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'We Weren't Surprised': Santa Fe Students Say Schools Need More Police Presence

Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune
Santa Fe High Senior Grace Johnson speaks during a roundtable discussion with Gov. Greg Abbott and others at the Capitol on Thursday.

Grace Johnson, a senior at Santa Fe High School, said she was in the band room when the fire alarm went off last Friday. She got up to evacuate.

“When I walk out into the hallway, I see a kid get shot,” she told Gov. Greg Abbott and others gathered at the Capitol on Thursday for the third in a series of roundtable discussions on school safety. “And he falls. In Santa Fe, we know what guns sounds like ... but you never think it’s going to be in the school.”

"How do you pinpoint a school shooter out of 70 kids?"

Johnson said after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February, her class reached out to the governor’s office.

“My entire government class wrote letters about why we think this is happening and what we can do to fix this,” she said. “We didn’t get anything back; we didn’t even get an acknowledgement. And we just wanted to know that you got those because May 18 came around, and it finally happened to our school and we weren’t surprised.”

She told Abbott, lawmakers and other survivors from shootings in Santa Fe, Sutherland Springs and Alpine that she’d like to see teachers armed and more police presence in schools.

Santa Fe Senior Aaron Chenoweth said he'd also feel more comfortable at school with more police, even if they are not there full time and just check in throughout the week.

Participants in the discussion made one sentiment clear: They didn’t want to have the typical political debate around guns.

“A lot of us in the community are pro-gun,” Chenoweth said. “I think I can speak for a lot of us in that community, because we’re kind of a backwoods town. We grew up around guns, a lot us did, and a lot of us are still going to be growing up around guns.”

But they said they wanted to make sure guns don’t get in the hands of people who are violent.

The group discussed changing a law that makes parents liable if a child under 17 commits a crime with their firearm by raising that age to 18. They also brought up the idea of educating Texans about existing firearm storage laws so people stop storing guns where kids can get them.

Johnson said it would be hard to expect teachers to identify a potentially violent student at a school like hers, because of the large class sizes.

“How do you pinpoint a school shooter out of 70 kids?” she asked Abbott. “I couldn’t even do that as a student. So these teachers need a raise so these teachers can come back and our classes can go from 60 kids to 20.”

The students also said that schools should be equipped with an emergency alert system different from a fire alarm. When the shooting started at Santa Fe, a fire alarm was pulled, but that brought students into the hallway where the gunman was.

Abbott told the group he would take their suggestions and those from two earlier roundtables to create an action plan for Texas lawmakers.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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