Uniting Utah For School Safety, by UEA President Heidi Matthews

One family dinner when I was in college, I made the incredible mistake of asking my Uncle Bob what he thought about my “new” 17 year-old junker car that I was so proud to have worked and saved for over a year to purchase. Before he could respond, every single person at the dinner table shot me dagger eyes of exasperation. Everyone knew the tirade that was coming next from Uncle Bob. My car, you see, was not American made.

Sure enough, my uncle exploded and condemned me about the grave crime I had committed against our country. None of my success in saving, brokering a deal, researching cars that had great gas mileage, etc., mattered to him as he could not see beyond the sin of driving a foreign made vehicle. I should have known better. No good came out of this conversation and it certainly put a damper on the enjoyment of my grandmother’s homemade pie.

Since Parkland, school safety has been the focus of many discussions. When the word ‘guns’ is mentioned though, it’s like a four-letter word uttered at the family dinner table that prompts an Uncle Bob-like tirade. Deeply held values and beliefs are so strong – and opposing – that it makes it nearly impossible to come together with united solutions. Near the end of the last legislative session, legislators formed an 11-member Utah School Safety Commission specifically to look at solutions. The commission brings together such diverse voices as the superintendent of the Utah State Hospital, the commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety and the chair of the Utah Shooting Sports Council.

I am honored to represent teachers on this panel, which, importantly, also includes two high school students. One of the most exciting things I see happening right now is the movement of our students demanding that adults make policy changes to keep them safe.

On April 20, UEA will join with students, educators, parents and communities across the nation for a National Day of Action Against Violence in Schools. Th is date is being commemorated as it is the anniversary of the horror at Columbine High School in Colorado. Your UEA Board of Directors and local leadership has determined that our action will be to ‘Unify Utah for Safe Schools.’

Participation in the Day of Action may take many forms. Some actions being considered include participating in a march, writing letters to legislators, encouraging schools to host discussions on the proactive restorative practices that address root causes of school violence, observing a moment of silence and wearing orange. Our students are demanding action and the important thing is to show our unity.

Unity is a ‘oneness of purpose.’ Our challenge in this action is to bring our communities together with the united purpose of safe and inclusive schools. We must change the expectation unity means ‘sameness.’ Just as Uncle Bob will never support my Honda Civic, we can’t expect that deeply held beliefs about guns will change. But we can come together, united in the purpose of providing safe school environments where the focus is on teaching, mentoring and inspiring our students.