Dear Palm Valley Families,
We have all become aware that school shootings have reached epidemic proportions in our country over the past decade or more. Our children and students today are growing up in schools where shooter drills and lockdown procedures have to be well established, practiced, and talked about regularly. Our own campus flooded with calls and emails following the shooting in San Bernardino a few years ago, and seems to perk up after each school shooting - most recently with the events at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine's Day.
Today, our Upper School students asked to organize a gathering to show solidarity with the Walk Out movement happening in schools across the nation. While many were apprehensive to do a "Walk Out", our students wanted to do something. As a result, we as an administration created a space for them to have conversations about what that could look like and how it would be a meaningful way for them to show support, while also ensuring that all students who participated were kept safe and remained on our campus. We made a decision to allow them to speak to the Middle Schools students about their plan as well. We felt strongly that our role today was not to encourage or discourage, but to ensure a non-political and non-disruptive way to demonstrate what they were thinking, feeling, and wanting to express. These students showed true leadership today - some silently, and some verbally. I am so very proud of them and their desire to make a statement. We will continue to support them in developing strategies for taking a stance, in developing their desire to make powerful statements, and in their civic rights to use their voices in positive ways.
As such, we provided no direction or guidance to what they planned, only adult supervision on the front lawn for students to gather at 10:00 am today to host a Remembrance of the lives lost in the Stoneman Douglas shooting. Students from the Upper and Middle Schools were permitted to leave their first period classes at 10:00 am and were asked to return to second period no later than 10:20 am. Students did so in a very mature, solemn, and respectful way. Nearly 100 students from grades 6-12 gather on the lawn voluntarily for this remembrance ceremony led by students in the Upper School. An introduction was given and a short biography of each person killed at Stoneman Douglas was read aloud that included their name, their age, what they loved most and contributed to our world, how they died (saving others or caught in crossfire or after the shooting as a result of wounds) and who they left behind. Another student passed out cut strips of orange ribbon for students to tie on their wrist in remembrance, and 17 candles were lit - one for each life lost - while a prayer was given by another student. It was a beautiful and moving ceremony, given authentically and genuinely from the compassionate hearts and brilliant minds of these young people from our great school. I am grateful for each of them and proud to know them. They will someday be the leadership of their generation and of our world. What a gift to watch them as they continue to grow and develop into caring adults. All we did today was give them space for expression and they filled it brilliantly and beautifully.
Additionally, I want to make you aware that more than 150 CAIS schools have now joined together to follow an act that took place a few weeks ago wherein the NY state area Heads of Independent Schools came together to craft and publish an open letter in the New York Times to our Nation's leadership to urge them to take action against these violent acts in schools. This is, and we feel will continue to be, a bi-partisan issue that requires level heads and a caring effort to provide more safety measures to protect our children and students. After consultation with the Palm Valley School Board of Trustees, I have signed the CAIS letter below crafted by the membership of participating CAIS Schools and its leadership, as well as by surrounding area non-member schools. This letter was published on March 11th, 2018 in both the LA Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Children and teachers are being killed, injured, and threatened by gun violence in schools each week and those numbers are growing exponentially. Our families do not feel safe sending kids to schools and schools are reacting with drills, gates, alarms, chain link and other things that they have the power to control. However, it's up to our country, state, and local leadership to also help by creating laws that make sense, but that still maintain our right as citizens to bear arms as appropriate. The answer is not easy, it's a complex combination of facets that will include addressing mental health diagnosis, programs and support, safety protocols, loving communities in our schools, funding for programs that educate adults and children about gun safety and mental health, and laws regarding guns that make sense and maintain the balance between keeping them out of the hands of inappropriate members of society and ensuring citizens' rights are intact. I stand proudly beside our sister schools in CAIS, and nationally through NAIS, to urge our leaders to work across the aisle with one another and address this topic appropriately. CAIS and all Independent Schools have always been on the edge of important changes like these and today is no exception. We are standing at a crossroads and decisions need to be made in the best interest of our children, our schools, and our communities.
As I hear from our students and from families on this and other issues of safety, I can say that we all seem to be in agreement that protecting our children from harm is of the utmost priority. While there is no single, simple answer to addressing school violence in schools, I hope that we can make some changes in how we approach gun violence in our society. This is a complex issue with many facets to consider and I am proud of both our CAIS schools and of our children who are asking our leadership to take a hard look at change in our communities and nation.
Head of School