With incidents of school gun violence fresh in the collective memory and gun control at the center of political debate, protecting children at school will be the topic of a forum at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Ballston Spa High School auditorium.
“We’re concerned about keeping our kids safe from gun violence,” said Patricia Nugent, president of the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County.
The “Keeping Our Children Safe from Gun Violence in Schools” program is being sponsored by the leagues in Saratoga, Schenectady and Albany counties in response to the massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December.
“This really is the intersection of three issues the League of Women Voters have long been concerned about,” said Nugent, referring to quality education, gun control and the need for improved mental health treatment as part of overall health care equity.
All three have been at the center of the national debate that has arisen in response to the killing of 20 elementary students and six educators in Newtown by a 20-year-old with no clear connection to the school. New York state last week adopted a controversial new assault weapons ban, and President Obama has called for new federal restrictions on assault weapons.
But while the shock of so many young children being murdered has struck a public nerve, it is only the latest incident involving shootings in U.S. schools. There was the 1999 murder spree in which 12 students and a teacher were killed at Columbine High School in Colorado, and there have been numerous other incidents in schools resulting in fewer deaths.
“We know parents are concerned. We know staff members are concerned. School shouldn’t be a scary place to go,” said Nugent, a retired educator and administrator.
There will be seven panelists representing organizations including the New York State Council of School Superintendents, New York State United Teachers, New York State PTA, and state police.
The panelists will include Shenendehowa Schools Superintendent Oliver Robinson, who will discuss what support schools need to keep students safe; University at Albany journalism professor Rosemary Armao, who will discuss the impact of violence in the media; Dr. James Keller of Four Winds Hospital, who will discuss mental health issues; and Aimee Allaud, a gun control specialist for the League of Women Voters of New York State, who will discuss potential legislative actions.
The panel will be moderated by Susan Arbetter, host of The Capitol Pressroom on WCNY.
“We’re trying to cover this from all angles,” Nugent said.
Each panelist will speak, followed by a dialogue among all seven panelists. Written questions will also be taken from the audience.
At the end, it’s expected those attending will be asked to endorse some form of action.
“The League of Women Voters has long-held positions in support of mental health parity, public education, and reasonable gun control. This is an opportunity for our community to talk about how these issues intersect and to identify working solutions that keep our kids and employees safe,” Nugent said.