As residents from across the region gathered in Philadelphia over the weekend to call for gun control, students from Philadelphia brought a warning for their suburban peers: Don’t let the push for safety turn your school into a prison.
“Kids should start saying to their principals, 'Let’s not make our schools safer by closing ourselves in and isolating ourselves,'” said Hanifah Brockman of West Philadelphia’s KIPP Dubois Collegiate Academy. “Let’s take on the mass problems to protect all schools, not just our schools.”
Measures such as armed guards and metal detectors “make schools feel like they’re jails. We want students to feel safe,” Brockman said.
Saturday’s March For our Lives
event in Philadelphia was part of a nationwide effort to control gun sales and reduce violence. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets
to protest violence in schools and in communities of all kinds: urban, suburban and rural.
At Philadelphia’s march, students from around the region took heart in the movement, which has galvanized
young people and already netted some modest
“We’re really excited,” said Casey Zimmerman, a senior at Souderton Area High School. “We’re the next voters and we really just want to make our voices heard.”
But students also said they’re well-aware of another, less-welcome trend: a growing push
for stiffened security that would make suburban schools look like their urban counterparts.
At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, where students have spearheaded the surge of gun-control activism after a shooting left 17 dead at the school, district officials recently announced a plan to “fortify the campus
” by “wanding” students with metal detectors and requiring them to wear clear plastic backpacks
And in one rural Pennsylvania district, officials have resorted to putting buckets of rocks
in every classroom for students to hurl at a shooter – a policy that students at Saturday’s march could hardly believe was real.
“That’s ridiculous,” snorted Ali Dunleavy, a freshman at Lower Merion High, as she prepared to join the thousands who would soon stream down Market Street to rally by the Delaware River.
“It’s better than arming teachers with guns,” laughed Isaac Popkin, a Masterman High sophomore.
For students in prosperous districts, the rising focus on such measures is a worrying sign that serious violence could be closer than they once thought.
Mya Jennings, an 8th grader at West Chester’s Fugett Middle School, said she never used to worry that stress or a mental health issue might lead one of her own classmates to snap.
“I don’t think it’s too serious at our school,” she said. “But then again, in Florida, they probably thought the same thing.
“It’s really scary, overall, having to go to school thinking what would happen if our school got shot up."
But students who have lived with strict security say it can do as much harm as good.
“Often, it results in the criminalization of students,” with harsh discipline meted out for even minor infractions, said Juanita Miller, a Central High alum and an organizer with the Philadelphia Student Union.
Camryn Cobia, a Central student, PSU member, and veteran of countless trips through Philadelphia’s metal detectors, said suburban students should push back against such policies now, before they take root permanently.
“I’d say to them, if you don’t feel comfortable with it, fight against it,” she said.