Litigation is (not) the Answer!

As a teacher in the public school system of the Roaring Fork Valley, I have thought about what I would do if someone brought a gun into my school. I have played through a hundred scenarios in my head about where I would stand and when I would act. All teachers have. It is terrifying. And it is heartbreaking. But the fact remains that in our national vocabulary, ‘shooting’ is now juxtaposed far too often with ‘school.’

In our peaceful valley, we are lucky. We know our students. We care. I tell myself it could never happen here. I am sure that others have done the same.

Yet school violence remains a tangible, life shattering, and far too close to home problem regardless of what I would like to believe.

Our lawmakers in Denver agree. Currently, in fact, they are voting on what they believe to be a possible solution. A solution that they claim would lower the rate of school violence.

A solution that would ‘provide increased safety for our kids with increased peace of mind for their parents,’ according to Senate President Bill Cadman.

The solution? More litigation.

SB 15-213, or the Claire Davis Bill, would change the sovereign immunity status of public schools and ‘give express permission for victims to sue schools for negligence’ in the case of violence on their campus. It would not even need to be determined gross negligence, merely a breach of ‘reasonable care.’

In fact, what Senate President Cadman is saying above is that he believes that parents will be able to sleep better at night knowing that if some unimaginable horror should occur to their children, at least they will be able to sue someone.

The bill has currently passed in the Senate and is expected to pass the House of Representatives.

So instead of seeking more ways to prevent this sort of tragedy, our elected officials are proudly changing the law to allow more for blame and financial recompense after violence occurs.

They are not restoring funding to the many mental health services they have slashed in the last ten years.

They are not mandating (or maybe even funding) Colorado public schools to hire the professional counselors who are trained to identify and help the individuals that are at risking of harming themselves or others.

They are not working to increase access to vital training for teachers to help them recognize the warning signs of students who might be slipping through the cracks.

Instead, they are offering us the Great American Solution- lawsuits.

It is insulting beyond measure, but not surprising, to learn that our lawmakers believe that the best way to really motivate teachers and administrators to protect their students is though the threat of a lawsuit. Because we are all in it for the money.

To be honest, I am desperately afraid of this bill, but not for the reasons that most might think.

I am not afraid of this bill because it leaves the definition of ‘breach of reasonable care’ in the hands of litigation attorneys when deciding who exactly should be blamed for the violent actions of others.

I am not afraid of this bill because it would put yet another financial burden on an institution that is already underfunded and over mandated.

And I am not afraid of this bill because, if the unthinkable happened, it would force a school to lawyer up instead of focusing on healing.

I am afraid of this bill because, if it passes, they are going to stop looking for a real solution.

Our congressmen and women will congratulate themselves on how they made schools safer. And they will remind their constituents of this come every election season. They will take generous donations, and they will believe they deserve them: that they truly made a difference.

And next year, our school principals will once again have to make the decision between hiring one counselor for 600 students or another teacher to relieve class size. We, as teachers, will struggle to find reliable mental health resources to educate ourselves and the families we serve. And our communities will continue to scrounge in order to support essential outreach programs that are often the only lifeline for those already struggling with mental health issues.

Please tell your representatives that you support safety reform but believe in the prevention of harm, not litigation of it.


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