HHS Community Revisits Gun Policy After February’s School Shooting in Florida, Walkout Planned For Friday, March 9th

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Three weeks after the Parkland School Shooting, people are still mourning the loss of their loved ones, and the media continues to discuss the changes that may occur as a result of it. This shooting, along with the culmination of anger from past shootings, has brought the student body to action, with a walkout planned this Friday to support safer schools where students and staff will send postcards to various holders of public office from the region including governors, U.S. Senators, and House Representatives in a bid to convince lawmakers to change gun laws. The shootings have also spawned discussion about whether or not guns should be allowed in schools and about Hanover High and the Dresden School District’s policy regarding firearms.

The Dresden School Board Policy (JICI – Weapons on School Property), states that weapons are not permitted in school buildings, on school property, in school vehicles, or at school-sponsored events, with an exception made for law enforcement. Both Superintendent Dr. Badams and Principal Campbell expressed that they are confident that this policy is the best way to keep our school safe.

However, the office of the Attorney General of New Hampshire recently came out and said that Lebanon’s district policy regarding weapons, which is nearly identical to that of Hanover’s, is breaking the law. This is because state law says that only the state can make policies regarding firearms in school, and state law reads that anyone above 18 may carry a gun onto the premises of a school. Despite what the Attorney General said, the majority of the 304 students at HHS that responded to a Broadside survey  believe that Dresden policy does not break state law. Some students have gone so far as to criticize the Attorney General, with junior Mason Winter saying “The Attorney General is a sucker.”

In an interview, Principal Campbell seemed confident in the district policy, saying “we ran it by legal counsel and they felt we were able to pass such a policy.” Superintendent Badams described how the Board had consulted with their attorneys and come to the conclusion that the policy was legal. However, Dr. Badams did acknowledge that the policy might have to be amended at some point.

Students as well seem to be in agreement with school policy. Over 80% of surveyed students agreed that firearms should be banned on school grounds. Sophomore Maggie Logan wrote, “No guns should be on campus period.” Junior Elizabeth Napier wrote, “Guns were created to kill. I don’t want them anywhere near me.” Some students and staff even went as far as to say that guns should be banned across the country. Chorus Teacher Mrs. Chambers wrote: “I am deeply saddened that our country is still living in the dark ages. Guns should be banned. Take a page from Australia’s book.” Junior Wright Frost echoed this sentiment when he wrote: “I still support a total ban of ALL weapons, in and out of school.”

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Principal Campbell said that it is a safety and an educational issue, as students can’t be educated if a stranger walks in with a gun: “If a person walked into the atrium with a rifle over their shoulder, it’s my strongly held belief that students would be uncomfortable and would be unable to be educated that day.” Dr. Badams took this one step further, saying that it is ridiculous that we view other weapons as worse than guns: “People would think that was ridiculous [to bring an axe into a polling station], but to bring a tool like a firearms, a much more deadly weapon into a public place full of people … seems preposterous.” He then said that the whole school would be put on alert if someone walked in with an axe, and questioned why a gun should be any different.

This led to discussion surrounding safety at school, and thus a conversation about President Trump’s recent remarks that schools should arm teachers. Dr. Badams responded to this by saying that when he was in the military he signed up knowing that he might have to take a life, but that teachers don’t sign up for that and aren’t prepared to make those sorts of decisions: “I signed off for that [that I might have to take a human life] as a medic; our teachers did not.” Students also seemed to oppose the President’s proposition, with Junior Aidan Biglow writing “Having armed teachers is NOT the answer.” Senior Sam Maynes echoed a similar sentiment when he wrote, “Teachers being armed would not be safe, as they do not have the necessary training, ability, or demeanor in a high stress situation that a law enforcement officer would have.” However, a minority of students did express their support for armed teachers. Freshman Brendan Wolter wrote: “Few highly trained staff members should have them [guns] in a secure safe in their room.”

When asked whether or not our school should have metal detectors, 62% of students responded no. Even so, some students wrote that security needs to be increased both at HHS and in schools in general, Junior Katie Mulligan wrote: “Security in schools should completely increase. It is seriously lacking.” When asked the same question, Principal Campbell answered, “I don’t think metal detectors make us that much safer”, then referencing how at Sandy Hook the shooter walked up and destroyed the windows and then walked in. He then continued to say that “the reality is that we can’t make our school a bunker.”

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Dr. Badams made the argument that anyone could get into the school if they wanted, but that it might be worth adding some more security measures such as video cameras, and possibly revisiting whether allowing off-campus privileges is safe. He also said the Dresden School Board should reconsider Dresden schools having a School Resource Officer: “The resource officer is there often to help to establish good relationships between students, staff, and law enforcement, and to have an actual police officer on staff who has the ability to react in a case of emergency to me would be preferable to the notion of arming teachers.” Dr. Badams then added that a resource officer would help us be prepared and in contact with the Police Department in a situation similar to the active shooter situation at DHMC earlier this school year.

Both Principal Campbell and Dr. Badams referred to when New Hampshire Homeland Security came in the fall and tested the school’s security as a time when they checked and determined that our protocols and procedures ensured the safety of students and that since then they have made upgrades as a result of suggestions given by Homeland Security, but that they couldn’t disclose the specific upgrades on the advice of the security experts.

Another topic that is linked to school shootings is mental health. Students

and Staff both seemed to recognize mental health treatment as a major way HHS could make sure these incidents are avoided. Junior Audrey Lee wrote “I truly believe that mental health counseling is the best solution to this issue.” However, Lee did acknowledge that mental health isn’t the entire issue, writing, “I also think we are severely in need of ramped-up gun control policies in schools. Mental health is a global issue, but school shootings are disturbingly unique to our country.” Similarly, staff member Kristin Miller wrote “The school shootings seem to be a symptom of a bigger mental health problem for these kids. We need to be able to help with that if we want to make any progress.”

Dr. Badams said that he believes that Hanover High has a very strong guidance department that is doing a great job in the school. He also said that what is very impressive at HHS is how active students are in involvement and awareness, as many students are also trained in suicide prevention. Though Dr. Badams did acknowledge that mental health treatment is something the district is continually trying to improve on. Principal Campbell added that he thinks the school is doing a good job of treating mental illness but that school may not be the best place to treat mental health problems.

Two of the organizers of the walkout this Friday, senior Sarah Bozuwa and junior Mason Winter, both emphasized that they want the walkout to start conversation. Bozuwa emphasized that the event was for everyone as everyone can support a safer school, and the postcards allows people to write whatever they believe to their representative. “We want people to engage their voices for something they feel passionately about … we can all get behind safer schools,” she said. Winter went as far as to say that the postcards make it more than just a pow-wow. However, both organizers tried to distance themselves from the Young Progressive Activists (YPA), the club that is paying for the event. Winter said that the emphasis should not be put on the fact that the money came through YPA and that the event is for everyone to voice their opinion. At least 213 people have confirmed (via Facebook) that they are going to take part in the walkout, which is set to begin at 2:19pm (the time of day that the shooter in Parkland, FL, entered the local high school last month to begin shooting) and will involve a march to the Hanover Post Office to deliver postcards.

Both Principal Campbell and Dr. Badams expressed their support for the walkout, with Principal Campbell going as far as to say that he hopes there is continued activism after the walkout.

Students submit postcards at HHS earlier this week to send to poltiicians. Their messages call for changes in gun laws. Photograph by Hayden Smith.

Students submit postcards at HHS earlier this week to send to politicians. Their messages call for changes in gun laws. Photograph by Hayden Smith.

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