Credit: Larry Gordon / EdSource
Students at Blair Middle and High School in Pasadena march on National School Walkout day on March 14, 2018 in response to the Parkland shootings.

Within days after the tragic killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, copycat threats started popping up across the country, including my school district. In the weeks since, there have been five arrests made in response to threats against schools in my community.

Diana Cruz

I know students who were so scared to go to school, they just didn’t show up. While no one has threatened my school directly, there has been an additional police presence on campus. Neither I nor my friends feel safer as a result.

When I visited the State Capitol recently to talk to legislators about the climate in our schools, I was alarmed to hear about a proposed bill — AB 2067 by Assemblyman James Gallagher — to place armed guards on every campus, even elementary schools. For many students of color, seeing police on campus is the opposite of feeling safe.

After Columbine, there was a similar rise in police presence on campus. While it has been done with good intentions, putting armed guards at school and having zero-tolerance policies don’t work. This approach can lead to students of color in particular feeling under attack and militarized, reduce graduation rates and increase arrests. It does not make me feel safe.

There is a better way. We need to nurture our students and help them feel connected to, not alienated from, their schools. We need the people who represent us in Sacramento to consider sensible and realistic solutions that increase our feeling of safety at school.

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty has introduced legislation that makes much more sense to me. AB 2820 provides resources to schools to regularly survey how students feel about their safety and school relationships and to improve parent and community engagement with schools.

I was once in foster care, so I know that feeling of being lost and angry. I was lucky in that I had teachers at my school who spoke with and listened to me. I had a school counselor who would check in on me and who supported me through that time. That attention and connection gave me an idea of what a truly safe school is. Safety came from being attended to and heard. We need ears, hearts and shoulders, not squad cars and guns.

This can happen only if we make sure that student voice is part of the discussion, because we know what we need to feel safe.

This month’s visit was not my first in Sacramento. Two years ago, I testified before the State Board of Education, urging them to include school climate as required reporting in school accountability plans with Californians for Justice. Californians for Justice is a statewide, youth led, grassroots organization that aims to create the equitable schools that our communities deserve. This action led to the decision to include school climate as an indicator of whether these schools were adequately supporting foster care youth, low income youth and English Learners. However, two years later, I am still fighting to get this realized.

On March 14th, I participated in a school walkout. We sent condolences to Parkland and wrote letters to our representatives in Sacramento and Washington. We had a moment of silence for the victims and stood with our administrators against this violence. Ten days later, youth across the country, including in Long Beach, led their communities in the March for our Lives.

We students are beginning to see the possibility of change, but we need the adults at school, in Sacramento and in Washington to stand with us. We need them to help us build schools where we feel loved and connected, and not afraid.

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Diana Cruz is a senior at McBride High School in Long Beach.

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