This was initially submitted as a letter to the editor of the local newspaper and was printed there. There has been no response. Perhaps it needs a wider audience. I think my next step is to start contacting legislators.
Monday’s tragedies at Moore were horrific, even as the outpouring of support for the survivors and their very resilience does a great deal to restore a weak faith in humanity. But the tragedy at Plaza Towers School was simply and plainly unnecessary.
This section of America has deservedly earned the title of Tornado Alley. The geography and statistics bear this out. Few of us who live here have not been touched by the fact of it. What is astounding, based on these facts, is that so few of our schools are equipped with tornado-safe shelters.
Recently, the nation was horrified by the school shootings in Connecticut. In response, we heard calls for more gun control, calls to put armed police officers in every school, calls to arm teachers–as if this would certainly put an end to such carnage. There was some conversation about improving mental health care, which to me seems more reasonable, but it’s difficult determine exactly how many school shootings won’t happen because people get the mental health care they need. Thus this positive approach hasn’t funded any ground swell of support. All of these responses would cost a great deal of money, some of which many hope would be supplied by the federal government.
It’s not that the the federal government isn’t willing to spend money on children, of course. In 2010, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers released the Common Core Standards, supposedly a state-authored document, which in reality was funded through grants from the federal Department of Education. Two federally funded groups are now busily engaged in writing new assessments to match the standards. All but 5 states have “voluntarily” adopted the Common Core, knowing that if they did not, federal money would dry up. These states are now charged with implementing the Common Core and the upcoming assessments on their own dime. The dollar signs here are blinding. Oklahoma is right in there with the rest of the pack, setting aside money to implement Common Core. I respectfully submit that dead kids don’t take tests.
I really think our priorities are turned upside down. We can consider millions of dollars to make school buildings secure from intruders, the likelihood of which in any given school in Oklahoma is extremely slight. We can devote million of dollars to implement a questionable set of standards and an even more unproven set of assessments that accompany them. Yet, in a state where tornados repeatedly destroy people’s lives and property every year, we have no policy to assure that the children in our schools are protected from the tornado that is a much more realistic and likely threat.
My understanding is that after the 1999 tornado in Moore, FEMA provided funds to help many residents build storm shelters. I also understand that the Moore School administration decided that it could not “afford” to build shelters for the two schools that were hit in Monday’s tornado, and perhaps that is true, especially if their funds are being drained by unfunded federal mandates. I think hindsight clearly tells us that this was an unfortunate decision. I think perhaps it’s time to rethink what is important. My personal opinion is that we need a state law to require all schools to have adequate storm shelters. And the state needs to pony up the money to help smaller districts pay for them. This may require making some hard choices, but if the Oklahoma economy is doing as well as the promotional ads on TV would have us believe, we have the money to do it.