Guest opinion: ‘An ounce of prevention …’
March 9, 2018


Today, 19 children will die or receive emergency treatment for a gunshot wound in the U.S. And tomorrow, another 19 will. And then another 19 the next day. In fact, 91 percent of all children who die from firearms in high-income countries across the world come from the United States, and guns are the third leading cause of death for all children between ages 1 and 17. Those are a handful of the sobering statistics reported in a new study on gun violence in Pediatrics.

Following the Broward County tragedy, there is a large outcry from students across the nation! Let us be sure to listen to them, to hear them!

According to the National School Climate Center, (educating minds and hearts, because the 3R's are not enough) finding the right words is difficult. But we, as parents, educators and community leaders - are called to do just that. It is our job to create safe places for young people to learn. The school doors open each morning. Our kids come in. And we must be there for them. We must communicate with parents who are overcome with sadness, fear and sometimes even anger and help them to feel safe entrusting their children to our care each day. We must also listen to the children and allow them to express their feelings.

This clearly is a critical time to address these needs and to increase our Prevention efforts in Lee County, directly involving our schools, who house the captive audience every day!

Safety is, and has been a priority for Lee County Public Schools. We have already participated in planning to increase the number of SRO's and security specialists in our schools. Our law enforcement agencies are involved in ongoing communication with schools and all other public venues to provide protection and support.

Over the past year or two, I have been involved in ongoing community conversations regarding Children's Behavioral/Mental Health needs, to identify ways to create opportunities to combine school and community resources to better meet those needs. A Mental Health First Aid for Schools symposium, sponsored by Hodges University, is scheduled for March 16.

Our District School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) consists of district staff and community agency representatives. They meet quarterly to share information to maximize our already existing partnerships with Lee Health, Drug Free Coalition, Salus Care, Health Department and others.

As you may be aware, in 2017 we adopted a Comprehensive Health Education Policy here in Lee County after several years of advocating. I do believe that we have many systems in place that can serve the purpose if we increase community wide collaboration efforts.

Our Student Services department staff are trained in identifying and removing barriers to learning and providing strategies and interventions designed to create safe learning environments. Implementing district wide use through training and communication can make a positive difference. Several of our staff members have been actively involved in collaborating with community agencies, acquiring and delivering services to our students, families and community organizations to better meet the needs of our students and families.

We have a School Board Student Advisory Committee which meets monthly and provides critical information about its successes, concerns, ideas for the school environment. They are spot on, but, are we listening? What do we do with their recommendations?

Safe Schools funding has dramatically decreased during the past decade. Florida ranks 50th in the nation in spending on Education. Following the tragic school shooting in Broward County, came an announcement that Florida will pay for the funerals! I ask - why Florida won't pay up front for prevention education - which would have a more far reaching impact? We need to be proactive rather than having to react in the face of tragedy.

Lee County Schools are diligently working on identifying funding sources that will enable us to provide the most adequate safety and education experiences for our students. It is important for the members of the community to recognize that the future of our community depends on their support and encourage all to exercise both privilege and responsibility in being registered to vote and to use the powerful voice they have.

We invite our students, parents, staff, and our community members join us in working to improving health and safety for all.

- Mary Fischer represents District 1 on the Lee County School Board


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