Hundreds of Kentucky Students Gather on Capitol Steps to Share Stories of School Violence

FRANKFORT — The Student Voice Team drew hundreds of youth activists and adults concerned about school safety to a Teach-In and rally at the Kentucky Capitol Tuesday.  The events were led by high school students from across the state to highlight the issue of school violence and support participants to explore solutions.

The day of action was held in the context of recent school shootings and threats in Kentucky and across the country and correlates with the March for Our Lives national and local rallies inspired by the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida which will take place on Saturday.

Students from geographically diverse schools shared a range of experiences and perspectives from the Capitol steps, capturing the larger debate about what to do to address the perception of a wave of gun violence and threats in the nation’s public schools. 

Green County High School junior, Ashton Bishop, described growing up with a casual comfort around weapons that was recently challenged when her school went into lockdown over a threat. “Since that day, many people in my school and town have been on edge,” she said. Just the mere thought of a gun in school has shaken me and many of my peers to our cores.”

But Khamari Brooks, a senior at Fern Creek High School in Louisville, acknowledged that how schools choose to protect students may look different to different people. “How you feel about school safety depends on where you’re coming from. I feel like our school needs to incorporate better security systems into schools, including metal detectors, more cameras, better security technology, but I have friends who don’t agree.”  Austin Bowman, another senior from Fern Creek, underscored the point. “Of course, I agree that our schools need to be safe, but I don’t want us to transform our schools into fortresses. I feel like metal detectors, or more police officers, or teachers with guns, that doesn’t make me feel any safer,” he said.

Many of the students participating in the Student Voice Team’s day of action plan to continue organizing others around school safety and climate issues, and they are actively soliciting organizations to expand that work.  The Kentucky League of Women Voters, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Student Alliance for Mental Health in Action, Marshall County-West Kentucky and Lexington March for Our Lives, LIFT Kentucky, National Alliance for Mental Illness Kentucky and Jack Be Nimble have committed to that partnership.  They agree that a focus on limiting inappropriate access to guns like the one used in Parkland; ensuring better mental health resources; implementing effective, fair, and consistent school discipline policies; and a sustained commitment to building social and emotional capacity among students and staff are some essential first steps to stemming school violence.

Nasim Mohammadzadeh, a sophomore from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington and one of the rally emcees emphasized that the process of problem-solving around school safety is critical. “It is okay that we don’t yet all agree on what needs to be done about violence in our schools,” she said. What is most important for now is that we grapple with the issue together, as a civil community that cares about our schools and that includes young people in the discussion.” 

Student Voice Team director, Rachel Belin said that the way students are tackling issues of school safety provides a model for the larger community. “The stories students shared today show that the reality and prospect of violence in our schools have become a threat to learning at high levels. But the way students are organizing themselves, learning about the issues, and helping to educate and mobilize others to respond should give us hope. As these young Kentuckians prove, students clearly are, and need to be, part of the solution to whatever afflicts the climate and culture in our schools.”

The Kentucky Student Voice Team is a statewide organization of young people who are co-creating more just, democratic Kentucky schools & communities as research, policy & advocacy partners. From 2012 to 2021, KSVT was incubated at the Prichard Committee, a nonpartisan, citizen-led organization working to improve education in Kentucky for all ages.

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