A loaded issue
Editor note: This is the first story in a two-part series about gun violence in schools. In the March 22, issue, reporter Jamie Lund hears from school administrators, educators and residents about the issue of arming teachers in schools.
April marks the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre where 13 people died by fellow classmates wielding guns. After murdering their classmates and a teacher, the two students killed themselves.
It is difficult to track how many school shootings there have been since that fateful day.
Some sites quote Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14 as the 208th school shooting since Columbine, while others say there have been 25 school shootings. It is difficult to collect accurate and consistent statistics for school shootings. Some include cases when an active shooter is inside a school, but others include outside or nearby incidents. Some count when a single person dies, while other sites require a minimum of three or four people.
Over the years, there has been talk of increased gun control, especially for assault-style weapons, but so far, nothing has stopped active shooters from targeting students in schools. While passing a law prohibiting citizens from owning guns like the AR-15 rifle used in the Parkland shooting may not stop people from buying them, at least law enforcement could legally take action if it came to their attention before a shooting.
School districts attempt to keep employees and students safe by implementing new features and adding officers in schools.
In the last five years, all Carlton County schools have updated their facilities to include secure entrances in an effort to keep active shooters out.
"We started with a single-point entry five years ago and made it more secure," Barnum High School Principal Brian Kazmierczak said. "The secure entry is basically a glass box with a communication box and a doorbell of sorts. The office manager can allow the person in the school or not. That person then has to check in with the office staff. They also need to sign out when they leave."
The changes do help students feel safer. There was a "code yellow" in February at the Cloquet Area Alternative Learning Center.
"A code yellow is for a situation that may be potentially dangerous, but may not involve an immediate threat inside the school or on the school grounds," Cloquet Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said. He explained a code yellow could be implemented for reasons such as police tips or terroristic phone calls.
Even though students did not know where the threat was, they did feel safe.
"Knowing the new entrance was in place and the person was outside made me feel safer," Johnathon Muhvich, a junior at Cloquet High School, said.
Muhvich believes students can make a difference. He got involved with Students Demand Action Minnesota to help find a solution to make schools safe for students again. The group was started by students in the Twin Cities area. Muhvich invited a representative of the group to speak in Cloquet during homeroom time Friday, March 9. He estimates about 100-plus students showed up to listen and ask questions.
The group wants to make sure students voices are heard by adults in charge.
While much of the debate around the U.S. centers around more gun control, Muhvich is an avid gun user and hunter and does not want to lose Second Amendment rights. He has been involved with the group for two weeks and is hoping to help find a middle ground with gun control and safety while maintaining his right to bear arms.
Sophomore Maddie Dostal also joined the student group.
"I joined the group because I'm a very passionate advocate for activism and student voices being heard," Dostal said. "I don't think any student should ever have to fear going to school. After all, education is a right, not a privilege."
Both students believe school shootings are a societal problem.
"We need to push as a society," Muhvich said. "What has changed in the last 60 years?"
"We have made violence and guns extremely mainstream and are now numb to murder and killing," Dostal said. She added that she feels teenagers and students are constantly excluded from topics that are relevant and important to them, such as the school shootings.
"People in positions of power want to silence us and don't believe we are smart enough to know what we're talking about," Dostal said.