• By Paige Duggins-Clay, J.D.  • IDRA Newsletter • March 2024 • Paige Duggins Clay

Thirty years after President Bill Clinton signed the Gun Free Schools Act on March 31, 1994, students continue to face unacceptable threats to their safety and belonging at schools. With the horrific rise in school shootings since the Act’s adoption, policymakers have prioritized spending precious taxpayer resources on hardening, surveillance and policing measures, such as panic buttons, facial recognition software, bullet-proof whiteboards, armed educators and school-based police (APA 2024; Walker 2019).

These measures will not prevent school shootings (Turanovic, et al., 2019). And, in practice, they make students less safe at school (Craven 2022).

Students have a long history of organizing to oppose school hardening and zero-tolerance measures (Warren, 2021). Black, Latino, LGBTQ+ and other allied young people have led youth movements to end school policing programs, eliminate zero-tolerance discipline systems, increase funding for schools to invest in evidence-based prevention and support measures, and demand firearm reform (Onyenacho, 2020; Mejia Mesinas, 2020; Mariette, et al., 2017; Chávez, 20018).

Parents and policymakers should listen to them.

IDRA invited students to share their experiences, perspectives and thoughts on school safety. With their permission, we selected a few submission excerpts for publication in this school-safety themed-newsletter.

Envisioning a Safe School Environment

Aairah Salam, 11th grade

Safety. Acceptance. Love.

This is what all kids yearn for and have the right to obtain when they go to school. However, school safety has been recently questioned and compromised.

Just in this past year, there were 302 school shootings, a record high with an average of one shooting every school day. What this means: a student traumatized for life, a mother receiving the last text from her son stating “I love you,” a dad losing his only child, his joy, his life, a teacher unable to go back to her kids, a school losing its spark, a community hurt for life.

We must act now.

For me, school safety is held on a high pedestal as school is a second home where I can engage in meaningful, educational discussions both inside and outside of the classroom, meet and create friends, be a part of a team both academic and sports, and so much more.

I get in the car ready to go to school envisioning a safe environment where I don’t have to worry about my safety being at risk as that’s a given. However, recent trends, as previously presented, show this has significantly changed and, like never before, we’re being told what to do if there’s an active shooter, a concern never previously brought up.

Worrying about school safety went from being an insignificant matter to one I have to prepare myself for in certain cases. This is heartbreaking.

With this, I call upon each individual to reflect and fight to never normalize such events to occur in order to allow students to go to school without worrying about their basic safety.

“Policymakers, listen up. Arming teachers will not work! More security in our schools does not work! Zero-tolerance policies do not work! They make us feel like criminals. We should feel empowered and supported in our schools.”

– Edna Chávez, 12th grade

Schools Should Foster a Beautiful Environment

Annika P. Singh, 11th grade

School spirit has become a ghost of the past.

Community building and inclusion have always been tricky for teenagers, what with complex social structures, socio-economic barriers and complicated external events affecting children’s social-emotional states. Before the Internet, when children found themselves excluded, they eventually mustered the courage to establish themselves or talk to a counselor. Maybe a group found ways to welcome them in, or some amount of assimilation occurs to fit in.

But we are in a new age, where a much less intimidating alternative to workshopping oneself until one finds friends stands: the Internet. The Internet connects millions of individuals globally, and social media platforms encourage tight-knit communities over any imaginable interest.

A teenager’s phone is a world in their pocket, filled with color, entertainment and, critically, people. Conclusively, many students who may have tried another shot at friends or asked their counselor for assistance, have a new quick-and-easy digital option. This, paired with COVID-19, has resulted in the indisputable fact that a lack of community among students has become alarmingly prevalent in schools.

The adverse effects of this are harsher now with the benevolent hand of the Internet. It strips or replaces the critical social growth children normally receive with digital echo chambers that shut down the consideration of new ideas. This is why parents and schools must work in cohorts to restore student-to-student community efforts and socialization.

But kids can’t be blamed for this epidemic of isolation whatsoever. Most of our rising or current high schoolers suffered some impairment from quarantining, found digital communities away from home, and indulged in the Internet to fulfill social desires. There have been dramatically negative effects from this: children getting preyed upon online, becoming radicalized to hateful ideologies, growing addicted to scrolling, and, in some cases, losing sympathy for their peers that match stereotypes they’ve been taught on the Internet.

To address this incredibly modern issue, we must outline guides for parents on how to approach a socialization discussion with their teenagers, how to be sensitive to social insecurities, and monitoring content to keep an eye on that is potentially hateful, racist or sexist.

Schools must not interfere but work to intentionally provide environments that foster community (which is no longer a given). They must seek out student leaders and make mental well-being a priority through – not false promises – but honest action.

This action should foster a beautiful environment where children feel welcome enough to bond with each other. In a nation that seems so disconnected, polarized and extremist at times, local ties are critical to student mental health, the collaboration skills of our future leaders, the humanity with which we treat one another, and our nation’s health.

Our youth should live in a world that’s brighter than their screens, and we can achieve that by community-building at the local level as much as possible. Only then will their social creativity flourish.


APA. (March 4, 2024). School Shootings in the United States: 1997-2022. American Academy of Pediatrics.

Borum, R., Cornell, D.G., Modzeleski, W., & Jimerson, S.R. (January 1, 2010). What Can Be Done About School Shootings? A Review of the Evidence. AERA, Educational Researcher, Vol. 39, Issue 1, pp 27-37.

Chávez, E. (March 24, 2018). I Learned to Duck Bullets Before I Learned to Read, remarks at March for Our Lives Rally. Democracy Now!

Craven, M. (June 16, 2022). What Safe Schools Should Look Like for Every Student – A Guide to Building Safe and Welcoming Schools and Rejecting Policies that Hurt Students, IDRA Issue Brief.

March for Our Lives. (August 2021). It Ends with Us: A Plan to Reimagine Public Safety.

Mariette, M., Gowda, S., Kelly, K., King, A., Moyer, J., & Warren, M.R. (November 2017). Fighting for the Souls of Our Schools: Understanding Youth Leadership in the 2016 Boston Student Walkout Movement.

Mejia Mesinas, A. (2020). Students ‘Taking Action’ in LA Schools: An Ethnographic Case Study of Youth Organizing. UC Irvine.

Onyenacho, T. (July 21, 2020). Black and Brown Students Are Organizing to Remove Police from their Schools. Colorlines.

Turanovic, J.J., Pratt, T.C., Kulig, T.C., & Cullen, F.T. (October 2019). Individual, Institutional, and Community Sources of School Violence: A Meta-Analysis – Final Summary Overview. National Institute of Justice, Comprehensive School Safety Initiative.

Walker, T. (February 14, 2019). ‘School Hardening’ Not Making Students Safer, Say Experts. NEA Today.

Warren, M.R. (November 9, 2021). Willful Defiance: The Movement to Dismantle the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

Paige Duggins-Clay, J.D., is IDRA’s chief legal analyst. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at paige.duggins-clay@idra.org.

[© 2024, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March edition of the IDRA Newsletter. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]