Amherst School Committee adopts resolution promoting safe learning, gun safety

  • Fort River Elementary School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/4/2022 10:32:38 AM
Modified: 6/4/2022 10:30:27 AM

AMHERST — As a veteran educator, Amherst School Committee member Irv Rhodes sees the horror of the recent mass shooting of schoolchildren and teachers in Uvalde, Texas as a violation of a safe, nurturing space.

Rhodes said what will remain so jarring for him, and that will continue to resonate, is “that those kids who are under your protection couldn't be protected.”

“It's something that when I look out over our schools and I know what has been in place, I never want our kids to not be protected,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes joined his colleagues last week in unanimously adopting a resolution on keeping the Amherst schools safe, with an emphasis on promoting resources to support mental health, creating a trusting school environment and providing education around secure storage of firearms.

The resolution was brought forward by School Committee Chairwoman Alison McDonald.

“This resolution is mostly about stating and restating and having that conversation about commitment to that work, ensuring mental health is supported, and social and emotional and staff training, and recommitting ourselves to not employing school resource officers,” McDonald said.

Part of the resolution was inspired by the Amherst Regional School Committee, which in June 2020 made it clear that the use of armed school resource officers in the regional district would not be allowed. The Amherst School Committee, which oversees the three elementary schools in town, is making a similar commitment to indefinitely not using resource officers in the buildings.

The resolution cites gun injuries as the number one cause of death for children 1 to 19 in 2020, surpassing motor vehicle crashes for the first time.

It also pursues a trusting environment where students feel safe and have strong relationships with their peers and with adults.

Still, McDonald said there is awareness that students might still access guns. “Education on that can go a long way to reminding responsible gun owners about safe firearms storage," McDonald said.

"Gun laws alone are not going to solve the problem if we're also not doing all these other things in terms of mental health supports and school climate and environment," McDonald said.

The resolution calls for common sense gun laws and strengthening federal gun laws, and categorically opposes the arming of teachers and staff 

Committee member Peter Demling said stronger federal gun laws will benefit Massachusetts, due to its proximity to other states.

Rhodes said there are likely more gun owners in Amherst than committee members are aware of, and that children can be the victim of guns if a firearm is improperly stored and secured, and ammunition is not stored separately

"One of the things I think is really, really important is gun safety," Rhodes said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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