Sunday Mornings with Rania: Bellaire High School Shooting - Turning Heartbreak into Action
Tragedies are tragic but when they take place in your backyard, they are life-changing. That’s what happened last week when a gun made its way and then went off at Bellaire High School killing A student. Within moments, lives were changed, students were rushed off a campus and a community was struck with a fear you never want to experience.
The headlines carried us through the incident while we struggled to gain information. Click2Houston reported “Police, HFD respond after person shot at Bellaire High School, Officials say...” (updated here); KHOU supplied video and the headline “Suspect found hiding behind dumpster after deadly shooting at Bellaire High School” and finally and sadly, “Two arrested after student shot to death at Bellaire High School.”
Given the close-knit community of Bellaire, and unbelievable loss of life, the discussions surrounding the incident have remained at an all-time high. Yes, we learned the shooting was “accidental” (I prefer “unintentional yet predictable” - we should expect a problem when students handle a loaded gun) the community raised two major areas of concern that remain:
1. How did a student get a gun and then bring it onto the school campus?
2. Why wasn’t the school sharing critical information?
Students bringing weapons on schools:
Sadly, we know that it is not impossible for students to obtain weapons or to bring those weapons to public places, including schools. In last week’s Sunday Mornings With Rania, I shared numbers from the last CDC study, which showed just how many kids may have brought a weapon to school at least 1 in the 30 days prior to the survey. The truth is, in a majority of schools, there is no formal security needed to go in and out of a campus. But how do we fix this? It requires a lot of funding and there are many debates on whether or not it’s “good” for kids to go through extensive security on their way in and out of their neighborhood schools... are we really telling them we suspect them all of something bad or that their schools are unsafe?
On the other hand, we know that even a metal detector at main points of entry would not truly keep weapons out of schools, which were not built to be secure and that, in fact, have many points of entry. Think about it, you could throw a backpack over a back or side fence, go through security at the front of the building, with a weapon already waiting for you on the inside. Schools, after all, are not like airports or banks; they were not built to be secured industries.
Some of that is changing though. Houston firm PBK Architects has been working across Houston and the state to design and build beautiful schools, with the latest technology, that support cutting-edge education yet are built with safety primarily in mind. They think of ingress and egress, window materials, front desk placement, vestibule security and so much more.
Why wasn’t the school sharing critical information?
So many parents think schools are being difficult or are insensitive to the needs of parents demanding information. That’s just not true. Public schools are required by law to protect student information. According to The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal privacy law, students’ education records, report cards, transcripts, disciplinary records, contact and family information, and class schedules are protected. The main takeaway here is “disciplinary records” - this means while a student may be known by administrators as threatening the school or making bad choices, and while the school may have very well dealt with the student, you and I are not entitled to any of that information.
Additionally, by law, schools must follow strict “Threat Assessment” measures and protocols. A threat of any kind against a school is illegal and is dealt with immediately by law enforcement and school faculty. We will just not know the details. The schools are not allowed to share it.
So now what? Let’s Look at some solutions:
1. As a community, we cannot stop working towards solutions. Here’s another headline that caught my eye as ABC13 reported: “Students saw suspected Bellaire HS shooter with gun, but didn’t report: Police.” Students in all campuses must be made aware that they can and should call Crime Stoppers anonymously (713-222-TIPS) if they know of any weapons or other dangers potentially affecting their school. We will never ask for a student’s name, age, or other identifying information. This tool is powerful and to date has worked with student after student to remove weapons from campuses before they could be used against others. We offer many free safety presentations as well, for students, parents, teachers and more. To book a free presentation, call 713-521-4600.
2. The moms at Moms Demand Action have done a great deal of work to create their BeSMART program. This gun safety class is a MUST for all adults. The program goes through how to:
- Secure all guns in your home and vehicles
- Model responsible behavior around guns
- Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes
- Recognize the role of guns in suicide
- Tell your peers to be SMART
3. Parents, talk to your children about what to do should they be around a gun - what to do if a friend pulls it out to show them. They must walk away immediately and make sure the gun is pointed to the ground at all times.
4. Parents and students should know your school’s policy on weapons or threats. Become familiar with how the school will handle these things in general so you have an idea should an issue arise during the year. Ask your questions early on, don’t save them all for a moment of crisis and when the schools are actively trying to work through a horrible situation. If there’s something you don’t like or don’t understand, calmly work with the right people at school (PTA, school district, school principal or counselor) to change it.
5.Know where the laws are right now and where your elected official stands on the issues you care about. Again, don’t want to for a tragedy to start diving into information.
I’ve read many quotes from the students at Bellaire but this one was compelling:
“...We know that gun violence can happen anywhere — but that doesn’t prepare you for the moment it happens in your backyard,” said Milan Narayan, volunteer with the Bellaire High School chapter of Students Demand Action. “We are shocked by what happened today, and our thoughts are with the family of the victim. We shouldn’t have to live like this.”
No student should have to live in fear simply because they showed up at school but where there are guns on campus, there will be problems. The hardest thing about the incident at Bellaire was that it was unintentional and 100 percent avoidable. Children, young adults, and even adults should never play around with a loaded weapon, never ever.
I keep thinking of Cesar Cortes and the reports that he allegedly said “don’t point that at me...” He had the good sense to know that guns were dangerous and he didn’t want them facing his direction. He was only 19 years old, a student and JROTC cadet who had a promising future ahead. He will be missed by those who knew him and loved him of course; his life has also deeply touched those who never had the good fortune to meet him. For his sake and the sake of all our children, may this never happen again.
Read past Sunday Mornings with Rania posts here. Find more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston on their website or follow them on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Comment below or email her at [email protected]. Rania is co-host of a weekly podcast which features interesting local and national guests who used their platforms for the good of the community. Connect with Rania on Instagram and Twitter.
Editor's Note: Views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Buzz Magazines.
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