Originally published in Insider on May 4, 2023
The author. Courtesy of JBO Photo
I live in Houston with my family.
My husband and I have talked about where to send our kids to school based on safety.
Of all school shootings, 6% of them happen in private schools, so they seem safer to us.
Like a lot of parents, my children's safety is a topic that never strays far from my mind. While my concerns fixate on usual worries like choking and drowning, the fear of a school shooting also plagues me, especially as I prepare to send my oldest off to school in Texas.
My husband and I have long held conversations about where to send our children to school. In a city like Houston, where the state recently took over our poor-performing, seemingly crippled school district, it feels like a personal responsibility and duty to send your children to a well-rated, top-performing school. Finding the "right" school often requires applying to charter schools or buying a home in an area you can barely afford just to be zoned to a decent public school.
But after the events at Robb Elementary School, our discussions shifted from school ratings to those of safety and violence and how best to protect our children in learning environments. Seeing a school so close to our home succumb to the horrors of an all-too-familiar, unimaginable violence was the final straw. When I started to look at school-safety statistics, there was only one option we felt reasonably comfortable with: private school.
Most school shootings happen in public schools
According to The Washington Post, there have been 380 school shootings since 1999's Columbine, Colorado massacre – 46 of those taking place in 2022 (the most of any year). Of those shootings, an estimated 94% have occurred in public schools versus 6% in private schools. The realization that our children were statistically less likely to die in a school shooting at private school ultimately ended our pursuit of public schools.
I'm not the only parent who has made safety a priority in choosing schools. Recent research from EdChoice found safety had become a top concern for parents over things like affordability and inclusiveness.
As someone who attended public schools her whole life, I never imagined I would spend hours poring over financial-aid applications, bargaining with private schools over tuition, building school-budget spreadsheets, and reading all the details surrounding school-choice legislation, which may finally pass this year in Texas. Though I never cared about school choice before motherhood, I'm now championing the cause if it were my religion.
The March attack in Nashville, Tennessee, indicate that no place, even a private school, is immune to gun violence, but many parents, like myself, are doing whatever they reasonably and financially can to statistically lessen the chances that their children will witness — let alone die in — a school shooting.
Some children have switched from public to private after shootings
Tina Ann Quintanilla-Taylor was at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, for an award ceremony the day a shooter entered the school through an unsecured door with an assault rifle. Quintanilla-Taylor debated on leaving her daughter in her fourth-grade class after the ceremony but ultimately decided to take her home. The mother watched in horror from a parking lot as Ramos jumped a fence and entered the facility. Her family carries palpable, unimaginable trauma from that day.
"I can remember the beats of those gunshots, and I can mimic them," Quintanilla-Taylor told Insider. "It's overwhelming to even think or consider if I cannot digest this, how can children digest this."
Her son used to love police officers but now wants nothing to do with them. Her daughter is coming to terms with what happened to her peers. In the aftermath of the shooting, Quintanilla-Taylor's children switched to at-home online schooling.
"The decision wasn't mine. The decision was my children's," Quintanilla-Taylor said. "What was more of a hassle was getting them to trust the exterior world again. We could not go to McDonald's or Sonic or even the park. Nothing felt safe anymore."
Today, Quintanilla-Taylor's children attend Sacred Heart Catholic School, a private school in Uvalde. They missed socializing with friends and wanted some sense of normality, which is why they moved to a private school, but there's still a permanent reminder of what happened. Quintanilla-Taylor was assured by the school that her children would be safe in their new environment, with things like bulletproof windows, a small, manageable population, and steel fencing. The single mother, a Ph.D. student, was granted financial-aid scholarships and pays about $500 a month for her children to attend the school.
As for what the future holds, Quintanilla-Taylor isn't certain where her children will go in the years to come, but for now, public schools simply aren't an option.
"It's so incredible how our lives have been readjusted to the unknowing," she said. "My kids are the drivers and I'm the vehicle at this point."
Others have switched to online school
For Shavonda Early, 40, in Virginia, the decision to enroll her daughter in home-based learning came after the shooting at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Early, who had always mourned mass shootings with the rest of the nation, had the unsettling realization that her child didn't look that much different from the Sandy Hook victims. That awareness forced her to look at options outside public school.
"To see the faces of these 5- and 6-year-old children and realize they didn't look that much different from my child, it was different that time," she said.
After Sandy Hook, Early struggled with leaving the house and putting her daughter in a gym childcare program, worrying that if she needed to get to her child quickly — even one floor away on a cardio machine — she might not be able to reach her in time. Those deep-seated fears kept her up at night.
Early and her husband eventually decided that she would leave her job and stay home with their daughter so the child could attend an online public school — Virginia Virtual Academy — from the comfort of home.
Today, her daughter is in seventh grade, and Early has enrolled three of her other children in the free education program. Too many persistent problems at public schools, including overworked teachers and overcrowded classrooms, reinforce the decision she made all those years ago to keep her daughter statistically safer, she said.
"I was scared to let people know how I felt about it at the time because of the attitudes around it and because it turns into something political, rather than being an issue about loss and senseless loss," she said. "I feel like it's something you don't understand until you are a parent, when you can see your children in other people's children and imagine that loss."
Nothing can guarantee children will be safe and sound attending public-school alternatives, but parents aren't left with many options these days. Much has to change — in more than just school environments — to believe that my children won't die in places that are supposed to shape, protect, and educate them and not police the violence that awaits them beyond school walls.
Read the original article on Insider
For more information about Virginia Virtual Academy, visit vava.k12.com