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Our first school shooting: the road to healing will be long

The year marking the tragedy of October 24, 2022 has come and gone, with many questions still unanswered. To answer those nagging questions would bring our community closer to a place of healing. The trauma from a school shooting goes beyond the epicenter, it reverberates widely. It often triggers other traumatic memories that were thought to be deeply buried or forgotten.

The Central Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) and Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience (CSMB) school communities have a right to know, but so does the general public. Jean Kuczka, a beloved staffer at both schools and Alexzandria Bell, a vivacious CVPA student, were gunned down by Orlando Harris, a 2021 graduate. Several other students were injured. Harris was ultimately killed by St. Louis police.

The fast action of first responders in confining the human carnage on that fateful day has been duly acknowledged. However, the incident is far from being neatly tied in a bow and put on a shelf. Trying to move forward without acknowledging the harm of such a horrific event is only adding to the trauma.

There are three critical areas that demand attention. They are coordination, transparency and recovery.

It is difficult to truly be prepared for an active shooter. Clearly there were gaps in coordination that fateful day as outlined in the document, “Gateway Observations and Recommendations.” For example, there was no visible person or team in charge at Gateway STEM High School, the site designated for parents to be reunited with their children after the shooting. Is there now an inter-agency protocol that clearly outlines security procedures and next steps for a community gripped in fear and anxiety?

We deserved a report from the St. Louis Police Department on what happened. In similar school shootings, such as in Ocala, FL and Nashville, TN, the video was released within hours. This allows for a timeline to be constructed to see what lessons can be gleaned to defend against future attempts at mass shootings.

KMOV-TV has tried unsuccessfully to obtain the school surveillance video for the last year, but the reason keeps changing as to why it can’t be released. If the SLPD stays true to its secretive practices, the tapes will be withheld indefinitely under the guise of an “ongoing investigation.” Transparency is not one of this department’s strengths.

The recovery process in a school shooting has been formalized in a guide by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Sadly, former CVPA principal Dr. Kacy Shahid, is now part of a group of school leaders who have survived a school shooting. Her insights and experiences are particularly unique because St. Louis is a school shooting trifecta: the shooter was an African American teen in an urban public school headed by an African American principal. There’s lots to dissect here.

National eyes were on Dr. Shahid when she and other NASSP colleagues were called to testify before Congress and to meet with Homeland Security representatives on what’s been learned about school shootings. St. Louis Public Schools should be prepared when other urban districts come knocking who are creating safety protocols informed by those who’ve gone through the fire.

 

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