The Safety Of Schoolchildren

They say all politics are local. And nothing gets more political and more local than deciding how to divide up a community’s property taxes. Newtown’s budgetmakers are used to doing their work with taxpayers inviting themselves into their meeting rooms to look over their shoulders at line items, to listen to department heads justify expenses, and ultimately to offer their own opinions at hearings, in letters to the editor, in social media, and eventually in the voting booth. The big local issue in Newtown this year has, through the agency of the horrible 12/14 tragedy at Sandy Hook School, imprinted itself on the agendas of local meeting rooms across the country. School safety it item #1 on everyone’s list of priorities.

Just this week, legislatures from Washington State to Florida, from the Dakotas to Alabama, were debating school safety measures and how to fund them. Everywhere, public officials focused their attention by invoking the names of Sandy Hook and Newtown. We have become everywhere else’s local consideration.

So when the Board of Selectmen sat down Monday evening to weigh its options for providing increased security and safety in Newtown’s schools, everyone knew this was not just another budget issue. It was the first brick in the foundation of a new bulwark under construction in every school in every district in every state in the nation against unthinkable violence against schoolchildren — the unthinkable that we must now always think about.

There is no way to measure in money the value of the lives of children, so the three or four hundred thousand dollars on the table for the discussion of five school security options here in Newtown on Monday night seemed only incidental to considerations of safety and deterrence. At the heart of those considerations should be how best to make security a team effort that rests not just on the vigilance, skill, and well-stocked holster of school resource officers, but on a new sensibility of safety that infuses every aspect our community’s responsibility to its children. It means being vested in the welfare of other people’s children as if they were your own. It means giving voice to concerns, even if they prove to be unfounded. It means taking responsibility not just for your own, but for your own community.

We all need to sign on as partners in this effort. We never chose this role, but Newtown became the spark that fired the nation’s conscience on the issue of school safety. All politics may be local, but what we do here really does matter to people everywhere looking for direction, inspiration, and resolve as we try to do better by this nation’s schoolchildren.

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