not limited to the still raw Parkland survivors. Darrell Scott, Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden spoke as longtime members of a parents club nobody wants to join. They have learned what works and they want it to go national.

They did not use their collective 15 minutes at the White House to demand more gun regulations or cast blame on law enforcement. Fifteen minutes is too precious.

Scott’s daughter Rachel died at Columbine. In her memory, Rachel’s Challenge has partnered with other organizations to reach 28 million students in 19 years with programs to identify self-destructing teens before they erupt in harm to self or others.

“We have seen seven school shootings prevented. We see an average of three suicides prevented every single week of the year,” Scott said.

Hockley and Barden are part of the Sandy Hook Promise. Barden said they tried the legislative approach, gave up after a lot of useless public handwringing, and decided to build “something that works.” They provide free training to give educators the tools to identify, intervene and get students “the help they need before they pick up a gun or any other weapon and commit a horrible tragedy.”

The focus is to stop school shootings, prevent suicides and intervene early in bullying. “We’ve already stopped school shootings. We’ve already prevented suicides. … We have a solution right here. … We need to do this nationally. Now,” Barden said.

Hockley encouraged Congress to pass the Stop School Violence Act, which provides grants for school security and safety. But she emphasized security is not about hardening the target. The parents behind Rachel’s Challenge and the Sandy Hook Promise have learned the key is “creating a culture of connectedness.”

Experienced teachers know this intuitively. Dorothy Balum, retired teacher and Spokane Crosswalk volunteer, emphasized the importance of being alert to bullying and kids who are struggling.

“A lot of kids on the surface may seem OK, but get to talking with them and they have deep insecurities,” she said. “It’s not always an economic- or drug-affected family issue. Some kids have been given so much they lose confidence in their own abilities and it leads to depression.”

And so we encourage students to say something if they see something, but reluctance to be the tattletale is strong. Texting means knowing the right number at the right time. Kids don’t use email. But they use apps. And some apps provide immediacy and anonymity.

Students Protecting Students is about providing a phone-based app reporting directly to a principal’s phone. The adults closest to the problem decide whether to meet a kid at the door with a counselor or a cop. “The app can grab a screenshot and forward it anonymously. SHB 2422 would put the app on every student’s phone in grades 6 through 12, in every school district in Washington, for 75 cents per kid,” Manweller said.

Endlessly rehashing the more guns versus no guns argument is not doing something. Blaming the FBI, law enforcement and the NRA is not doing something.

Better to listen to experts who have done something. And they say, “This is not difficult. These deaths are preventable. Create a culture of connectedness.” And we’d be doing something that works.

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