Opinion Editorial by Lt. Governor Howie Morales
November 12 2023
A recent headline that another student was found with a gun on the campus of a New Mexico high school have become all too frequent and all too common across our state today. In most of those incidents, no one was hurt, but one sees the potential for great danger. It is time that New Mexico’s leaders convene to have a broad discussion of how we protect our students and schools, Pre-K/Elementary to higher education, and how we empower and train communities to create safe school environments conducive to learning.
To that end, I have used my office as Lieutenant Governor to partner with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to assemble a multi-agency effort focused on school safety. Together with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the ‘Safe Schools Working Group and Advisory Council’ of the state Public Education Department, and many other leaders from education and law enforcement, we will hold these discussions November 13th -15th at the Santa Ana Star Casino and Hotel in Bernalillo at the First Annual New Mexico Safe School Summit (NMS3).
350 participants from school districts and emergency management from across the state will participate. The NMS3 gathering will include diverse keynote speakers and breakout sessions hosted by subject matter experts, community leaders, and students and administrators on comprehensive safety, sharing evidence-based best practices.
New Mexico thankfully has been spared the deadliest of the nation’s horrific school shooting tragedies such as Uvalde, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Virginia Tech, Nashville, and Columbine. But there has been a history of growing gun violence in our own schools with tragic ends. In 2017, two students, Casey Jordan-Marquez and Francisco “Paco” Fernandez, were lost to a shooting at Aztec High School in Aztec, New Mexico. Their names should never be forgotten. It was the quick actions of teachers in barricading and having locked classroom doors that prevented mass casualties there.
I recall vividly the day in 1999 when a 13-year-old female student was shot and critically wounded in the lobby of her Deming middle school. More recently, an 18-year-old shooter shot and killed three people and wounded six more in Farmington. Although it was near a school and not on the school grounds, the attack activated several school lockdowns and responses. There also have been numerous incidents involving guns at schools in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and elsewhere. Every community has felt the impacts. Nationally, news of high-profile mass shootings carried out by students has become far too regular.
As a parent, and former classroom teacher and coach for a decade in Grant County, ensuring that we have safe schools in New Mexico feels more urgent today than ever before in our lifetime. We know the concept of school safety extends far beyond addressing the threat of violence only, important as that is. Ensuring a healthy learning environment, and a positive school climate for both students and educators, is a critical priority. That multi-faceted issue will also be a key focus of the NMS3 discussions.
Schools and districts are continually finding new ways to adapt and expand security, but for too long it has lacked the state-wide focus it requires. I hope the New Mexico Safe School Summit will help change that. Discussions of safety must cover so many topics: hardening of facilities and advanced security upgrades, infrastructure such as metal detectors, keyless door entries and door-ajar sensors, scanners, secure vestibules, and active-shooter trainings and drills, threat assessment systems and emergency preparedness.
But real school safety strategies also require thorough discussions of key factors that contribute to a school’s climate: availability of mental health support services, social-emotional learning, bullying and harassment, student misconduct, opportunities for student engagement, community engagement, parents’ and families’ involvement in their children’s schools, and building trust between students and SROs and educators.
There is no single solution to fixing the violence in our schools. But we know that we want students and educators to operate in an environment in which they are protected physically, mentally, and emotionally in every school and college across New Mexico. Community engagement by everyone can help us find the answers for a better future.
For more information on the upcoming New Mexico Safe School Summit, visit: https://www.nms3.org/