The horror of what happened in Newtown, Conn., immediately drew lawmakers and school administrators in Edina into discussion of gun control and school safety.
At a meeting Monday night of parents and their newly elected legislators, Superintendent Ric Dressen said he was compelled to begin with comments about the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school.
“We’re reminded again of the importance of safety and making sure our students feel safe as a school district,” he told the group. “We do have policies in place that support that. Yet, situations that occurred last Friday, those are literally impossible to figure out how you can manage that.”
Melisa Franzen, state senator-elect from District 49, also started her comments with a reflection on the tragedy. “What triggered in my mind was, how did we fail one child because really it was a child that committed this tragedy,” she said. “So I don’t see it [as] someone’s fault or someone’s failure. I see it as a need for society to figure out how to not have this happen again.”
In a message to parents on the Edina school district website, Dressen described the district’s approach to dealing with a crisis in the schools: “We are constantly reviewing and updating our crisis plan, both internally with our staff and externally in partnership with local first responders, counselors and other community resources in an effort to ensure a safe and secure learning environment for our students and staff.”
That message, along with emails from teachers and school principals, was a great comfort, said Paul Rosenthal, incoming state representative from District 49B and who has two children in Edina schools. “It really gave us a way to approach our kids as we came home that day,” he told the group of about 40 parents who had gathered at the Edina Community Center. “One of my kids knew, the other didn’t, and I was really worried about how to approach that.”
Rosenthal, Franzen and Ron Erhardt, the new state representative from 49A, all DFLers, reacted coolly to a proposal from Tony Cornish, the Republican state representative from Good Thunder, to allow teachers to carry guns in the classroom.
“My initial thought is the less guns in school the better,” Rosenthal said. Erhardt agreed: “We have enough guns.”
“I don’t know what could be more dangerous than killing 20 kids,” Cornish said in defense of his proposed legislation. “It’s no more risky than a pilot that carries a gun on an airplane.”
Cornish described the legislation as a step up from conceal-and-carry. Currently, teachers can carry guns but only with permission from their school district superintendents. “Right now an intruder can come into a gun-free zone that we have created and know that there’s no one there to resist,” he said.
The legislators and the superintendent acknowledged the desire to react, but “to target one solution isn’t the answer,” Dressen said. “I think it’s got to be broader.”
Dressen said he will gather his administrative staff on Wednesday to review the district’s policy and conduct an audit to determine where procedures can be improved. He indicated that as in school districts around the state, the topic will eclipse other education concerns for now. “Safety right now today, that is going to be front and center going forward.”