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Connections: An Unnerving Reality

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 12:29

How awful it is to have to hold a collective breath this week as our children, and grandchildren, begin a new school year. How unnerving that gun violence has caused us to doubt the lyrics that our “country ’tis of thee” is still a “sweet land of liberty.”

It’s been almost seven years since a young gunman shot and killed 26 people, including 20 6 and 7-year-old children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. More recently, the second deadliest shooting at a public school in this country occurred in February 2018, when 17 students and teachers were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Most of us cling to the idea that horrendous events like these cannot happen here, but we know better. Three months after the Parkland tragedy, a 17-year-old took a shotgun and a revolver to a high school in Santa Fe, where he killed 10 people and injured over a dozen.

At Parkland, students became activists, spurring a March for Our Lives to the State Legislature in Tallahassee and a movement called Never Again. Publicity soared in the national press and on social media, but action was circumscribed, with the subsequent failure of federal and state governments to enact powerful controls on who can own guns a continuing tragedy.

We are told that school administrators here are facing reality as school opens this year. Strict procedures are in place to monitor everyone who enters school grounds, or so we hear. Schoolchildren are being asked to open their book bags, and pockets, to show that nothing potentially harmful is inside. And how do these requirements affect the mental health of schoolchildren?

 Good lord. We have heard a lot about post-traumatic stress disorder, P.T.S.D., a common condition among veterans of military service. The symptoms include disturbing thoughts, feelings, and dreams, difficulty sleeping, a generally on-edge or detached feeling, and a profound need to avoid anything reminiscent of trauma. But it is unlikely that we’ve been aware that school kids also experience this mental condition, which is debilitating even if vicarious.

Here in East Hampton this summer some 100 cyclists took part in the 15th annual Soldier Ride as a benefit for the Wounded Warrior Project, which was founded by Chris Carney of East Hampton in 2004 when he rode a bicycle from Montauk to San Diego to raise awareness of the issues faced by soldiers wounded in combat. Soldier Ride — a response to the far-ranging issues faced by wounded veterans — has raised millions of dollars, and Mr. Carney has been recognized at the White House by Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump.

Let us make sure that the counseling necessary to recognize any potential for tragic circumstances and diminish fear among our students is forthcoming and effective.

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