AFT’s Weingarten: ‘Schools Have to Be Safe Sanctuaries’

After Friday’s tragic massacre of 20 school children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told “Meet the Press” yesterday, “Schools have to be safe sanctuaries…[there] has to be a conversation and action about both mental health as well as gun laws.”

We can actually do things in schools, we can actually have more guidance counselors, we can have more social workers, psychologists, all of whom have been cut because of the [budget] cuts. We can do wraparound services. We can do more of these things…to destigmatize mental illness and to have more access as well as a whole package of sensible gun laws.

AFT, along with Connecticut AFT and others, is providing grief counselors and coordinating other support services for school personnel, students and victims' families. On AFT’s website, there is teachers’ resource page on dealing with incidents of school violence, including a section on talking to children about the Newtown shootings. Also AFT’s online community for educators, Share My Lesson, provides advice on “Helping Children Cope with Traumatic Events.”

You also may leave a message of support for students, teachers, staff and the community of Newtown here on the Connecticut AFT website.

The six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School were teachers Rachel Davino, 29; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Lauren Rousseau, 30; and Victoria Soto, 27; and principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47; and school psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56.

Soto, according to news reports, ushered her students into a closet to try to protect them and then put herself between the children and the gunman.      

Reports say that Hochsprung—a member of the School Administrators (AFSA)—and Sherlach heard the gunfire and immediately ran down the hallway toward the shooter and were gunned down.

AFSA President Diann Woodard said in a statement:

We must come together more than ever and demand that our legislatures take action in response to this atrocity. We must ensure that proper safety measures are put into place to protect our students, teachers and principals. Above all, we must take care of one another.