Reader View: Keeping our children safe at school

The message in the photo above was written in June 2012 by Shaylee Chuckulnaskit. At the time she was an 8th grade student in my Washington State History Class. A year and a half later, this beautiful, happy high school sophomore was dead. I watched her grow up, I even taught her little sister and best friend, Kristy.

Look at her face, see who she is, remember her. Like many of you I am tired, tired of being divided by race and by beliefs, by the unknowns that make up our world today and by so many things. But unlike you, I made a promise to this beautiful girl and the children left after another one of my students —  Jaylen Fryberg — took her life along with his own and three other friends and cousins at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in October 2014. And I made a promise to Nate Hatch, the only survivor. You see, when I am tired and frustrated and feel like I can’t do this anymore, I look at this picture and I remember Shaylee’s words and I know I have to keep being my “kids’” voices.

I could not answer the “why did this happen” and “when will we ever feel safe again” that came from our children who were left behind. I think the hardest one for me was not being able to give Nate an answer to these questions as I held him and cried with him and told him I did not know. But I made a promise. I promised that as long as I continued to breathe, I would tell their story, I would do everything I could to protect the children in my care, and I would continue to speak up and give voice to them when they could not.

I tell you this story not because I want you to feel sorry for us, but because it is the only way — though painful beyond anything you could ever imagine –for you to understand why I have to be so passionate about protecting our children.

Yes, I understand that having school resource officers may provide a false sense of security, but for myself and my children (I include my students as my children), and my former community, having SROs in every single building was the only way we could go back into our buildings. It was the only way any of us could continue the work we are called to do, to teach the future generations and for our kids to feel safe enough to go back to school. The relationships that came out of bringing our SROs into the buildings were priceless.  Our children learned to see them not as police officers, but someone who truly cared about them as human beings, accepted them for who they are, and were a part of our school families. They learned to speak their truths in love and compassion for each other.

When I came down to Edmonds to work, I had to leave the sense of protection and security I relied on as a teacher, but I adapted — knowing that there were SROs near enough that I was able to continue my passion. When I moved into the building I am in now, I had to go in long before school started and plan out all exits and escape routes. Thankfully my teaching family is understanding and compassionate enough to understand  I wish I did not have to know every way out of a room the minute I walk into one, I wish I did not have to look at a stapler as a weapon to defend my students from an intruder meaning to do them harm. I wish I did not have to feel like throwing up every time we have an intruder drill. But I can’t, not yet anyway.But I have hope. I actually have been able to leave my classroom door open and unlocked for the first time ever in my teaching career.

I know I can get used to not having SROs in our buildings if I have to. But I will not stop sharing the pain of losing kids and what our children needed to feel safe — even if to some people, it is a false sense of security. To me and many of our children, it was the difference between having hope and giving up. I only ask that you consider with great care and full knowledge and understanding that by eliminating the SROs in our buildings, that it takes up to two years to reestablish SROs once we break contract with them. Not to mention that as an officer, I think I would feel a little skeptical about ever being asked to come back. So, think this through, search your conscience. Can we do better? Absolutely. But look at all sides and ways of doing things differently before you give up completely on SROs.

Thank you for your understanding and for listening and giving voice to my beloved students. We have to do better. We have to come together and listen to each other. We cannot afford to let our children down.

— By Shari Davies

Shari Davies is a Learning Support Math Teacher/IEP Case Manager with the Edmonds School District. She sent the above testimony to the Edmonds School Board prior to its June 23 vote to remove police officers (school resource officers) from Meadowdale, Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds-Woodway High Schools. We are publishing it at her request. 

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